Liberia image

Liberia's significant strides toward economic growth, educational parity, and greater protections for women's rights have not translated to equal opportunities for women in the workforce. The majority of Liberians work in the informal economy, and, as in countries around the world, women still comprise the majority of these laborers. Seventy-four percent of all female workers in Liberia are informal laborers, and 41 percent of university-educated women work informally, compared to 24 percent of university-educated men. The most significant challenges faced by female informal workers, such as market sellers and street vendors, include a lack of access to credit and banking services, limited financial literacy and business training, few social protections or childcare options, harassment from citizens and local authorities, and poor sanitation within marketplaces.

74 percent of all female workers in Liberia are informal laborers, and 41 percent of university-educated women work informally This data is not available for

To improve the economic potential of Liberian women, a number of multilateral organizations and local groups have worked to address these obstacles. The UN Women's Next Level Business Program for Market Women brings skills and financial literacy training to women in the marketplaces of Monrovia, providing free childcare as women participate in workshops to learn about budgeting principles for small businesses and how to open a bank account. Program participants suggest that trainings make a difference in their ability to support their children; most women say that they work primarily to provide for their children and to enable their children's education. Christiana Miller, a cross-border trader who trained women in the Next Level program, stated, “Women did not know how to do banking. We taught them record keeping and banking, which made a difference because before, they were only using local village savings programs, and the people who ran those could run away with their money. Now they will save for family welfare, for children, for school fees, for their health.”

The National Petty Trader Union for women in the informal economy also established a partnership with the Central Bank of Liberia to create a credit facility for women traders to receive small loans. However, Comfort Doryon, a member of the union, cited persistent challenges even when women did have access to financial services and credit: pervasive harassment and corruption by local authorities resulted in the confiscation of women’s goods, which frequently forced women to borrow capital from other workers and made them unable to afford school fees. As Doryon explained, “There was a lot of harassment from national police, city police — they would always come and take the street vendors’ goods, and they would lose everything. We worked on an agreement with local authorities on street vendors’ behalf.” Other street vendors and service — providing organizations highlighted the need for better government regulation and the creation of binding memoranda of understanding with local authorities. These policies have allowed women some ability to seek help if harassed.

The Liberian government is helping women move from the informal to the formal sector by adding value to women’s businesses through education, financial inclusion, and capacity-building.

Officials in the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection suggest that the government is aware of such challenges and is prioritizing the development of policies to protect female informal workers as well as enable their transition to the formal economy. The government's concrete steps to implement worker protections include the June 2015 signing of the Decent Work Act — the country's first labor law since the 1950s — which set basic standards for safe working environments and collective-bargaining rights for workers in the informal sector. The measure also sought to provide skilled and unskilled workers in the formal economy with standard minimum wages ($5.50 and $3.50 per hour, respectively) and guaranteed paid leave. While few experts see this as a far-reaching solution, given the dominance of the informal economy and women's overrepresentation in it, the law sets a standard for what constitutes a national minimum wage. The ministry has also worked to improve the working conditions and provide financial and childcare services to women in the informal economy. Julia Duncan-Cassell, minister of gender and development, cited women's lack of access to information as a central challenge, noting that the ministry aims to get information about available services to women employed in marketplaces. She said, “Many women are working in the informal sector, and a central part of our work is to see how we take them from the informal to the formal by adding value to the business they are doing . . . either through education, financial inclusion, or capacity-building.”