Increasing the Visibility of Informal Workers through Photography

Informal workers sell bananas at Agbogbloshie Market in Accra, Ghana
Photo by Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty Images Reportage

In 2015 - 2016, WIEGO partnered with the Hewlett Foundation and Getty Images Reportage to produce a collection of over 1000 photographs documenting women and men at work in the informal economy – selling and transporting goods in local markets, vending on city streets, producing products from their homes, collecting and sorting waste in landfills and cooperatives, cleaning the homes of employers, and more. The photos feature workers from the principle occupational groups that WIEGO works with: domestic workers, home-based producers, street vendors and waste pickers. These workers are all affiliates of membership-based organisations (MBOs) that make up WIEGO’s network in Colombia, Ghana, India, Peru, South Africa and Thailand.

The goal of the collaboration was to raise the visibility of informal workers and their contributions through photography. By showing women involved in gainful employment and organizing, the collection contrasts with many mainstream images that show women in developing countries through a lens of vulnerability and scarcity. Instead, this collection aims to highlight the strength, dignity and value inherent in the often invisible and undervalued work of informal workers around the world.

To create the collection, WIEGO connected Getty Images Reportage photojournalists Jonathan Torgovnik, Paula Bronstein, and Juan Arredondo with MBOs on the ground in the six countries listed above. Funding for the photo project was provided by the Hewlett Foundation through their Global Development and Population Program.

When we travelled with WIEGO members last year, I remarked that you can’t ‘unsee’ the incredibly hard work these women are doing every day. These high-quality images will help nonprofits share these women’s stories and make their lives—and importantly, their work—visible.

- Helena Choi, Hewlett Foundation Program Officer

The photographs are being used in WIEGO publications and on the WIEGO website. A selection of the photos is also licensed under Creative Commons and available free of charge at imagesofempowerment.org

In addition, Getty Images has produced a photo essay (below) that displays a selection of the photos with narration from the photojournalists who captured them. In the video they share their perspectives and impressions from the project.

Photo above (Accra, Ghana): With support from WIEGO, many kayayei (head load porters) in Agbogbloshie have experienced improved social protection. In 2012, WIEGO facilitated a Health Policy Dialogue in Accra with key government, civil society, and informal sector stakeholders, including the kayayei themselves. This allowed the kayayei to discuss and share experiences of Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) with key health policymakers, who identified possible ways to incorporate these workers into the scheme and explored strategies to provide them with support in accessing health services. It was a successful result: 1,000 kayayei were able to register and gain better information on available health care services through the Ghanaian National Insurance Scheme.