Partner Post: Informal Workers Call for Inclusive Cities at the World Urban Forum


Post reprinted with permission from Asiye eTafuleni.  Written by Tasmi Quazi. 

Informal workers at World Urban Forum 6

Attendee at networking events asks questions

On Monday 4th of September 2012, Asiye eTafuleni (AeT) and its international network partners of the Inclusive Cities project  held their first networking event at the sixth premiere conference, the World Urban Forum (WUF) in Naples (Italy).  This significant platform attracts an international melting pot of diplomats, mayors, city managers, urban planners, development practitioners, research agencies and institutions, organizations and donors concerned with the developmental challenges posed by urbanization and environmental disasters. The participants of the events optimize the opportunity to share their experiences in their relevant fields, learn from other approaches, and network towards future collaboration.  Accordingly, the Inclusive Cities project optimized the opportunity to share the experiences of the international collective in the realm of inclusive urban development with informal workers through the exhibition and presentations at specific events.

Interactivity at the Inclusive Cities Exhibition

The Inclusive Cities Booth

What has been definitively unique about the Inclusive Cities approach to the networking events compared with others, and one which resonates with AeT’s own dissemination strategy, is the insistence that presentations include the presence and voice of the beneficiaries, the informal workers themselves.  For instance, in the first event, “The Role of the Informal Economy in Cities: Current realities and Future Prospects,” worker leaders representing three different sectors of the informal economy and different member-based organizations around the world shared the realities of their working lives including the challenges and positive advances of working with local authorities and through collective action.

This has reaffirmed the value of inclusivity within all processes such that  interventions, even dissemination, emanates from the grounded reality of informal workers experiences.  Secondly, the empowered voices of the informal workers as they address an audience of high-powered officials and professionals serve to transform public perception often prejudiced against the informal economy, and consequently validate the important role of informal workers in urban economies and society at large. Even more fascinatingly, the mayor of Katihar district in India was brought by Inclusive Cities to enrich the dialogue around the challenges and opportunities of inclusive development from an urban governance perspective.


Heleadora Flores from the Street Vendors Project

Heleadora Flores from the Street Vendors Project

During the dialogue session, street vendor Heleadora Flores from the Street Vendors Project talked about the police harassment and excessive fines New York street vendors face. Heleadora explained that, much like the experiences of Warwick Junction in Durban (South Africa), these resulted from insufficient trading permits and licenses that are not meeting people’s demand for economic opportunities in this sector of the informal economy.  Furthermore, the street vendors are penalized with exorbitant fines for inadvertently contravening regulations — fines they cannot afford to pay. Consequently, the Street Vendors Project has been lobbying for support to get these fines reduced and, like AeT, have been forced to seek litigation support at certain points.

However, also like AeT, one of the Street Vendors Projects’ critical strategies is around dissemination of information of workplace rights and responsibilities.  Education strategies have included the development of an information pamphlet that captures urban regulation laws related to street vending in the form of creative and dimensioned graphics of urban infrastructure.  This is akin to AeT’s law project in which a foldable information card with graphics and urban regulations pertaining to public space trading is being developed in conjunction with the Legal Resources Centre.  AeT’s information card is being designed to be worn attached to a lanyard, and, like the pamphlet used by Street Vendors Project, it serves as a visible indicator to enforcement officials that informal workers are aware of their rights and responsibilities with regards to urban regulations. It is hoped this will reduce unfair and exploitative enforcement practices.

The informal workers each delivered comprehensive and passionate presentations that left the 90 people audience inspired, reflected by the interactive Q&A session after. For instance, with regards to the urban development of transportation systems and formal business and housing schemes that force the relocation of informal workers to less viable areas, home-based worker from SEWA in Ahemedabad Zaitun Ben perceptively Informal workers delegation & Mayor of Katiharcommented

“…urban development is inevitable, as a society, we all have a right to beautiful and clean spaces, however, we are a part of society too, you might as well enable us to participate meaningfully in this process of development instead of excluding us…”

Similarly, informal recycler Monica Silva from Sao Paulo, talked about the higher incomes levels and dignity experienced by waste picker cooperatives through enabling local government policy that has recognized and integrated informal recycling as part of the city’s waste management strategy.  She reflected that ever since her economic life has normalized through these positive interventions, she was able to dedicate time to a literacy program where she learned to read and write, and one of the first words she was able to read was the word “citizen.”  Based on the greater self-worth she feels as an informal recycler instead of the embarrassment of the past, she says she has grown to understand what it means to be a citizen.

In conclusion, what has been striking at WUF is the disproportionate focus on housing in the dialogues by high level officials and professionals as the solution to the challenges of urbanization.  However, development practitioners are increasingly challenging this by pointing out that the housing debate is virtually irrelevant if people are enabled to earn livelihoods through inclusive economic and development planning. Therefore, the presence of AeT and its Inclusive Cities partners has been of strategic importance in highlighting the developmental role of informal livelihoods as a major force in ameliorating urban poverty.

To read about press coverage, click here.  To view more images from the event, click here.