REPORT Empowerment or Exploitation: Global Perspectives on Women’s Work in the Platform Economy


The essays explore how technology, platform design, and regulations can either empower or hinder women’s participation, highlighting the need for a gender-inclusive approach to ensure worker well-being and sustain the platform economy’s growth.

The “future of work” is a popular catchphrase that describes the frenetic obsession with trying to prepare for an uncertain future. Yet too often we fail to learn from past mistakes, or to address the weak fundamentals of today. We have become accustomed to trying to build strong economies on weak foundations. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the world of work where growing precarity is accepted under the guise of flexibility, efficiency, and progress. This is why the JustJobs Network has always focused on the fundamentals of work — even in this era of rapid, large-scale change.

Many believe that the seemingly flexible world of platform-mediated work, given impetus by the Covid-19 pandemic, will create more opportunities for women. But merely bringing more women into the labour force does not improve gender equity nor does it harness the benefits of female labour force participation.

This volume highlights various essays that examine different aspects of platform work from a gender perspective, considering e-commerce, location-based work, and online-based work across different regions. It explores whether the platform economy promotes women’s empowerment and suggests ways to make platform work more equitable and inclusive. Although the platform economy has the potential to enhance female labour force participation, simply having access to platforms does not guarantee improved livelihoods, autonomy, equal opportunity, or empowerment. The belief that platform work will empower women and promote gender equity is not without its flaws, as it often replicates offline biases and fails to provide optimal working conditions.

Effective regulation is crucial to prioritize workers’ interests and harness the potential of women in the global economy. Evidence from different parts of the world reveals that platforms can perpetuate gender stereotypes, place a burden on women in terms of unpaid household work, and result in low wages, leading women to juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Case studies from Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and Latin America demonstrate that platform work often leads to economic precarity for women, affecting their well-being and work-life balance. Limited access to the internet, low connectivity, and gendered occupational segregation on platforms hinder women’s participation and their ability to capitalize on digital opportunities. The design of platforms and marketplace models also plays a crucial role in women’s empowerment. Some platforms perpetuate gender-related challenges, while others focus on reducing power asymmetries and responding to gender-specific barriers.

It is clear that effective regulation is key. Maintaining a fine balance between viability of the platform business model, the economic and social needs of workers, and enabling the flexibility and autonomy that makes gig work attractive, is a mammoth task. Most countries are struggling to regulate the sector by including the gig workers within existing definitions of employees or creating new categories, or trying to extend coverage to self-employed digital entrepreneurs and gig workers.

The essays in this volume emphasize that platform jobs are not inherently empowering, despite the diversity of experiences. It is essential to recognize that the growth of the platform economy relies on the well-being of its workers. Stakeholders, including workers, governments, and firms, should work together to ensure that social and economic benefits are distributed equitably to sustain the growth of the platform economy.


REPORT Empowerment or Exploitation: Global Perspectives on Women’s Work in the Platform Economy