FILE-Construction workers, from cleaners to taxi drivers, take on ‘sexist’ algorithms

by MMC
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Platforms do not take into account heavy national commitments


Opt-out and low ratings are a reality for female gig workers


New female-led algorithms aim to combat discrimination

By Kim Harrisberg, Fabio Teixeira and Nita Bhalla

JOHANNESBURG/RIO DE JANEIRO/NAIROBI, Sept 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cleaners, couriers and taxi drivers around the world are creating new apps to better balance their work with the tasks of motherhood and marriage, bypassing the sexist algorithms that penalize women. who returned home before work.

From Brazil to South Africa, gig workers are on a mission to design, create and own their own apps to counter what they see as entrenched sexism on existing job platforms.

“It’s important that we create these apps because we are the beneficiaries, we know what we go through as women and domestic workers,” Selinah Masilela told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from South Africa. South.

Technology is the key to the problem – and its solution.

Digital researchers and activists say workplace algorithms often penalize women who are unable to take jobs as often as men, leading to lower customer ratings and churn, with limited room for discussion with the platforms.

Yet globally, women do about three times as much unpaid care work as men, a burden that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19, according to UN Women data.

A report from rights group ActionAid released earlier this year showed that gig work algorithms discriminated against women who were “unable to respond as quickly or work as many hours as men due to unpaid family responsibilities.

The report, citing a survey of more than 5,000 gig workers in 15 countries, also shows that women tend to work fewer hours than men – contributing to a wage gap – because problems of Safety leads many to avoid work that falls at night or in risky locations. .

“I would say (these algorithms are) sexist because it’s the system that we’re a part of… which is very blind to the needs of women and to unpaid care work, whereas unpaid care work is a such an important part of our economy,” said Natalia Rodriguez, women’s economic rights policy expert at ActionAid.


Over the past three years, South African social justice researcher Fairuz Mullagee has worked with nearly 50 domestic workers in Cape Town and Johannesburg to create We Care, a platform that puts algorithmic control in women’s hands.

The women chose ideal salary levels, hours and algorithmic programming while undergoing digital literacy training, said Mullagee, who works at the University of the Western Cape’s Center for Transformative Labor Regulation.

The We Care company is owned by its workers and any surplus generated by the app, scheduled to launch in November, will go back to the company, Mullagee said.

We Care’s algorithm connects women and their work by geography to prevent them from wasting time and money.

This also ensures that all women have equal access to opportunities and do not suffer poor grades simply because of family emergencies.

There may not be a silver bullet, but it’s a good start.

“Technology alone will not solve all of the industry’s problems,” Mullagee said.


ActionAid found many other apps that work on the same principle as We Care, from the women-only ride-hailing app An Nisa in Kenya to nearly a dozen women-led platforms in Brazil.

Fairness and accountability are at the heart of these principles, with the rights of women workers always paramount.

“We wanted to develop an app whose algorithms are transparent,” said Mehnaz Sarwar, founder of An Nisa.

“It is not biased towards the number of hours a driver works, but only based on the location of the driver and the nearest driver.”

The app launched in Kenya last October and now has over 120 drivers. The company also offers first aid training, self-defense classes, and auto rescue and repair service.

Eunice Machoka, a single mother of three, registered on An Nisa as well as more popular apps such as Uber and Bolt, said she preferred An Nisa because its payouts were higher.

“The rates are better, sometimes almost double,” Machoka, 35, said. “But the app is still new, so the number of customers is still much lower.”

These platforms are part of what Rodriguez calls an “explosion of cooperativism” helping their workers achieve “fair wages… freedom from violence and ownership and control of their data.”


Aline Os was one of two women in a team of 100 when she worked for a delivery company in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.

“It was an extremely misogynistic environment,” she recalls. “I fought because I demanded respect.”

Sexism, however, pushed her into action, and in 2017 Os launched Senoritas Courier, a gig worker cooperative that employs only women and transgender people.

Unlike larger Brazilian platforms, it does not focus on meal delivery due to high speed and low wages, but instead uses a team of bicycles to deliver non-food items. The cooperative has 20 associates, nine of whom work in delivery.

Jacira Sousa, 55, has worked at Senoritas since the pandemic and now balances her work with other jobs to keep her income stable.

All this hard work, she thinks, will soon pay off.

Senoritas has partnered with researchers to build an algorithm from the mass of data collected over its years of service, recording distances traveled, delivery time and price paid.

Between his many day jobs, Sousa also learned to code and now hopes to transition to the technology side of Senoritas.

“The idea is to empower people to do other things within the collective,” Sousa said. “We can’t make deliveries forever.”

According to Os, the algorithm will be “human”: it will match supply and demand to give each rider a fair share of work and pay. It will also be open source, so other cooperatives can use it and adapt it for their own businesses.

“We want an algorithm that leads to decent work,” Os said.

ActionAid recognizes that legislative progress has been made to protect gig workers in countries including Singapore, Brazil, Chile and the European Union.

But now he also wants bottom-up action.

“It’s women who have the knowledge to come up with the solutions best suited to their needs and the changes they want to see in the world,” said ActionAid’s Rodriguez. (Reporting by Kim Harrisberg in Johannesburg, Fabio Teixeira in Rio de Janeiro and Nita Bhalla in Nairobi; editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit

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