Women in clickwork: upward mobility or a step backwards on the path to equality?

  • Author

    Miriam Oliver

    GIZ Gig Economy Initiative and Georgia Nelson, GLI (Global Labour Institute, Manchester).

© fauxels from Pexels

ChatGPT demonstrates the immense potential of AI to process and present information in an instantaneous and sophisticated manner. To be able to produce these results the AI relies on annotated data which must be first sorted by human input. This human labour, – also known as clickworkers – work in the silent quarters of the global South to prepare the data to ‘train’ the AI system and software. The recent Times magazine report revealed the exploitative conditions experienced by these workers, giving visibility to an otherwise hidden workforce.

On the other hand, the flexible, anytime, anywhere nature of clickwork makes it an attractive work option for women as it allows them to engage in work whilst fulfilling their care responsibilities. The percentage of women gig workers in this sector is proportionally quite high. For instance, in countries like India with a low female labour force participation, 18% of the workforce on Amazon Mechanical Turk are women. This opportunity has been lauded in some policy circles as a potential panacea for greater female labour force participation and equality. However, behind the promise of greater flexibility and autonomy, also stands the risk that this may restrict women to the home environment and undo decades of progress of the women’s empowerment movement.

For 24-year-old Ambika (name changed), clickwork presents an opportunity to balance her domestic and care responsibilities at home. ‘When I was going out to work, my family were not happy, now they are very supportive’, she says[1]. The online labour market presents the option for women to become independent economically. With less cultural barriers to working via an app at home, stay-at-home mothers now feature as a common worker demographic within this. Another clickworker Susan (name changed) 35, noted that she needs to look after her parents and in-laws and online work arrangements allow her to manage the house affairs whilst earning some extra money[2].


Clickwork presents opportunities for women, whilst reinforcing patriarchal structures of work

Work is often seen as a source of personal and economic empowerment. It can enable women – historically relegated to the private sphere – to interact with the outside world, gain social mobility, increase their agency and decision-making power in the household, and become self-reliant.  However, the nature of clickwork means that some of these opportunities to engage in civil society disappear. The isolation of working from home, hinders the ability of women to form group identities and collectively organize to claim or improve their rights at work. The social and economic mobility which a job once provided is restricted and the class and gender-based hierarchies are reinforced, particularly in societies which restrict interactions of women within society.

Stacked inequalities within the clickwork economy can also exacerbate women’s unequal position. Earning a decent living is reliant on women working long hours, a difficult undertaking for women with an unequal double burden of balancing paid work alongside unpaid caring responsibilities.  In fact, the promise of greater personal flexibility is ‘diminished due to extraneous activities that consume time and cost’ (Sabina Dewan, Just Jobs Network). Those extraneous activities often being the domestic and care responsibilities that are automatically assigned to women: cleaning, cooking, childcare etc. In the reality, this extra flexibility is simply used by women to complete their other tasks which leads to an overall lower earning potential on clickwork platforms[3].

© Sushmita Nag from Unsplash

Regulators are yet to graps the long-term impact of the duality of clickwork; coordinated policy response may be a solution

The race to develop other competitive products and AI systems that can take on ChatGPT has only accelerated. Clickwork is teetering on a precipice with online work holding significant potential to forge greater gender equality and access for women. However, policy responses and awareness both at the level of platforms and workers is required to avoid replicating discriminatory structures that mirror the offline world.

Addressing the challenges and needs of the digital labour economy, the Gig Economy Initiative at GIZ, is developing trainings and tools for policymakers that inform on key aspects of the gig economy and introduce approaches which address harmful gender roles, norms and power relations at a system level. The initiative is also focused on building capacities of gig workers, especially women. This includes an orientation on unique gendered experiences and building allies who face similar challenges on and outside the clickwork platforms.


[1] Gurumurthy, Anita and Zainab, Khawla and Sanjay, Sadhana, The Macro Frames of Microwork: A Study of Indian Women Workers on AMT in the Post-Pandemic Moment (June 1, 2021).

[2] ibid.

[3] Adams-Prassl A, 2021, The Gender Wage Gap in an Online Labour Markt: The Cost of Interruptions