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‘But I liked it, I liked it’: Revealing agentive aspects of women’s engagement in informal economy on the EU external borders

Journal article
Authors Olga Sasunkevich
Published in The European Journal of Women's Studies
Volume 26
Issue 2
Pages 117-131
ISSN 1350-5068
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Pages 117-131
Language en
Keywords Agency, Belarus, informal economy, post-socialism, women
Subject categories Gender Studies


The aim of this article is to shed light on women’s experience of informal trade on one of the EU external borders: Belarus–Lithuania. The article suggests looking at the informal economy beyond the notion of precarity and to pay attention to how women themselves understand their involvement in trading practices. The author argues that, although economic necessity is an important motivation for women to start trading activities, this experience rewards them not only financially but also through non-economic aspects such as self-respect, solidarity and socializing. Theoretically, the article brings together the discussion of the gendered nature of informal work with the feminist theory of agency. It shows that women’s experience of informal cross-border trade is agentive. Trade provides women with a sense of pride, self-confidence and respect and enables them to recognize their self-sufficiency. However, it is also argued that agency is not synonymous with autonomy and individualism. Theoretically and empirically, the article stresses a relational understanding of agency. On the one hand, women acknowledge their financial achievements as the capability to take proper care of their children, especially in situations when the second breadwinner is absent. On the other hand, they also value their trading experience as a space of socializing with other women. The success of cross-border trade depends on the sense of solidarity and collective action to resist the system represented by customs and border control.

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