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Women market vendors share their views

Un Women
Friday, October 06, 2017

ABOUT 80 per cent of all market vendors in the Pacific are women, and these earnings make up a significant portion of incomes of many poor households. In spite of their contribution to the local economy and to markets, women are often excluded from market governance and decision-making.

In this respect, women leaders of market vendor associations (MVA) from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu yesterday shared their tales of hardship and success at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women in Suva.

"Though people see market vendors as ordinary women, their contribution in terms of the money earned and contributed to the economy is very important," said Maureen Sariki, president of Honiara City MVA in Solomon Islands. As president of the MVA, Ms Sariki, has built strong relationships with the local government resulting in market vendors now being consulted in the development of market budgets and plans.

Also from Solomon Islands, Janet Ramo, president of the Auki MVA, says before the markets 4 change (M4C) project, " didn't have an understanding and discipline of the importance of saving — many are intimidated by formal banking — also there is almost no interest and the fees are high".

In response, Ms Ramo used the structure of the market vendor association, plus the skills learned in M4C financial literacy training to start a local savings and loan scheme and a cooperative store — improving accessibility of financial services to market vendors and encouraging saving and investment in livelihoods.

"With this project, I see myself as a business woman — I no longer look down on myself — I am happy," added Ms Ramo.

When asked about the success of the MVAs, Ms Sariki said "market managers are now referring issues from market vendors back to the MVA to resolve, we are leaders and have the power to make decisions."

As vice-president of Silae Vanua market, she participated in trainings on financial literacy, agriculture, communications and leadership, as well as attended workshops on disaster resilience and helped organise events.

"I want to learn more, so I applied to the Australia Pacific Technical College (APTC) and I was lucky to be selected to study Certificate 4 on Community Development" said Leisavi.

These women, through the MVAs, are leading, representing and advocating for the needs of all market vendors, specifically women, working in the informal economy.

"The Northern Islands have many market vendors who want to sell at the market and the MVA helps give equal time between all in the market so it is fair for everyone" said Melody Leo, executive committee member of Northern Islands MVA in Vanuatu, explaining the complex rotational system that the Luganville market put in place after the MVAs met and agreed on a system that would be fair to all.

Market vendor associations (MVA) are one way of improving working conditions for women, who make up about 80 per cent of the market vendors, enabling them to be active agents of change and leaders in their local communities.

UN Women, through its Markets for Change (M4C) project under the Women's Economic Empowerment (WEE) program, recognises that marketplaces are a critical space for the intersection of women's economic empowerment; safety and discrimination; leadership and participation; disaster preparedness; and livelihoods.

Lako Ogotia, president of Lautoka MVA in Fiji, was a teacher for 36 years but always wanted to be a vendor for handicraft products — with her husband being a woodcarver and her family specialising in mat weaving.

Ms Lako said: "I work voluntarily, unlike the previous leaders before M4C — I don't take money for myself and women are seeing that the benefits are for everyone at the market, not just members of the MVA.

"The M4C workshops and training — that really helped and empowered me - as it's a game of confidence, to negotiate with council management."

In addition to promoting financial literacy, access to financial services, improved agricultural skills and market infrastructure, M4C supports the creation and strengthening of representative marketplace groups — which in turn enhances the roles and influence of women market vendors.

Varanisese Maisamoa, president of Rakiraki MVA in Fiji was instrumental in ensuring women's building needs were equally considered in the market rebuilding process after Tropical Severe Cyclone Winston destroyed the market in February 2016.

Reflecting on the M4C project, Ms Maisamoa said "these trainings really open our minds and build our confidence — what we couldn't do before, we now know the way, because we are educated.

"As a market vendor, as a woman, M4C has changed my life, the way I see my work, my colleagues and my working environment — I am stronger, bold — I am much better than before".

Leisavi Joel, vice-president of Silae Vanua MVA in Vanuatu, talked about how M4C training helped her to expand her business as "now I understand that the market is a business — and when disaster comes, I can do another business. Unity for women — it's a powerful tool to make change".

UN Women's Markets for Change (M4C) project is a six-year, multi-country initiative that aims to ensure marketplaces in rural and urban areas of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women's empowerment.

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