APPROXIMATELY 80per 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
“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.
Women leaders of market vendor associations (MVA) from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, shared their stories of hardship and success at the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Pacific Ministers for Women in Suva
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 that before the Markets 4 Change (M4C) project, “[the women of Malaita] don’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.”
Leisavi, from Port Vila, Vanuatu, started as a market vendor but quickly became interested in joining the MVA.
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 organize 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.