Between 75 and 90 per cent of vendors working at Pacific markets are women and their earnings are often significant to the incomes of poor households. Markets may seem small-scale, but they are significant contributors to the national economy.
However, vendors, especially women, face numerous day-to-day challenges – the hours are long, the profits are low and violence against women is widely reported.
And despite the high number of women working in marketplaces, it is often men who run marketplaces and control decision-making.
This makes markets a particularly effective place to help improve women’s economic position and reduce national poverty.
The Markets for Change (M4C) project, which officially launched at Honiara Central Market yesterday is a key component of the Women’s Economic Empowerment programme at UN Women in the Pacific.
The project’s goal is to ensure that marketplaces in rural and urban areas in Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The six-year, multi-country initiative involves more than US$11 million in total funding, the bulk of which has been provided by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Building from experience gained from through UN Women’s Partners Improving Markets pilot projects implemented from 2009-2012, as well entry points for change identified in local initiatives the M4C Project will be working with stakeholders, service providers and market vendors to: build and support organised representative vendor groups; deliver appropriate services, training and interventions to enhance vendors’ economic and social opportunities; support market management to ensure women’s voices are heard and taken into account at the policy and decision-making level; and to improve physical infrastructure and operating systems to make markets more sustainable and resilient to disaster risks and climate change.
The UN Women Representative at the Fiji Multi-Country Office, Ms Elzira Sagynbaeva, says the potential for change is exciting. She points out that the project is a great platform for supporting multi-partner initiatives, bringing together local authorities, communities, rural and urban women, civil society organisations, UN agencies and the private sector in an effort to improve the market environment for everyone who uses it, but particularly for women.
The project capitalises and builds on UN Women’s existing working relationships with local, provincial and national government throughout the Pacific. In Solomon Islands this includes Honiara City Council, Auki Provincial Government and the Ministry of Women Youth Children and Family Affairs.
The Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, Ethel Sigimanu, spoke at the Solomon Islands launch and said:
“For many years and even to this day, market vendors are among a section of our community who are hardly recognised.
“A market vendor is simply a market vendor. Beyond that a market vendor is nothing.
“She comes in, sells her produce, probably buys a tin of fish from the profit she gains that day and then returns home to the village only to find herself making that journey back to the market the very next day.”
UN Women’ s Regional Director for Asia Pacific Regional Office, Ms Roberta Clarke compared the challenges facing market vendors in Solomon islands with their counterparts in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and much of Asia.
“Your work is often dismissed as marginal, unskilled, and unimportant. Part of the way forward is recognising the worth and work of market vendors.”
In April and May this year UN Women held a series of ‘Getting Started’ workshops with over 60 women and men vendors from Honiara Central Market. Participants of the workshops were presented with certificates of completion at the M4C launch on Friday. Ms Rose Starlyn represented the voices of market vendors by speaking at launch and had a strong message for everyone present.
“I think small changes can make a difference. The last thing I would like to say is that we must not stop.
“We must move forward to make positive changes to the marketplace. We must move forward.”
During the three workshops vendors had the opportunity to organise to work together, identify their priorities, and develop plans to take action to effect positive changes.
Australian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brett Mason, says the project represents a step towards strengthening women’s economic security and rights.
“Marketplaces link the community to the national and regional economy through numerous trade modalities.
“Getting the balance right and ensuring everyone’s full participation – women included – is vital for a healthy economy. Australia supports women’s economic empowerment, recognising that when women can actively participate in the economy, including the formal labour market, we all prosper.”