On Tuesday 14 October 2014 something happened at the Labasa Municipal Market that had never happened before – it was closed for two hours so that more than 450 market vendors could vote on who they wanted to represent them. For Ana Biusavu it was also the day she took on a new role – the first ever president of the newly-formed Labasa Market Vendors Association Executive Committee.
Ms. Biusavu has been a market vendor in Labasa for more than 15 years and was among the 38 vendors who took part in a two-day workshop aimed at supporting market vendors in working together to make positive changes in their marketplaces. On Thursday 29 January 2015, Ms Biusavu took her place alongside Fiji’s Minister of Local Government, Housing and Environment and other invited guests to address those same market vendors as part of a certificate presentation ceremony.
“Vendors play a very important role in the market but many times they are never given an opportunity to be heard,” Ms Biusavu said. “I also believe women should be involved in the marketplace because they contribute a lot to the income of the market, income of the family, and to meeting their social obligations.”
Approximately 75-90 per cent of market vendors across the Pacific are women and Labasa is no exception. Many of them spend six to eight hours a day, six days a week in the market selling their produce, often for very small cash returns. Rural women face high travel costs and spend two to four days a week away from their families.
“Women vendors bring so much value to the marketplace,” Ms Biusavu explained. “Women contribute substantially to agricultural production and household income. Women work as both subsistence and commercial farmers, growing both food and cash crops. Women exercise substantial agency as farm producers and contributors to farm production and to household and personal income.”
The “Getting Started” workshops that Ms Biusavu attended in September 2014 are part of UN Women’s
Markets for Change project, a six-year initiative that works with nine municipal councils in 10 markets across Fiji in an effort to ensure they are safer, more inclusive and non-discriminatory for everyone who works there.
The project is principally funded by the Australian Government as part of its Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative.
A key focus of the workshop was on how to create and maintain a democratic organisation that effectively represents all of its members and participants were encouraged to form a new vendors’ association so that they can be part of the decision-making processes at the market and ultimately contribute to improvements to market conditions.
“Despite the challenges I face daily, I am still thankful for the little opportunities I receive,” Ms Biusavu said. “I know the task ahead won’t be easy but I am confident that my committee will work together with the Town Council and UN Women to bring about changes in Labasa Market.”
Praveen Kumar Bala, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Environment presented the vendors with their certificates and emphasised that markets provide a critical source of cash income for a range of people.
“Our markets provide a place of employment or work for the informal sector where thousands of people can earn their living, most being women who are very often the sole income earners for their family,” he said.
“I am certain that the knowledge generated through the training will now increase the financial returns of your market produce. And also improve the other factors of your lives such as your leadership skills, product development, and healthy living.”
The Markets for Change project will also continue rolling out financial literacy training for vendors in partnership with UNDP and Westpac, as well as leadership and communications workshops for the executive committee members. “Getting Started” workshops will also be held in the three remaining Fiji markets involved in the project.
The Markets for Change project also covers a number of urban and rural markets in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
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