What does it take to be a Female Market Vendor?

By | 03:08 Leave a Comment
I have done a few postings about EfG's work, but I wanted to share some general images and ideas about what women market vendors are doing. Of course there isn't a "typical market" or a "typical vendor" - alot depends on size, focus and the location of the market. But I thought I'd start with the most typical of market focuses - food.

The market is a combination of one central structure surrounded by any number of makeshift structures. The central structure is almost empty (I assume due to the high price of rent?) and most people occupy the stalls surrounding it.

At the back of the market is the food vendors' section. Food vendors are all women. It's one of the most common enterprises for women but it's also one of the least profitable in the market.

Here is one of the food vendors, or mama lishe as they're called in Swahili. It's mid-afternoon and she's cooking cassava which is mainly bought by school-children on their way home. She has already cooked and served the mid-day meal and will likely stay into the evening to catch people on their way home from work.

Delivery anyone? One of the women was able to offer delivery to people near the market. But delivery means carrying; there are no bikes or motorcycles to carry things on.

The women's stalls are really underdeveloped. Though they rent the space for a really high price, the owner doesn't invest anything in infrastructure and the women are responsible for maintaining their  own stalls. Most women would like to improve their structures to attract more business but they lack the money.

The other most female dominated industry is vegetables sales. Women get up early and travel to the wholesale markets to buy their produce and re-sell it at the local markets.

Women's ability to succeed in this industry is tied to how much capital they can round up to buy wholesale. The cheapest vegetables are tomatoes and onions and these are the ones most commonly sold by women. EfG runs savings and credits groups to help the women increase their savings and get low interest loans so that women can invest more in their business.

The women here support each other in their businesses. Most of the food vendors buy their produce from the vegetable sellers. However, what people really need is an increase in customers. The market is small and off the main road. Most people would like to see more marketing but no one is quite sure what that would look like.

The more profitable food business is dry goods and other preserved foods like canned goods. This takes a lot more capital but the profits are also a lot higher. The end result is that it's dominated by men.

After visiting the market, the leaders told me I should come back and open a stall and sell vegetables. It was a well meaning joke but the truth is I can't imagine taking up this lifestyle. It's so much work for so little return and so little hope of it ever changing -- which ultimately is the definition of living in poverty.

And yet these women remain unfailingly kind, incredibly giving and driven as all get out. In spite of the draw backs to their businesses, it can't be forgotten that they have overcome a lot of gender stereotypes just by being in business and trading in the market. Women make up less than 30% of market traders for a reason. There are so many barriers for women to enter trade and these women have persevered and overcome a lot to be there. Just imagine what they would be able to accomplish if they were given the opportunity to be the business women they want to be.


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