Market vendors return to Marobe Market in Vanuatu


Women market vendors in Port Vila
Women market vendors sell root crops and handicrafts at the newly re-opened  Marobe Market House in Port Vila. Photo: UN Women.

When Marobe Market Manager Aaron Kalo came into UN Women’s Port Vila office in Vanuatu after Easter he had good news – the market was running out of tables. The market had only been open a few days and the demand for tables was evidence of the small steps being taken to restore the trade that so many women and their families depend on.

Marobe Market House officially re-opened on April 2, almost three weeks after Category Five Tropical Cyclone Pam ripped through the island nation. It was the first market to re-open for fresh produce sellers, the result of a UN Women-facilitated agreement between Port Vila Municipality and Shefa Provincial Government, under the oversight of the Department of Local Authorities.

The majority of market vendors in Vanuatu are women, most of whom also grow the produce they sell. The cyclone destroyed up to 90 per cent of crops on affected islands and left up to 75,000 needing temporary shelter, meaning many women have lost their homes and sole source of income in one blow.

“Markets are often dismissed as part of the formal economy but they are vital to national growth and the economy,” explains Cherol Ala, Director of the Department of Local Authorities. “We need women to recognise that they are important and that they deserve help; we need to support them as much as we can.”

Originally opened in June 2014 and funded by UN Women’s Australian National Committee as part of UN Women’s Markets for Change project, Marobe Market House was largely undamaged by the cyclone. It is now open to all market vendors while the Port Vila Market is being repaired, with a two-month grace period on table fees for market vendors’ association members.

Three market vendors’ associations actively involved in getting the markets up and running again were established within the past five months after UN Women’s “Getting Started” workshops under its Markets for Change project. Principally funded by the Australian Government, under its Pacific Women initiative, the project works to ensure markets are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, part of which is creating effective governance mechanisms that represent the needs of market vendors, particularly women.

Nicolas Burniat, UN Women’s Deputy Representative and Officer in Charge at the Fiji Multi-Country Office, says the role these new associations have already played is proof of how important they are in ensuring women’s needs are actively considered in the running of their marketplaces.

 “It is essential that women have a voice in the recovery and reconstruction phases, particularly when it comes to the markets that provide so many of them with the means to support their families. I was in Vanuatu last week and I was impressed by how much has already been achieved through these new associations.”

It will be some time before it will be anything like business as usual for the market vendors of Vanuatu. Root crops will take at least three months to re-grow, while fruit trees will take years and that is after the ground has been cleared of debris and uprooted trees; inter-island and inter-province trade will be instrumental in getting income and produce flowing again.

The Northern Island Market Vendors’ Association in Luganville – one of the three set up with support from the Markets for Change project – has already donated 10 tonnes of produce from Espiritu Santo island. Some of that produce was sold at Marobe Market on April 2.

UN Women is also working with Vanuatu’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Sector Strengthening Program and the market vendors associations in Port Vila, Marobe and Luganville to buy produce from Espiritu Santo for market vendors on Efate to on-sell.

Now that cruise ships are starting to arrive in Port Vila again, handicrafts can also provide market vendors with an alternative income stream, which was why it was so important that the launch of the Tongoa Shepherds Women’s Association arts and craft market go ahead as planned. The re-opening of the Marobe Market House provided the perfect occasion to double-up.

“We decided it was more important than ever and that the market needed to go on,” says association president Alice Kalo. “In my area [on Tongoa] of 14 villages, 3,000 people are really affected but we have to see the blessing. A lot of trees have fallen that we can carve [for handicrafts]. We are very talented people, we have the skills, the knowledge; we have the gift for carving, we just need the tools.”

The Association receives funding from UN Women as part of its Women’s Economic Empowerment programme. This support has helped them buy the 25 tables currently being used by market vendors at Marobe Market. In return, the Tongoa Shepherds Women’s Association receives just over half the table fees that market vendors usually pay in order to sell their produce at the market.

Through its Markets for Change project, UN Women is working with market vendors, market councils, provincial and national governments in Vanuatu, as well as the Australian Government, to help women restore their livelihoods and build resilience to future external shocks like Cyclone Pam.



UN Women’s Markets for Change project

UN Women’s Markets for Change (M4C) project is a key component of its Women’s Economic Empowerment programme. The six-year, multi-country initiative aims 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.

Between 75% and 90% of vendors working at Pacific marketplaces are women and their earnings often make up a significant portion of the incomes of many poor households. Despite this, women are often excluded from market governance and decision-making. M4C works with stakeholders, service providers and the market vendors themselves to: build and support inclusive, effective and representative advocacy groups; deliver appropriate services, training and interventions; ensure women’s voices are heard and taken into account at the decision-making level; and to improve physical infrastructure and operating systems.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has provided AU$10 million to support the implementation of the Markets for Change project


About UN Women and the Multi-Country Office (MCO) in Fiji

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) was created at the July 2010 United Nations General Assembly. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. The MCO covers 14 Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs): Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The Fiji MCO works with four key programmes: Women’s Economic Empowerment; Ending Violence Against Women; Advancing Gender Justice in the Pacific; and Increasing Community Resilience through Empowerment of Women to Address Climate Change and Natural Hazards Programme to progress with gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Pacific.


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