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The Plight of Uganda Market Women Entrepreneurs and What IST is Doing to Reverse the Situation

In Uganda, markets are organised under a general structure that comprises men and women. The management structure includes: the chairman, vice chairman, secretary, treasurer and heads of stalls that are in charge of stalls that sell more or less the same goods. For the lower leadership in most markets, vendors are organised on the basis of commodities that are sold in different sections of the market. Many other markets in the country are outdoor makeshift markets (seasonal markets) that are set up during a particular period of time (on a weekly, bi-monthly or monthly basis). In these markets, the vendors either arrange their goods on the ground, use makeshift tables and/or hawk them around the marketplace.

Unfortunately, these spaces have male-dominated management structures that exclude women from leadership and key decision-making processes; and yet the women constitute more than 70% of the market population.

As a result, market women experience fluctuating levies by the market owners that are discriminatory irrespective of what one sells. This speaks to the corrupt leadership structures within the market. The women also lack power and voice when it comes to participating in decisions concerning the management of the markets. For instance, the women have experienced exclusion from the development being carried out by the government under the Markets Agriculture Trade Improvement (MATI) Programme in Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) and other town authorities in Uganda to improve marketplaces. Eventually, the structures and set-up of stalls contravene best marketing basics.The markets with improved amenities are highjacked by well-placed businesspeople who buy out the spaces, leaving the women with only one option – to sub-rent yet it is beyond their financial ability. This has forced many to look out for new places within sub-standard markets. For instance, when Wandegeya market was upgraded, many market women were forced to shift to Kalerwe market because they couldn’t afford the stall dues. Others resorted to street vending, yet it has been outlawed in Kampala and other major towns.

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On-going IST market women training

Such attempts that relate to citizen involvement are restricted to business enterprises which are much nearer the centres of power and are better organised. Given the lack of a strong organisation and agency, market women have no opportunity to speak out and be heard.

This thus explains why advocating for making markets decent workplaces for women and other market vendors is hardly done. In order for market women enterprenuers to do this type of advocacy, they have to be organised and positioned to demand their rights.

Research conducted by IST in the markets of Nakawa and Kalerwe, Gulu main market, Celeremo market and Pader main market found that sanitary and child-care facilities in the markets were either lacking or below the desired standard. Some of the markets IST explored had only a handful of bathrooms for thousands of vendors and customers; not to mention the lack of sanitation within these facilities. Women – and mothers in particular – are most vulnerable because a number of them have very young children. In the face of non-existent day-care centres, the likelihood of a child acquiring disease rises exponentially. In addition, some markets do not allow children inside with their mothers, making it difficult for these women to take care of their children. Many market women lack business knowledge, making them susceptible to losses.

Based on this background, therefore, IST conducted training sessions for market women in the areas of transformational leadership, advocacy skills, voice, rights and power, and also organised a learning event between Ugandan market women and their Liberian counterparts. The training sessions were conducted using practical examples of issues that are a priority to market women and this enabled them to come up with concrete plans for implementation.

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The market women in a group work session during the trainings

Under advocacy, for example, the market women were encouraged to come together to create platforms that should be used to discuss and build a critical mass to address issues that affect them. This would also provide space to demand accountability from the market leadership and other stakeholders. The training participants were also taken through a process of self-knowledge because leadership begins with self-knowledge.

After the training sessions, IST organised market women vendors’ intra-country inter-market learning programmes and international learning and exposure ones that brought together Ugandan market women vendors from the central and northern regions and the West Nile sub-region. The market women from Liberia were also brought on board to share their experiences and to learn from their counterparts in Uganda. This specifically focused on organising the working conditions, involvement of market women in leadership and decision-making, the levels of taxation and the opportunities to lobby government and other stakeholders for better business.

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Liberian market women speaking to the market women of Uganda during the learning visit event.

In order to give a voice to the market women, IST facilitated media engagement activities such as a dialogue with journalists and editors, as well as talk shows, that were used to share the plight of market women with the public and other stakeholders such as government, private agencies etc. Besides using the media to give these women a voice, news editors and journalists from different media houses were sensitised regarding the issues that affect these women, through an inquiry based on the findings from the study on the socio-economic situation analysis of market women and the Ugandan legal framework analysis of markets.

Key outcomes from this intervention

105  women vendors benefited from these capacity-building sessions.

3 market women platforms, i.e. Arua Market Women Vendors Association, Gulu Market Women Vendors Association and Kalerwe-Bivamuntuyo Market Women Vendors Association were formed in Gulu main market as well as Kalerwe-Bivamuntuyo market. The women use them to discuss and build a critical mass to address issues that affect them. They also provide space to demand accountability from the market leadership and other stakeholders and they are further used as grooming spaces for market women who are aspiring for leadership.

3  radio talk shows that gave voice to the market women were conducted.

Information, education and communication materials (IECs) such as PVC banners, label pins, pull-up banners, T-shirts, emblem bags, cups and paper bags that were used to enhance the understanding of market women vendors and other stakeholders regarding the desired socio-economic change were produced and widely disseminated. The materials carried different messages on the rights of women vendors and their voices with a call to action from different stakeholders to improve their working conditions.

The market women now recognise that taking on leadership is an important role they must embrace, in order to have issues affecting them addressed. So far 21 women have taken on leadership within the Women Vendors Association (Arua Market Women Vendors Association, Gulu Market Women Vendors Association and Kalerwe-Bivamuntuyo Market Women Vendors Association. Twenty-five have taken on leadership in the platforms formed in Gulu main market, Kalerwe-Bivamuntuyo market and Arua main market.

Success stories from the field

The IST training has really empowered us. Before, we were very timid and therefore couldn’t express ourselves before our leaders despite the fact that we were being oppressed on all fronts. But with a series of training sessions from IST our confidence was boosted and today, we have the capacity to engage with the market leadership without fear. We also learnt about women’s rights, domestic violence, the importance of participating in leadership and decision-making, media relations, and how to balance our home and business affairs without causing conflict. As a result, we have two women on the market committee in charge of collecting dues from internal and external market vendors who front our issues to the market leadership. We also work in unison. For instance, we use the same produce suppliers in our women’s group and this gives us an added advantage, especially when it comes to negiotating costs. Previously, we would work in isolation, with some women hoarding produce and later selling it at a much cheaper price – a practice that would drive our fellows out of business. Furthermore, we watch out for one another – as in have each other’s back in case of any thing. Using the negiotating skills we acquired, we were able to lobby for a space where the market women with young toddlers can keep them until evening hours when they retire for home. The women’s toilet is also manned by a woman, unlike before when men were the ones in charge. What works for us is that we have a unified voice. If there is anything we need to do, we always stand and push for our issues as a group and not as individuals. Nambi Harriet, Kalerwe-Bivamuntuyo market

This intervention has enabled us to form an association that is bringing all market women together. It is called Arua Market Women Vendors Association (AMWVA). In our association, members are encouraged to contest for leadership positions as advised by IST. In furtherance of this, I stood for the position of vice chairperson for AMWA. Luckily, I was elected. My role revolves around chairing meetings in the chairperson’s absence. I am now respected because of my leadership position, and have had my conficence and public-speaking skills boosted. We always come together to discuss matters that affect us and if agreeable to the majority, we lobby for amendments with the overall market leadership. So far, we have had one major milestone and this concerns garbabe disposal where we advocated for proper disposal of garbage. The market is a very clean workplace, unlike before where most market vendors used to leave their stalls in a very sorry state – with garbage thrown all over the place. This was the case with paths used by customers. It had attracted a foul smell and so many flies. Faidah Gloria, 31, market vendor, Arua main market

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