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Women’s Economic Empowerment: the Importance of Small Market Stall vendors in Urban Areas

Women’s economic empowerment is a key priority in the development agenda and is viewed as a key solution to empowering women and addressing problems like poverty and gender-based violence. To address this, significant attention is being given to employment/wealth creation and to women’s engagement in the agricultural sector in Uganda. Unfortunately, less attention has been paid to the many women in urban areas who make their living from the smaller market stalls that are so prevalent in places like Kampala and all other municipal and town councils.

Rather than viewing these smaller local markets and home-based stalls as marginal players in the bid to improve women’s economic empowerment, small market stalls are just as – if not more – important than the larger markets because they are such a prolific feature of the urban landscape. Understanding these small stalls as sites of economic empowerment can shed important insights into local processes of women’s empowerment and disempowerment, and the moral values and norms that shape how women make a living.


Some of the market women participating in on-going discussions during the Camp

Small market stalls play an important social role in the localities. They are places where people convene to catch up with the day’s news, organise plans to support each other with issues like childcare, or simply to take a breather and have a conversation. Community communication takes place at these sites not only through leaving messages for each other but through the sales of phone credits or sharing of news.

Other important economic activities also occur, such as the lending of items by the vendor to a known customer who has fallen short of money to buy food or any other essentials. Because many of these stalls operate into the night, they can also have implications for improving law and order in urban areas. As lit-up areas where people interact, they often provide a sense of security in localities, which enables more people to move about in the evenings – something places like Kampala desperately need. Evidence already tells us that a significant number of people in urban areas rely on the informal sector, and that women dominate this form of economic engagement.

Hence, in commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women (VAW) 2o16, the Institute for Social Transformation (IST) in partnership with, UN Women, and Swedish Embassy engaged with Nakawa market women and men in form of a multi focused one day camp for dialogue, learning, HIV testing and legal aid provision in the marketplace. Primarily, the event was organized to ignite women’s robust involvement in the marketplace, and action to end violence against women and girls.


Ronald Mukasa (Enterprise Uganda) giving participants basic tips on business and financial management

The camp, conveniently structured to fit into hours that are off peak for business in the market (10: 30 am – 3:30 PM) was delivered in the English and Luganda for easy comprehension by participants. It covered areas such as business skills, budgeting, savings and women’s rights, alongside HIV/AIDS counseling and testing, individual legal and business consultations, and inspirational talks on growing businesses and opportunities available for trade in Uganda.

Marketplaces are key sites for women’s economic empowerment as well as national poverty reduction. They are often dominated by rural and urban women vendors whose cash incomes constitute a significant part of the income of poor households. Rita Atukwasa, IST Executive Director.

Other participating organisations included FIDA Uganda, the Uganda Police, Enterprise Uganda and Uganda Cares who brought on board legal, business and HIV/AIDS expertise respectively. During their sessions, they enlightened participants about the linkages that exist between these fundamental issues and VAW.

The Nakawa Market chairman Mr Charles Okuni and the Market’s In-charge of Women Affairs Ms. Norah Baguma gave the official remarks. Both expressed gratitude to the IST, and all the other partnering organisations for extending their services to the market and challenged all participants, particularly women to put into practise the skills and knowledge that they had acquired to improve their socio economic standard of living because for many — if not most —, small market stalls are usually their most viable option for making a bit of money to not only empower themselves but support their families.

By and large, the camp was a success! It effectively galvanised powerful and unified action for women market vendors’ involvement in the governance of the market, which will in the long run ensure that such spaces are safe, inclusive and non discriminatory. Over 270 market women and men, as well as representatives from civil society; the Police, private sector and other stakeholders directly participated in the event’s activities.

This event has been of great help as it enlightened about the importance of saving. It was for instance emphasized that it is always important to keep the trust of our group lenders. If one gets a loan on 10% interest, they should make sure they pay it very on time because the next time the leaders will be very willing to extend another loan at a much lower rate because the more your lender gains trust in you, the less the interest rate. Norah Baguma


Left:  A Police Officer explaining some of the provisions of the domestic violence Act and children’s Act.

Right: An Inspirational Speaker from Enterprise Uganda Ms. Auma Christine talking to the Market women about opening and adding value to businesses

267 – The number of people reached during the Camp, with women accounting for 52%.

Most Prevalent forms of VAW in the marketplace (IST Research, 2016)

  • Economical – 0.82%: this includes-deprivation of access to basic needs e.g. food, unrealistic pay, women not allowed to work, taking women’s earnings, over working women.
  • Sexual – 8.57% market: this consists of sexual harassment, inappropriate/ un wanted touching.
  • Physical – 25.7% market: this includes- slapping, harming the body
  • Emotional/ Psychological – 69.5% market: includes verbal abuses, threats and insults, intimidation and humiliation.

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