For the past 35 years, Shobhna Verma has made her living selling produce at Suva Market in Fiji’s capital. Today, Shobhna is the Legal Advisor with the Suva United Market Vendors Association in Fiji and has attended a series of trainings starting in 2005, on financial literacy, organising, leadership, first aid, and disaster risk resilience, as part of UN Women’s Markets for Change project (M4C), principally funded by the Australian Government. She also volunteers as a Justice of the Peace (JP). JPs in Fiji are appointed by the Minister for Justice in consultation with the Chief Justice. They have the authority to verify copies of original documents for official application processes.
“I used to be housewife, but in 1992 when my father died I came to the market to be a market vendor full time. I had two small children and was also looking after my mother and my niece. It was all new and I didn’t know anything about markets. My supplier, who was a friend of my father, motivated me. He told me ‘don’t worry, even if you make 20c you are on the right track’. Once I came into the market, there was no turning back.
In 2003, I lost my husband… I had a lot of responsibilities – [running] the household, being a mother and a father to my children… The first five years after my husband’s death were very hectic, but I didn’t back out. I did my work, I educated my children and I expanded my business.
The financial literacy training I received from UN Women helped a lot and changed a lot of things in our lives. After [the trainings] we started going out to project meetings between market managers and Suva United Market Vendors Association Executive Representatives, [which M4C helps facilitate]. More [women] started following our footsteps… it’s not just go to the market and go home. Now the women are [asking] ‘When can we come and join you? When can we come?’
I like helping people and that’s why I’m a Justice of the Peace (JP) now. I used to see elderly people coming to the market… but the JPs used to be here for only a limited time. I thought, I am sitting at my table [stall] and I can do this. So I used all the certificates that I got from the UN Women Markets for Change training to apply for the Justice of the Peace position… and now I provide JP service from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
I feel my dreams are fulfilled. Today, I’m a businesswoman. I work hard, I sweat for my money, I save and I teach people to save. We [women vendors] have learned from UN Women to be leaders… When I move out of the market, I know that [other] people will take my role and [the market] will go on. [Whether] UN Women is there or not there, it will keep on going.”