Marketing Change for Women in the Pacific Region

Women market traders in the Solomon Islands will benefit from a new initiative announced this week to create safe markets as part of a region-wide initiative to support women’s economic empowerment. The AUD$11 million Markets 4 Change (M4C) project is a six-year initiative covering Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu supported by the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

M4C officially launched in Fiji in April and will start in Vanuatu over the next few weeks.
It is a core component of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Program at UN Women in the Pacific and builds on research that shows that improving the economic status of women leads to increased economic activity in communities and positive ripple effects for the whole nation.

Between 75 and 90 percent of vendors working in Pacific markets are women and their earnings are often significant to the incomes of poor households. Markets may seem small-scale, but they are significant contributors to the national economy.

However, vendors, especially women, face numerous day-to-day challenges – the hours are long, the profits are low and violence against women is widely reported.

Despite the high number of women working in marketplaces, it is often men who run marketplaces and control decision-making. This means that market-level activities engage women and men at the frontline where political marginalisation impacts on women’s economic potential, highlighting the importance of engaging with both issues at the same time. Markets, therefore, are ideal places to engage both with women’s economic marginalisation and their political exclusion.

Building from experience gained from through UN Women’s Partners Improving Markets pilot projects implemented from 2009-2012, as well entry points for change identified in local initiatives the M4C Project will be working with stakeholders, service providers and market vendors to:

• build and support organised representative vendor groups;
• deliver services, training and interventions to vendors
• support market management to ensure women’s voices are heard and taken into account at the policy and decision-making level;
• and to improve physical infrastructure and operating systems to make markets more sustainable and resilient to disaster risks and climate change.

The Executive Director of the Australian National Committee for UN Women, Julie McKay, says that the project represents a cost-effective and inclusive way to support women’s empowerment and local political leadership:

“The M4C initiative is a perfect example of effective development,” she explains. “The inclusive planning behind this initiative means that women’s needs are at the centre of program design and implementation. For every dollar invested in this scheme, there will be a significant return both in terms of actual increases to household revenue as well as indicators such as a reduction in violence, increased access to education and acceptance of women’s important role as political leaders.”