In the words of Varanisese Maisamoa: “We want to empower our market vendors to be climate resilient”

In February 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston devastated Fiji, showing the heightened vulnerability of people living in the Pacific Islands, where climate change has led to a series of increasingly severe cyclones in the recent years. With farms, markets, including the Rakiraki Market and its accommodation centre for rural women destroyed, livelihoods of market vendors such as Varanisese Maisamoa were compromised. But today, through UN Women’s Markets for Change (M4C) project, Maisamoa, aged 39 years, has not only got back on her feet, she has also become a strong leader in her community. As leader of Rakiraki’s women’s group, and now, as the President of the Rakiraki Market Vendors Association, her insights were critical in helping UN Women adapt its existing M4C project to provide humanitarian support to market vendors impacted by the cyclone. Rakiraki Market’s reconstruction is currently underway, featuring Category-5 cyclone resilient infrastructure, a rain water harvesting system, flood resistant drainage, and a gender-responsive design. The Markets for Change project is principally funded by the Australian Government and implemented in partnership with UNDP.

Date: Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Varanisese Maisamoa. Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd.
Varanisese Maisamoa. Photo: UN Women/Murray Lloyd.
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For most of us women market vendors, we focus only on coming to the market to make money. But what if there is a cyclone or flooding that makes it impossible for us to be in the market?

When I joined the Rakiraki Market back in 2007, I noticed the struggle that women market vendors were enduring day to day. Their security was not protected, there was a continuous disruption of the water supply, and there was no proper lighting. I realized that they had been in this situation for 15, 20 years or more, and nobody had ever listened to their plea.

I decided to form a women’s group to help us raise our issues as one voice. From then, I started knocking on doors and raising the issues that these women had been trying to resolve for years. That’s how, in 2015, I met two women in the market from UN Women’s Markets for Change project.

After attending the leadership and financial literacy workshops, forums and trainings organized by UN Women, I took up the initiative to form the Rakiraki Market Vendors Association in 2016. After Cyclone Winston, it was important to include everybody in market decision-making. We want to empower our market vendors to be climate resilient.

Since then, we have worked with UN Women on the market’s very first “Action Plan to Build Resilience to Climate Change and Disasters”. We know that to be resilient we need to diversify [our sources of income], so we are training our women vendors on how to make handicrafts and in other small businesses such as money lending and catering.

My husband challenged me and said, “talking on behalf of these women, will it help your business grow?” I said, if I am not speaking up for these women, I am not speaking up for myself, my daughters, my mother, or my grandmother.

Through UN Women’s leadership training, I learned to be confident when speaking out about the issues affecting the market vendors and to negotiate with the market council management.

My main focus now is to run the association as an organization that stands strong and fights for the benefit of the vendors, because these are the people who suffered the most after Cyclone Winston. I’ve involved myself in negotiations with the market’s management and the Minister of Local Government, Housing and Environment of Fiji, to bring sustainable solutions to Rakiraki Market.

Today I am proud of what the association has achieved in terms of improving the safety of the women vendors’ working place. I’m looking forward to a market that is safer, better ventilated, with facilities such as changing areas for babies, improved toilets and a female market attendant. Our vendors also know what to do before, during and after a disaster.

We have been empowered by UN Women’s Markets for Change project. Now it is our time, as women market vendors, to support economic growth for our villages, community and country.”

A poem by Varanisese
Poem by Varanisese Maisamoa