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Fresh produce markets across the Pacific are the lifeblood of their communities. They are gathering places, tourist attractions, and many people in the Pacific are dependent on them for their livelihoods. Vendors are usually women, and more often than not they have little say in the markets’ management and few facilities at the markets for their comfort and safety.

UN Women has been working with Market Associations across the region to give the vendors a voice in the workplace, and VSA volunteers have made a significant contribution to that work. This year, VSA has brought together two of their partners – UN Women and The Tindall Foundation – to improve accommodation at Suva Market, Fiji.

The working day for Suva Market’s vendors starts as early as 5.00am, when all the wholesalers’ trucks have arrived at the site and the vendors vie for the best fresh produce to sell throughout the day. Around 70% of those vendors are women, and many of them have no choice but to sleep at the market, if they are to be there that early.

In 2013, Suva City Council built a basic accommodation block for women vendors, recognising their need for comfort and safety. Every week, 50-60 women use the shelter, which doubles as a resource and training centre. Thanks to The Tindall Foundation’s donation, the Suva Market’s accommodation centre is now equipped with bunk beds, with mattresses, mattress covers and pillows, as well as folding tables and chairs.

Many women travel for up to four hours to get to the market, so being able to stay is a significant saving in travel costs, meaning the FJ$60-100 they earn each day can be reinvested in their families, paying for food, goods and school fees.

Vendor Mili Seini said, beaming, “This is a big change, we usually share the floor space with many other women who come from Nadroga, Ra, Naitasiri, or we sleep outside and we are usually exhausted after a day of selling our produce. Now we have a comfortable place to sleep. The beds are soft and clean.” Empowering women vendors by giving them a say in the market management and keeping them safe means they can earn an income that could change their lives and the lives of their children.

VSA is The Tindall Foundation’s Funding Manager in the Eastern Pacific.