The informal economy is a glaring indicator of the absence of its worth from the eyes of policy-makers. World over, women are over-represented in the informal economy, and in-so-doing has remained an urban phenomenon in both developed and developing economies.
From New York in USA to Dhaka in Bangladesh to Harare in Zimbabwe, women carry their merchandise to the customers at places of high pedestrian concentration along the streets or taxi parks, and Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, is unexceptional.
This has been as a result of internal migration, low education, lack of skills and the need to meet household requirements – shelter, food, clothing, school fees, among others – amidst high levels of unemployment.
According to SIHA Network’ s recent baseline study, majority of the respondents highlighted that 85.6% reside in Kampala and 58.5% walked to places of work, with 66.7 % women reported to be heads of their households. In terms of age, 70.6% were below 40 years; 29.1% married/co-habiting, with 70.9% being single, separated or widowed. In addition to this, most women had low education attainment and had a number of dependents, and 71.6% were involved in selling food stuffs. The presence of the women street vendors and their activities has been in constant confrontation with city authorities over space for business and conditions of work.
In Uganda’s capital, for instance, the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) has on several occasions evicted the vendors from the streets claiming they are associated with traffic congestion and make the urban environment untidy. Regrettably, this has been characterized by women brutality in the hands of law enforcement officers, and sometimes even causing death. One of such cases is the death of Olivia Basemera, a single mother of three, who drowned in Nakivubo Channel in August last year as she attempted to run away from the Authority’s officers. In 2016, a video circulated depicting brutality meted out on a female street vendor by the same City authority law enforcement. This preceded a two-year-old child, whose mother had been arrested for vending merchandise within the City Center, being crashed at the KCCA court premises in 2014.
Based on such incidences, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network in Uganda –a regional network of civil society organizations whose mission is to strengthen the capacity of women’s rights groups, build regional solidarity and initiate advocacy and lessons learned in relation to women’s rights in the Horn of Africa – is of the view that various stakeholders particularly women street vendors, store owners and the government need to find alternatives to co-exist as it is the case in other cities around the world.
Within the recent study conducted by SIHA Network dubbed ‘Irking out a living on the sidelines of the informal sector: the challenges of women street vendors in Kampala City, Uganda – the women street vendors revealed that they derive pride and satisfaction in their ability to meet their needs and sustain their households. This study conducted in the five administrative divisions of Kampala City, 66.7% (majority of the women street vendors interviewed) reported being heads of their households and not having high levels of education whilst also having a considerable number of dependants to support.
KCCA needs to recognize the women street vendors and support their organization as part of their strategy of planning for the city while allowing business to happen harmoniously across different sectors of the economy.
The women street vendors also need to be supported to access affordable loans to enhance their businesses. They need to be trained in business development and management and savings mobilization.
In addition, there is also need to invest in building networks and associations of women street vendors to give women a voice for them to engage with administrators about their concerns. Associations can also help to meet members financial, legal and social protection needs.
The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network) is a network of civil society organizations from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda, and Kenya.
SIHA Network was established in 1995 by a coalition of women’s rights activists, as a regional network to undertake research, capacity-building, exchanging experiences and lessons learned, negotiating spaces with men all to build advocacy on women’s rights as a sustainable force for change.
In partnership with its members, SIHA addresses sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in the Horn of Africa with the aim of amplifying the voices of the urban poor women living on the peripheries of major urban centers in the eight (8) countries.
Echoing the global theme of International Women’s Day 2018, SIHA Network stands in solidarity with the rest of the world as we press forward and progress towards ending all forms of violence against women and girls in the Horn of Africa, and the rest of the world.