Women street vendors in Nagaland- visible but unheard
Dimapur, Nov. 13 (EMN): As the world celebrates Street Vendors Day on November 14, North East Network (NEN) Nagaland along with Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Nagaland shared few inspiring stories of women street vendors, their struggles and challenges, resilience and enormous contribution to their families and the local economy.
A large majority of street vendors in Nagaland are women belonging to diverse tribes and socio-economic backgrounds, selling a variety of products ranging from vegetables to meat, fast food, handicrafts, second hand clothing etc. to urban consumers, according to NEN.
Through vending livelihood, women vendors sustain their families by providing food, shelter, healthcare and supporting the education of children. Many women vendors are single-handedly managing their families by solely depending on vending livelihood, it said.
Here are accounts of women street vendors in Nagaland provided by NEN on the occasion of International Street Vendors Day.
Vikuo, a 60-year old street vendor, has been vending for more than 13 years at High school junction in Kohima, where many vendors like her too make a living. She is a single mother and supports her 3 children.
She started street vending after her first child and later separated from her husband. To make ends meet, she took to street vending as a fulltime job.
Atoli, a single mother of two from Dimapur, shares: “I started street vending 13 years ago after my divorce as I had no other alternative to generate income and support my children.”
Keviyiekie, a 39-year-old single mother, vends in the streets of Kohima town to make a living for herself and her 6-year-old son who started going to school a few years ago. On a typical day, the mother would drop her son to school before she could get ready for her business.
As a single parent living alone in Kohima town with her child and with no one to assist her, Keviyiekie would first attend to the needs of her growing son. She wants her son to get a good education unlike herself, who could not pursue her education.
When asked why she chose street vending as her livelihood option, she replied with a half-smile: “People like us, what other job opportunities do we have? There are already so many educated unemployed in our state.”
Street vending provides an escape from poverty for many of the economically marginalised women. Many also choose street vending for its schedule flexibility and low cost of entry. This is unlike other business establishments where one has to make huge deposits to start a small shop on rent in the main town.
Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected the livelihoods of many informal workers, especially the street vendors, whose livelihoods rely on being in public spaces. The lockdown disrupted their ability to work and earn, and many struggled to make ends meet. Even after the lockdown was lifted and the vendors were allowed to sell their produce, they continue to struggle and face numerous challenges.
Vikuowho, who has been vending for more than 13 years in Kohima, shared that supporting her son’s education during the pandemic became a huge challenge as she had to prioritise the basic needs of the family first with the minimal earning from vending.
The demand for a smartphone to continue his son’s online classes and the need to recharge for internet connection greatly impacted her finances. She was unable to pay the house rent and she also had to keep the payment of her son’s school fees pending.
Another vendor from Kohima recalled an unforgettable experience: “When some Covid positive cases were detected in our colony, our houses were completely sealed off and we were kept under home quarantine for more than two weeks, where we were not allowed to step out of our homes and access to public urinals was prohibited.” ‘When the sole source of income generation was halted, paying house rents and even running the kitchen became a huge burden,’ noted Alebu.
“There is no single job without challenges, and vending is no exception,” one of the vendors noted. The challenge varied from sitting on the streets whether rain or sunshine, inhaling dust, bearing the heat. Access to basic amenities like public toilets remains a huge challenge.
“There are no public urinals and bathrooms, so we resort to ‘pay and use’ urinals which are better maintained even though it is expensive,” shared Atoli.
Despite the rising number of Covid cases in Nagaland, one could observe numerous women vendors lined up throughout the streets and pavements of Kohima town with their colourful and varied choices of vegetables and fruits, eagerly waiting for their next customer to sell their produce.
Even though she has so much struggle to endure, Vikuo remains resolute and proud of her profession as a vendor as she stated: “Street vending is a sustainable form of livelihood that one can pursue without any formal education and have a reliable source of income, and I am grateful and happy to be in this profession.”
Neichosale, a single mother of two children and a street vendor who makes a living by selling organic fruits and vegetables, shared: “The best part of being in this profession is that, the food that is not sold goes back to my kitchen so my family gets to eat healthy food, and I make a living by selling good food to my customers.”
Stating that this year has been a tough year for all businesses, especially for the street vendors, NEN has called upon the public to ‘recognise the contribution of these women street vendors, empathise with their struggles and challenges, and celebrate their courage and resilience on this International Street Vendors Day’.