Nigerian Market Vendors Act to End Gender Violence

Nigerian Market Vendors Act to End Gender Violence

A magistrate court in Nigeria this week recommended prosecution of a man accused of sexually assaulting a minor in a bustling Lagos open marketplace—and gender rights activists there say the move was the direct result of awareness training conducted with market vendors about their right to violence-free workplaces. Nasiru Umaru, 44, is now in KiriKiri correctional center. The girl was helping her mother make extra money by selling goods, as do many children forced to work in hazardous environments to ensure their families make enough to meet basic needs.

Bringing a case like this is rare in the market, says Onyeisi Chiemeke, an attorney with International Lawyers Assisting Workers network (ILAW), which is aiding with the prosecution. Chiemeke says a newly formed gender-based violence task force in the market brought attention to the alleged rape, and the case now goes to trial in Nigeria’s high court. ILAW, a project established in 2018 by the Solidarity Center, is the largest global network of workers’ rights lawyers and advocates.

Building Synergies to Fight Violence and Harassment

Amina Awal, Hausa language GBVH educator trainer, reaches out to workers in the Mile 12 Lagos market truck park. Credit: Solidarity Center / Nkechi Odinukwe

Following the 2019 adoption of Convention 190 at the International Labor Organization (ILO), union leaders at the Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC), together with the Solidarity Center, began training workers, seeking to put into practice C190’s extensive provisions on preventing and ending gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the world of work.

“I think we are making a lot of progress, a lot of awareness,” says Rita Goyit, head of the NLC’s Department of Women and Youth and secretary of the NLC National Women Commission.

Mile 12 market vendors who took part in the training quickly formed a GBVH task force that worked with the NLC to develop a market code of conduct covering gender-based violence and harassment. The vendors also posted suggestion boxes for reporting GBVH, and the NLC’s Lagos State union chapter leader monitors the submissions and alerts the NLC when necessary.

Vendors also are creating posters to spread awareness and talking with other sellers at the vast, sprawling market, where thousands of people visit each day to buy vegetables, legumes and other food items.

NLC and market leaders at the Mile 12 market in Lagos partnered to raise awareness about gender-based violence and harassment at work. Courtesy: NLC

Key to the success of the trainings, says Goyit, is that they were held in local languages. “That was one of the strategies that really worked—it was a language they understood. People talked one-on-one in the local language.” Vendors from across Nigeria travel to Mile 12, the largest in Lagos, to sell their wares.

The NLC also is joining with unions and allied organizations in urging the government ratify C190. Ratifying an ILO convention signifies a country’s intention to be bound by its terms. Union activists worldwide are campaigning for its ratification, and nine countries have done so.

As the accused man awaits a court hearing, Chiemeke says the synergy between market vendors and lawyers is helping make concrete the rights that Convention 190 provides to violence-free environments.

Zimbabwe Vendor Ban Targets Vulnerable Workers

Zimbabwe Vendor Ban Targets Vulnerable Workers

The government in Zimbabwe is moving to ban market vendors in Harare at a time when more than 90 percent of the workforce labors in the informal economy and 85 percent or more Zimbabweans are seeking decent work.

Zimbabweans are struggling for their fundamental right to earn a living. Credit: Thando Khoza

“People who are into street vending are not into it for their liking, but are being forced due to the collapsed economy,” the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) says in a statement.

“Instead of harassing vendors, the government must first of all restore economic growth and create the promised 2.2 million jobs. By doing so, all vendors will vanish overnight,” says ZCTU.

The Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), which represents some 200,000 members, has been seeking to address challenges identified by government and business in negotiations with the Harare central business district since January, and urges that “Operation Restore Order” ordered by the Harare City Council acting town clerk not be implemented.

“The laws and regulations which govern the informal economy are very much outdated and informal economy traders are always criminalized or termed illegal,” ZCIEA says in a statement. ZCIEA says the government’s designated vending sites are not accessible to customers because of their distance, and urges continued discussion among vendors and central business district representatives.

Since 2011, more than 6,000 companies have closed, leaving hundreds of thousands without employment. Even those with formal economy jobs are not paid on time, according to the Solidarity Center report, “Working Without Pay: Wage Theft in Zimbabwe.”

Zimbabwe, informal economy, Solidarity Center, worker rights, unions, street vendors

Zimbabwe street vendors also were targeted with eviction in 2016 and protested the move in Harare. Credit: Solidarity Center

Many people have turned to street vending after losing their jobs, and the 2.2 million market vendors now generate an average $3.96 billion in annual revenue. The number of market vendors also has increased because people are struggling to get by following a recent sharp hike in prices for basic goods.

The government waged a similar crackdown on market vendors in 2015, tearing down market stands and forcing vendors to pay high fees to set up stalls at government-approved sites.

Zimbabwe Informal Economy Workers: Bullied, Threatened

Zimbabwe Informal Economy Workers: Bullied, Threatened

In Binga, a small community 400 miles west of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, residents support themselves and their families fishing the vast Lake Kariba. With no industry in the area, they depend on the lake for their livelihoods. Yet they say they face constant challenges in making a living—the biggest of which is harassment from officials.

Zimbabwe, informal economy, unions, Solidarity Center human rights

“We are oppressed by the … authorities. Our fish are confiscated”—Alice Mudenda, a fisher in Binga Credit: ZCIEA

“We are oppressed by the … authorities,” says Alice Mudenda, a fisher in Binga. “Our fish are confiscated by either the police, rural district council or National Parks officials under unclear circumstances.”

Binga fishers must have a license to fish—yet it only can be obtained in Harare, an eight-hour journey, and the cost, up to $2,000 every three months, is well beyond their means.

Some 94 percent of Zimbabwe workers make their living outside the formal economy, and yet like Mudenda, they say they are harassed and bullied by authorities, according to a survey by the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), a Solidarity Center ally.

81% of Zimbabwe Informal Economy Workers Bullied or Threatened

Eighty-one percent of the 514 respondents say they have been bullied, with 22 percent specifying that the harassment involved both confiscation of goods and threats of violence.

Some 36 percent noted the source of harassment stemmed both from the local authorities and the Zimbabwe Republic Police, the national police force of Zimbabwe, with 32 percent citing local authorities as the biggest source of harassment.

The ZCIEA survey also found widespread fear and distrust of law enforcement officers, with 82 percent of respondents saying they had not reported their harassment to police because police are the harassers (46 percent) or they fear police (17 percent).

Market Vendor Law Targets Livelihoods

In June, the Zimbabwe government introduced a statutory law that bans imports of basic commodities—a law that directly affects hundreds of thousands of informal economy workers who survive on cross-border trading. Merchants in towns like Beitbridge, which borders South Africa, reported plummeting sales after the law’s passage.

Tens of thousands of market vendors protested the new law, joined by civil servants outraged over the government’s refusal to pay their salaries, holding a successful one-day shut-down of businesses, government and services July 6.

The survey covered 25 areas across the country, with 53 percent of respondents women and 40 percent men (7 percent did not answer). The majority are between ages 35 and 44 (35 percent), followed by 25–34 years (27 percent) and 45–54 years (16 percent).

ZCIEA was formed in 2004, when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)/Commonwealth Trade Union Council (CTUC) project began working with 22 trader associations to launch an umbrella organization to better coordinate efforts.

ZCIEA, with 198,466 registered members, offers training and legal support, along with legislative advocacy. In the report, the association points to the need to address the widespread harassment of informal economy workers by developing programs that further empower members, including workshops on legal rights and representation and preventing sexual harassment.

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