Over 80 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population rely on informal economy for sustaining their livelihood. It is apparent that women are active participants and have been dominating much of the informal economy. Their engagement in informal economic activities varies from selling subsistence farm produce, establishing small market stalls to street vending. They are regarded as major players in the informal economy. However, their time and effort vested in doing business in this area has been neglected. A recent notice by chief secretary to National Capital District Commission (NCDC) to remove vendors is unfortunate for many women street vendors who rely solely on doing such business to survive and support their family.

Women would be greatly affected with the recent call to remove vendors from the street

It is imperative that understanding the circumstances of women street vending is essential. Women in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are more disadvantaged than their male counterparts both in terms of access to education and access to formal employment. This is one of the main reasons for female dominance in the informal market sector. Their engagement in informal market sales activities includes selling home cooked food near office buildings and road side, setting up small market stalls within or near residents, selling farm produce along road side and near bus stop areas. These small market activities are prevalent in urban places like Port Moresby.

The recent call to remove vendors is discouraging for many of the vendors particularly the women who dominate the informal economy in sustaining their livelihood. Engaging in such small business activities, enables women to be financially independent. They contribute to and support their family; taking care of households needs, paying school fees for their children and supplementing wage income earned by their husbands.

Concerns have been raised on health risks and clean environmental cleanliness issues posed by street vendors near office buildings, road sides and even near residential areas. Better policing approaches are essential to protect and allow street vendors to do business as considering the risks involved rather than living them helpless to fend for themselves which can add to other pressing social issues. It is often distressing to see street vendors particularly women been beaten, chased and their goods looted by some police and city rangers near office building or road sides. Protecting the rights of individuals and their means to survival through engaging in such income generating activities is important for everyone especially women.

 Making Informal Economy Policy Work Well

A significant efforts has been made by the government in introducing the National Informal Economy Policy in 2011, aimed at enhancing financial inclusion and empowering women and men economically. It stresses the need to acknowledge and utilize PNG’s unique context to promote development and more importantly enable women to progress economic activities within their support network of families and communities. The policy also sets the vision and framework to achieve key objectives outlining key relevant stakeholders and agencies responsible for implementing the policy. More effort is needed to be done in the areas of protecting the rights of the informal economy participants including women street vendors and provide enabling environment for them to operate. It is necessary to create more awareness on the Informal Economy Policy at all levels of government and among key stakeholders for effective implementation.

A concerted effort is required by all stakeholders to implement initiatives that can benefit everyone engaging in various informal economic activities to do business. It is also important to provide enabling environment for more women to engage freely. This in turn will continue to encourage the informal economy to flourish in sustaining most of PNG’s population.

While, writing this piece, I was contemplating on this question. What can the government and concerned authorities do to help many women who are actively involved in the informal economy particularly street vending? Any Suggestions?