Numerous Papua indigenous women travel daily from surrounding areas, bringing vegetables, fish and forest products to sell in the town of Merauke. But they face difficulties due to the other traders—mostly settlers from other islands or more established locals from the town—who do not wish to give them space to trade in the markets. In the rainy season their pop-up stalls are damaged and often flooded, and in the dry season they have to endure the intense heat because there is no roof and they are placed at the back end of the market. Consequently, the women attempt to sell in locations where they are not allowed, such as parking lots or nearby sheds.
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In 2013, the Advocacy Group for Women (eL_AdPPer) and the Secretariat for Justice and Peace of Merauke’s archdiocese (SKP KAME) started to organise and advocate for these women. SKP KAME and eL-AdPPer established a strategic plan in order to enhance democracy for the women of Merauke. Together with the indigenous women traders they have implemented a number of activities since 2013, including: 1) capacity building, 2) networking, 3) organising focus group discussions in Wamanggu and Mopah markets, 5) establishing a community forum in solidarity with indigenous women traders, and 6) participating in a talk show on national radio and local television stations. The activities also involved local authorities, district market managers, academics and the media.
Through this organising process Mama Pasar identified several critical issues, such as: limited access to trading space and transportation; lack of access to small business loans; unequal price competition; high monthly fees; exclusion from the small traders groups; and marginalisation in market revitalisation processes.
The role of SKP KAME and el_AdPPer in this process is to listen and facilitate understanding of the issues; assist the Mama Pasar women in understanding their rights and the role of indigenous women in the community and in democracy; help establish civil society organisations (i.e. the Mama Pasar Association) in collaboration with Merauke local authorities; and push for regulations that protect Mama Pasar.
Local authorities have begun to acknowledge the issues that exist in the markets—though they are still not acting quickly to address the problems. The growing advocacy campaign has been key to pressuring local authorities and shifting public opinion regarding the rights of indigenous women to trade in the markets. To be sure, it hasn’t been an easy process. Community organisers have faced intimidation; they have been prohibited from gathering in the market; they were inaccurately branded as part of a separatist movement; and they have been followed by police.
Further work is needed to increase advocacy efforts and broaden the campaign to democratise market spaces and create regulations that protect the right of indigenous women to sustain themselves by selling their produce.
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See also the social media campaign on twitter: #bangunpasarmamapapua
This article is from Supermarketwatch Asia, a quarterly email bulletin for social movements about developments in food retail and distribution in Asia produced by GRAIN (Issue No. 2, April 2016) Click here to subscribe.