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Women street vendors in Nagaland – visible but unheard

women street vendors selling vegetables at Kohima

Dimapur, November 13: As the International Street Vendors Day is being celebrated across the world on November 14, North East Network (NEN) Nagaland, with Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Nagaland shared few stories of women street vendors, of their struggles and challenges, of resilience and their enormous contribution to their families and the local economy.

In Nagaland, the majority of street vendors are women, from diverse tribes and socio-economic backgrounds. They sell a variety of products ranging from vegetables to meat, fast food, handicrafts, second hand clothing etc. to urban consumers. Through this enterprise, 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, according to NEN.
Vikuo is a 60-year old street vendor who has been vending for more than 13 years at Kohima. She stations herself at High School Junction where many vendors like her make a living. She is a single mother and supports her 3 children. Vikuo started street vending when she got 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, at 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 of a 6- year old boy vends in the streets of Kohima town to make a living for herself and her son who started 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 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.
On being asked why she chose street vending as her livelihood option, she responded with a half-smile “People like us, what other job opportunities do we have? There are already so many educated unemployed in our state”.
The North East Network said street vending provides an escape from poverty for many of the economically marginalized women. Many women 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 get a small shop on rent in the main town.
Stating that the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected the livelihoods of many informal workers, especially the street vendors, whose livelihoods depend on being in public spaces, the NEN said the lockdown has disrupted their ability to work and earn an income, 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, it further stated.
Vikuowho has been vending for more than 13 years at Kohima shared her experience during the pandemic. Supporting her son’s education became a huge challenge as she had to prioritize the basic needs of the family first with the minimal earning from vending. The demand for a Smartphone to continue her son’s online classes and the need to recharge for internet connection greatly impacted her finances. She was unable to pay house rent 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 were prohibited”.
“When the sole source of income generation was halted, paying house rent 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 said. From the challenge of sitting on the streets, come rain or sun, inhaling dust and bearing the heat besides 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.
According to NEN, 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 colorful and varied choices of vegetables and fruits.
Although she confronts numerous challenges and struggles to overcome them, 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 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”.
“This year has been a tough year for all businesses especially for the street vendors. Let us recognize the contribution of these women street vendors, empathize with their struggles and challenges, and celebrate their courage and resilience on this International Street Vendors’ Day,” the NEN appealed. (Page News Service)