Rakiraki women vendors model show need for scaling-up women’s economic empowerment

Varanisese Maisamoa weights the fish caught during the week (Photo: Sheryl Ho/UNDP).

It’s a Thursday morning in the small bustling rural town of Rakiraki and Varanisese Maisamoa is waiting for a bus with two ice boxes to take her to Naivuvuni, a landing where a boat she owns docks at, to collect fish caught during the week.

Like clockwork, every Thursday or Friday morning, she waits for a call from the captain of her 32x6 feet fishing boat. After checking the catch, weigh-in and pricing, it’s a rush to organize wholesale buyers at the Rakiraki fish market or nearby towns of Ba and Tavua.


  • 100 female-headed households were direct beneficiaries of the pilot initiative.
  • Market Vendors Association being restructured with active role for women.
  • Fiji’s Ministry of Labour supporting the Vendors Association for compliance with local laws.
  • Government has built an overnight accommodation for rural women vendors and provided extra budgetary allocation to strengthen the institutional capacity of Rakiraki Town Council.
  • Due to the market being flood prone, the Government is redesigning the market at a cost of more than US$150,000.
  • The Rakiraki model was replicated and rolled out in 10 markets in Fiji by the Government and UN Women.
  • Donors recognized the importance of women market vendors, the Australian Government has allocated $10 million for women market vendors in the Pacific.

For the past five years, Varanisese has run a stall in the Rakiraki market, and in December 2014, with the help of her grandfather, purchased boat and employs two local men to fish. In addition, Varanisese and her husband also lease eight acres of “native land” to farm. Supporting two older children in boarding school, three children in primary school and her parents, Varanisese is determined to keep all her businesses going.

In 2012, Varanisese was among 300 women market vendors who attended a nine-week training programme as part of the UNDP-supported Millennium Markets project (2011-2013) – Strengthening Women’s Economic Security and Rights: Capacity Building for Women Market Vendors. The training, structured into one and a half hour long sessions to fit around their schedules was delivered in English and the vernacular languages, and covered topics like business skills, budgeting, saving, strengthening the market vendors association and voice of the women members’, women’s rights and vendors’ engagement with the local government as market management.

The training was facilitated by UNDP in partnership with the Rakiraki Town Council and the local Market Vendors Association. A Business Record Book for Market Vendors was also developed by UNDP in partnership with the National Centre for Small and Micro Enterprises Development (NCSMED) and Rakiraki Town Council, and launched in December 2013. The record book-keeping allows market vendors to track income, expenses and savings.

“Its (record book) really helpful in the sense you know what you’re making and spending. Before I never knew how much I was earning in the market, the sooner I made money, the sooner I spent it,” Varanisese said. “I also save. I have two bank accounts, one for my fishing income and another for my market income.”

A market vendor for the past 27 years, Sharda Devi said since the training, she’s learned how to conduct her business, how to buy from farmers and speak to customers, but she admits that there are bad days when they don’t make any profit from the day’s sales.

Uate Logapila, a market vendor for over 15 years agrees that the training she attended has helped improve her customer service.

“How to display vegetables, how you speak to customers, a smile and polite conversation, when they enter the market they will remember you and return. I do these small things and its working.”

Kelera Waqatabu, one of only two handicraft vendors at the market says she is looking forward to more trainings to help with her business.

“I love being a market vendor. If my sister is here, she will look after my stall, if not we would close our stalls and go to the training together.”

As communities prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is important to recognize the contribution of women like Varanisese, Sharda, Uate and Kelera who work in informal sectors like the markets, as they contribute not only to the national economy but also towards their families’ livelihood, putting food on the table, sending children to school and even looking after elderly parents.

UNDP’s work in Rakiraki gave Government the confidence to invest in better facilities for Rakiraki market vendors like an overnight accommodation, the first in Fiji to be built and the construction of the new market extension. Rakiraki set a trend that Government invested in better market and women’s accommodation in Suva, Lautoka, Nadi, Sigatoka and Labasa. UNDP also advocated for improved facilities for women market vendors through local government forums organized by the Ministry of Local Government.

The Millennium Market Project has also contributed to the design of the Markets for Change (M4C) project. The Markets for Change project is a six-year, multi-country initiative implemented by UN Women in partnership with UNDP in rural and urban areas of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and principally funded by the Australian Government. The project aims to ensure that marketplaces are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Under this project, UNDP is responsible for improving the socio-economic security and rights of market vendors especially women. A series of trainings is being rolled out in municipal markets in Ba, Labasa, Lautoka, Nadi, Nausori, Rakiraki, Sigatoka, Suva and Tavua, in partnership with the Ministry of Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment; Municipal Governments and Westpac Banking Corporation. It aims to reach out 2,300 women market vendors in Fiji.

Varanisese Maisamoa at her market stall.
Sharda Devi and her husband at the Rakiraki market.
Uate Logapila putting the final touches to her stall.
Kelera Waqatabu with the many handicrafts she sells.

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