Tribal women seek access to India’s only all women’s market in Manipur.
Achungmei Kamei lives in Imphal – a town in the North East India that has India’s only market where all the shops are owned, run and controlled by women. The market started in the late 19th
century as an initiative of the local women to become financially independent and today, over 3,000 women earn a livelihood here by selling a variety of goods and commodities that include food products, clothes and furniture. As a woman who has to support and earn for 2 siblings and elderly parents, Achungmei finds the women entrepreneurs of the market very inspiring.
However, as a tribal woman she also feels sad of the fact that women from her own tribal community still do not have a place in this market. The reason is, the tribal women usually live in villages that are far from the city. The non-tribal women, on the other hand, live within the town and are quicker to apply and reserve their space when allotment of shops begins.
Currently, the market runs from a bamboo structure. But this week the government has opened 2 new buildings where the women will shift their stalls. Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India’s ruling party, inaugurated these buildings. During her visit Sonia received several tribal women who pleaded with her to allow them access to the market. These women are organic farmers who have been selling their products to wholesale retailers until now. But Achungmei says that if they are given access to the women’s market, they can earn more through direct marketing. According to her, the market draws thousands of buyers every week and for women of her community it will be an excellent opportunity to boost their earnings, as well as hone their entrepreneurial skills there.
The all women’s market also has a reputation of being a great hub of women empowerment. Achungmei says, “In this market, women don’t just sell and bargain,, but also debate political issues, organize meetings and demonstrations. In 1992, women entrepreneurs here fought a big eviction effort by the government which resulted in a women’s movement in Manipur. Many women in my community are the sole bread earners in the family. Yet they do not have the freedom to decide for themselves. Being a part of the Ima market entrepreneurs’ group can help them be aware of many issues and be strong.”
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