B Women Street Vendors in the Philippines and the Global South

Without a doubt, the inclusion of gender in studying the informal sector is essential because the number of women street vendors have not only increased dramatically over recent decades, but they are also the most vulnerable informal-sector workers (Chant and Pedwell, 2008; Chen et al., 2006). The demographics for street vending have changed markedly. Keith Hart’s early research narratives on small-scale entrepreneurs refer to them as men (Hart, 1970). Tokman (1989) points out that in 1980, Latin American countries had seen an increase in women vendors. Reports show that 76 percent of participants in the informal economy were women. In Africa, Mitullah (2003) reviewed studies in six different countries and found that women make up a significant proportion of street vendors. A United Nations Report promotes the idea that more cities should give attention to women in the informal sector (United Nations Settlement Programme, 2013). Because formal employment is often inaccessible and exploitative for low-income women, they rely on independent activities to generate income for their families.1 The UN report, in fact, states that entrepreneurship followed by skills development and investment are the three highest factors in increasing the productivity of urban women workers (p. 45).

The larger economic landscape that countries in the Global South deal with involves the significant increase of women’s roles in family economic survival. Due to shifts in global markets, men of lower incomes have less employment opportunities in their respective countries. National governments are pressured to identify alternatives to employment restructuring. A strategy that the Philippines has tapped is the encouragement of labor migration, for women to serve abroad as health workers, domestic help, school teachers, and other service occupations.2 The Philippines is one of the top producers of global workers. Data obtained from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Philippine embassies, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) estimates the number of Filipinos working abroad at 10.4 million (United Nations Women, 2017). The country depends on their remittances, which contribute about 8-10 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. To support this national strategy the Government has created a robust network of public agencies, private recruitment companies, and non-governmental organizations to ensure its viability.

The out-migration of Filipino women, and the fact that only 40 percent of those who stay in the country hold employment jobs, compels women left behind to find work in the informal sector. This situation exemplifies sociologist Saskia Sassen’s notion of feminization of survival (Sassen, 2000). Many women opt to participate in informal vending activities and face regulatory risks than to fall into debt to pay for the required recruitment fees to work abroad. They find out from those who have experienced foreign work that conditions are not always favorable. Many families of women overseas workers are in crisis because the remittances sent home do not always ensure economic stability and mobility for their families.

The intersectionality of gender and informality is a complex phenomenon. Geographer Lloyd-Evans (2008) proposes a four-tiered categorization of workers based on their motives for working in the informal economy. In her study of the informal economy in the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago), she groups the women into subsistence workers, small-scale entrepreneurs and traders, petty capitalists, and criminal operators. Street vendors fall in the second tier—small-scale entrepreneurs and traders. They are independent, own their accounts, and exhibit greater autonomy. They experience unaccompanied mobility and household flexibility, which boosts their self-esteem (Lloyd-Evans and Potter, 2002; Mitra, 2005; Salway et al., 2005).

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, women control the marketplace and garner respect for earning a living. Interestingly, they generally view men as incompetent money managers (Brenner, 1998, p. 136). The Ghana experience also centralizes women in the marketplace (King, 2006). Note that although markets are regulated, women continue to engage in informal activities to supplement their incomes. An example are the street vendors in Baguio City who transferred their informal operations inside the market— along the aisles (Milgram, 2013). Other vendors around the world abandon their stalls in favor of free public spaces that require no usage fees.

Nonetheless, there are ambivalent notions in the Global South concerning women who work in the public view. They are hopeful and have more opportunity choices, but have to endure vulnerabilities because societies enforce traditional beliefs that a woman’s place is in the home. Women working in public spaces is seen as a threat to men (Brenner, 1998). Several studies suggest that in spite of contributing to the household income, women’s work is not recognized and sufficient to elevate their status and identity. Rather than feeling empowered, more exploitative demands are placed on them (Goldstein, 2016; Greenhalgh, 1991; Salway et al., 2005). Gender norms are embedded in persistent socio-cultural structures that are difficult to break. In South Asia, for example, the trust of family members placed on women workers decreases because they tend to “stray” away from expected female behavior. The “negative” implications of exposure to broad information, expansion of social networks, acquisition of more skills, and tendency to engage in independent decision-making threaten the conventional notion of womanhood (Mumtaz and Salway, 2005). Silvey (2000) reinforces the cultural struggle for women’s mobility with the expectation that “good girls,” “obedient daughters,” and “virtuous women” ought to be seen in respectable public places. In Vietnam, where a Marxist revolution promised to solve gender inequality, informal traders are viewed as “insignificant, undesirable or backward impediments to a market-socialist economy” (Leshkowich, 2011, p. 278).

The gender divide in street trading is a common phenomenon in the Global South where disparities between men and women vendors are

Intersecting spatial-environmental perspectives 55 observed (Chen et al., 2001; Mitra, 2005). A study of vendors in Kumasi, Ghana, illustrates this point. Although over 73 percent of Ghanaian women engage in self-employment activities, specifically petty trade, they do not participate fully in street food businesses along the Kejetia railway line and Anloga Junction. This would have been a prime opportunity to provide meals to carpentry and woodworking employees but male vendors dominate this lucrative space (King, 2006). A similar finding is described in Addo-Yobo’s study where formal store owners, who are mostly male, pay the women vendors to sell their goods on the street to decrease their competition (Addo-Yobo, 1985 in King, 2006).

In Iloilo, Philippines, four-fifths of informal street food enterprises are owned by women (Tinker, 2003). Of this proportion, 27 percent share “ownership” with their husbands. If a man possesses a vehicle, he would often be responsible for picking up raw food ingredients from the nearby rural villages and delivering them to the vending location for the wife to cook. Since Filipino culture is matriarchal, the women make most, if not all, of the business decisions related to the food enterprise. But there are always cases where the microbusiness is controlled by the man. Nevertheless, women are often “under- or un-paid” for their work. Tinker (1987) terms this the “invisibility of women’s work.”

Although categorization simplifies the study of women informal workers, part of decolonizing research is to emphasize the nuances of women in place. Rather than use a stereotypical view of vendors, this book offers the distinctive and multi-faceted nature of each place-node in Baguio and the women who toil in those urban spaces.

 
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