Port Vila and Marobe Market: A Hub for Women in the Informal Sector

June 10, 2024

ANZ delivered financial literacy and business management training for 62 market vendors from Port Vila and Marobe Market under the M4C Project.


Vanuatu, located in the southern Pacific Ocean, is divided into six regions: Malampa, Penama, Sanma, Shefa, Tafea, and Torba. The population exceeds 250,000, based on the latest census conducted in 2020. Port Vila alone is home to an estimated 53,000 people (as of 2017). The economy of Vanuatu is largely sustained by small-scale agriculture, fishing, and trade. Rural households rely heavily on these activities for their livelihoods. Vanuatu is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with significant losses attributed to extreme climatic events.

Gender Equality and Women Economic Empowerment

 Market vendors, predominantly women, contribute to the local Vanuatu economy and are often faced with numerous challenges, including lack of legal and social protections, limited access to finance, and capacity development. Despite these obstacles, women vendors continue to travel to municipal markets to trade and earn income for their families and community obligations. Marketplaces in Vanuatu are vital for women's economic empowerment, providing them with income opportunities and a platform to support their families.

The National Government provides support to women in Vanuatu through the National Gender Equality Policy, which aims to improve productivity, skills, and incomes for women in the informal and traditional economies. This includes enhancing market infrastructure, ensuring safety and security, and increasing women-owned registered businesses. By addressing these issues, the Government of Vanuatu continues to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for all its citizens.

However, despite the improvements, women’s access to financial assets and infrastructure still lags behind men. Approximately two-thirds of women market vendors remain unbanked, and women's access to credit is particularly low in the informal economy. The Government of Vanuatu has committed to achieving gender equality by embedding it into legislation, policies, programs, and organizational structures. A focus on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) includes improving business and financial skills to boost women’s involvement in both the formal and informal economies.

The Informal Sector and Marketplaces

The informal sector in Vanuatu is a crucial part of the economy, generating about 30% of all economic activity. Women dominate this sector, especially in marketplaces. The largest, Port Vila Market, generates significant revenue and serves as an essential driver of local economic development. In Vanuatu, there are six marketplaces, including those under the Markets for Change initiative. This article will capture stories from the hardworking resilient market vendors of Port Vila Central Market and Marobe Market.

Port Vila Central Market is the largest in Vanuatu, with 308 tables accommodating 180-300 vendors. It offers fresh produce, cooked foods, arts and crafts, and flowers. The Silae Vanua Market Vendors Association (MVA) manages the market and represents the interests of vendors, focusing on improving conditions, addressing disputes, and coordinating market vendors' events and activities.

Port Vila Central Market is the largest in Vanuatu.


Marobe Market, located on the outskirts of Port Vila, features sections for livestock and fresh produce. Established in 1989, the market provides accommodation for vendors from outer islands, who may stay for up to two weeks. The market provides tables for women vendors and farmers to earn income for their families, and also supplies fresh vegetables and root crops for the communities of Vanuatu.

Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship

Municipal Markets serve as vibrant hubs for women in the informal sector. These marketplaces are more than just places for buying and selling goods; they are platforms for empowerment, economic growth, and social change. The majority of women market vendors spend long hours traveling to and trading from the markets and are often left behind in terms of training and access to finance opportunities. Through support from the Markets for Change Project, women vendors can access capacity-building trainings for financial and business management, focusing on skills and knowledge to grow and diversify their market businesses.

Women market vendors in discussion during the finance and business management training.


Financial Inclusion Programme

At the national level, the Vanuatu National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) was introduced as a plan to improve financial access for small and medium businesses and those who are underserved. The goal was to have 65% of adults, including at least half women, actively using formal or semi-formal financial services, up from the previous 47%. 

The NFIS aimed to create a supportive environment that would improve the lives of people and small and medium businesses in Vanuatu by providing more inclusive financial services and empowering and protecting consumers.
The strategy also planned for a range of financing products for small and medium businesses, specifically designed for businesses led by women and youth. The NFIS was connected to the third pillar of the Vanuatu Government’s National Sustainable Development Plan 2016-2030, which aimed to ensure a stable economy through sustainable and equitable growth. 

The last two objectives of this pillar were to ensure financial sector stability and make financial services affordable and accessible for all by pursuing financial inclusion strategies and to promote financial literacy and consumer empowerment. The Markets for Change project, through its collaboration with ANZ Bank Pacific, contributes to the Vanuatu Government’s National Sustainable Development Plan 2016-2030 by promoting financial literacy and consumer empowerment.

ANZ Workshop: Building Capacity and Fostering Growth

Last week, ANZ delivered financial literacy and business management training for 62 market vendors (60 women and 2 men) from Port Vila and Marobe Market. The training provided knowledge and skills to the market vendors on topics such as basic financial literacy skills, business management topics, and gender equality. 

This workshop also promotes gender equality by empowering women with full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in economic life.

Jenneth Kamsen, Beverly Hills Community.


“I sell cooked peanut. When I heard about the financial literacy training, I was interest to attend, because whatever that I learn can help me to do more product and, I was thinking to share my knowledge and skills with women in other communities who do not have the chance to attend such training. 

I want to use this knowledge and skills to empower others as part of my giving to the people. The financial literacy training has helped me better how to plan my small business and grow the money that I have earned from the peanuts business.” - Jenneth Kamsen

Sylvette Tiano, Beverly Hills Community.


“I am 60 years old and married with 3 kids, we live at Beverly hills community. My kids attended school and travel everyday by bus and sometimes they take money to buy lunch at school. So, I had to work hard every day to make sure my kids go to school. I operate a small store at home which I sell basic goods and services to the people in the community. I had joined the SPBD scheme few years back which helps me to start my small store business. When I joined the scheme, it became a commitment to work hard and repay my loans.

When I heard from the president of the Beverly hills market association announced for any vendor to attend the Value addition & Food safety training, and financial literacy, I was so happy as the training will help me to gain more knowledge and skills to do something different.

 Now that I have attended the training, I am so happy to know that we can use whatever fruits or vegetable we have at home and modify it into another product to sell in my store or at the market. I am so happy to attend this value addition training and financial literacy as it has changed my way of thinking. The three trainings I attended really gave me new ideas and helped me better plan my finances especially how to diversify my products, to make extra cash that I can save to expand on my business.” - Sylvette Tiano.

Lillian Makoe, Beverly Hills Community.


“I am 64 years old with six children and we live in Epau Village in the north part of Efate. Some of my kids had moved on with their lives, while some are still with me, I have grandchildren which I support their parents to pay for their school fees. My husband and I were farmers in our community we grow root crops and vegetable. 

We sell at the Port Vila Market two weeks in a month to earn money for our living. we pay for transport to get our produce from the village to Port Vila market which cost us around 6000vt one way. Living in the village we a must abide to community commitment which we have to look for extra income to support unexpected family events. 

I plan to borrow money to construct my new shelter including toilet and bathroom which to cater for any family event which we may have in the village and the financial literacy training has taught me a lot of new ideas, which I hope to apply it to my business.

 I am so happy to attend this Value Addition training and the Financial Literacy Training has really given me new knowledge and skills on how to modify my root crops and vegetables to other product and sell it at the market to earn money for my family.”  - Lillian Makoe.

Empowerment, innovation and inclusivity 

The stories resonate with the power of inclusiveness, leaving no one behind and empowering rural communities to take ownership of their destiny through initiatives offered through the Markets for Change Project. Vanuatu, with its diverse islands and vibrant culture, faces significant economic and environmental challenges. However, through targeted approaches and joint partnerships, policies and initiatives, particularly those focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment, can overcome these challenges.

The Markets for Change (M4C) project aims to promote gender equality by economically empowering women market vendors in Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and Samoa. This project, bringing together various stakeholders, offers financial literacy training that connects vendors and farmers with essential service providers. This sharing of information, raising awareness, and networking opportunities have the potential to improve the livelihoods of market vendors and their families.

The Markets for Change Project contributes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, directly contributing to multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 5 on Gender Equality, SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth, SDG 10 on reducing inequalities, and SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities. The project ensures equality and economic empowerment for all, including men, women, youth, people with disabilities, and marginalized minority groups.

The M4C project is implemented by UN Women in partnership with UNDP and with support from the Government of Australia.

For more information, please contact: 

Vilisi Veibataki, Markets for Change Project Manager, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji | vilisi.veibataki@undp.org | +679 3227701