Port Moresby market vendors set up bank accounts for more secure lives and livelihoods

Hundreds of vendors at two of Port Moresby’s biggest fresh produce markets have set up bank savings accounts for the first time, thanks to UN Women flagship Safe Cities Programme, which promotes the safe use and enjoyment of public spaces by women through empowering them economically and other means.

Six banks sent representatives to meet with more than 800 market vendors and shoppers at Gordons Market and Koki Market during the 26-27 July “Market Bank Fair” co-organized by UN Women and the National Capital District Commission, the city authority. More than 300 vendors set up savings accounts during the fair; hundreds more took back forms to fill out. Most of the market vendors are women.

“Through the Bank Fair, women vendors have the possibility of saving their excess funds without fear of being robbed,” said Christina Cheong, Project Specialist for UN Women’s Safe Cities Programme. “They can also actively plan for expanding their business. These are tangible ways of empowering women to manage the resources to improve their lives.”

Most vendors find it difficult to access financial services because they have low levels of literacy and cannot leave their stalls during working hours. At the bank fair, they were able to meet with financial institutions in a non-threatening setting, set up savings accounts and apply for loans to expand their small-scale businesses.

A 40-year-old female vendor at Gordons Market who obtained a savings account at the fair said: “I am happy the financial institutions are here. I was not aware that such banking and financial services existed. Now I can keep my money safe instead of leaving it in the house and being pressured by my husband and kids every time they see money in my bag.”

Another vendor at the market said: “I don’t have a bank account and have been keeping my money in small plastic bags at home. I am happy today since I get to open a bank account finally.”

Freddy Manihoru, Officer-in-charge of Eda Supa, the central savings fund for people working in “informal sector” jobs such as vending, said that over 80 percent of Papua New Guinea’s 8 million people do not have bank accounts and so have limited ability to save for emergencies or future needs. This is partly due to poor understanding of the benefits of financial services, he said.

UN Women has organized financial literacy and business development trainings for the vendors as part of the Safe Cities Programme. From interactions during these trainings, it became increasingly apparent that the lack of access to financial products was compromising the vendors’ security and efforts to improve their economic situation.

UN Women sensitized the participating banks on the key interests and concerns of the vendors. As a result, the banks customized their presentations and products to make them easier for the vendors to use and more suited to their specific needs. The six that set up booths at the bank fair were Bank of South Pacific, Westpac, PNG Microfinance, NASFUND, Nationwide Microbank, and Women’s Micro Bank. All are private commercial banks except NASFUND, which is publicly owned.

UN Women will continue to work closely with National Capital District Commission and financial institutions to promote the economic empowerment of women, especially market vendors.