A City of Vendors

The informal sector is here to stay! Yes, informality exists in every corner of the world, from the streets of New York to the streets of Nairobi. Haiti should not be excluded from this sector nor should Haiti turn a blind eye to the most vulnerable sector. Seventy percent of small businesses created in Haiti in the last 50 years are informal. Because of the high unemployment rate in most districts and cities, many residents, mostly women, depend on street vending to support their family, send children to school, build a house, or only to feed their kids. This practice has been part of the culture for generations, but only a few have shown interest to understand how it works and measure its contribution to the formal economy. Why study informal sector in Haiti? To be honest, there’s no easy answer to this question; nevertheless, to create sustainable solutions we should start by understanding how the different sectors of the economy work. Street vending is not one that can be left out of the equation.

The informal sector consists of various jobs that are not legally registered with the government, but our study will focus on the street vendors in Haiti, more particularly in Cap Haitien. A Ti-machann (street vendor) is a micro-entrepreneur in the street market, who makes money every day by selling several goods, including foods, clothes, everyday necessities, etc. This sector has not been recognized, nor structured by the states, even with its powerful contribution to Haitian economy. As a result, they face many issues, such as losing their merchandise, having no access to credit to grow their businesses, and often, they are forced to sell in places that affect their health and wellbeing. With no access to an adequate health care system, anecdotal evidence suggests that many vendors and their families fall ill. Informal settlements are generated by street vendors, and they are those who have migrated to the cities to escape poverty, but they have found themselves trapped in poverty due to the odds set forth before them. Street vending is widely practiced in Haiti due to the lack of opportunities; nevertheless, it is considered as the heart of the Haitian economy. How can the Haitian government facilitate the growth of the “Ti-Machanns” sector, and allow them to contribute more to the formal economy?

All cities contain informalities on all scales that coexist with formal markets. This is due to the high increase of internal migration from the province to cities resulting in rapid urbanization; as of 2014, 54 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, up from 30 percent in 1950. Like all the cities in Haiti, they are not prepared for the amount of growth. A total of 540 ti-machanns were captured in this study through one-on-one interviews. Among the 540 individuals that were interviewed, 70.20 percent were female, and 29.80 percent were male. With women dominating the informal sector, we could argue that they are the most vulnerable and lack representation.

The most unprotected, the most vulnerable, the most disrespected, the most neglected is the black woman. It is not just in America that the black woman is deemed lesser than; you will see it in many parts of the world including Haiti. Their story begins with resistances, fights, survival, and nurturing. While Haitian constitutions “protect” women, they still face discrimination in the workplace, financial exclusion, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. Among the ti-machanns we interviewed, 70.20 (374) percent of women were in this sector for survival and to take care of their families. Why does an individual in Haiti become a ti-machann? With many similarities around the world, survival is the primary push factor. Survival, culture, and demand! Street vending is not glamorized in Haiti nor is it seen as an asset. The reality of ti-machann is that violence against women is a significant and challenging issue to be addressed and that the lack of accountability makes it difficult to seek justice.

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Although poverty does not differ base on gender, women are less likely to find formal employment with excellent benefits and legal protection. According to the World Bank 2015 country assessment, women and girls still face greater obstacles to attend school, they face greater challenges to health care, they face more disadvantages in the labor market, they face a greater gender-based violence, and their participation in the public sphere is low. Ti-machann women like the men use their income for expenses such as school tuitions, household groceries, healthcare services, rent, and at times, save in susu clubs and reinvest in their business.

 

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