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Travails, challenges of female hawkers

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In many parts of the country, hawking is a common practice in the Lagos State. Interestingly, hawkers have become essential service providers in different parts of the state, including the metropolis. Those who need to quench their burning thirst while moving at snail speed in traffic, and those who need to grab a bite while on the move see hawkers as handy service providers.

Despite providing these “essential services” and many more, the state government appears to be irritated by their mere sight, hence its determination to get them banned on Lagos roads, albeit unsuccessfully till now as reflected by their ever-expanding community.

The worsening economic conditions in the country have contributed to widening the pool of young hawkers in the state, especially female, both old and those of school-age.

Because of the competition to make reasonable sales, young female hawkers make themselves vulnerable, as they continue plying their wares into the night. Clearly, this exposes them to danger.

Blessing, a 17-year-old groundnut hawker, who operates in and around the Ladipo International Spare Parts Market, in the Mushin area of the state said: “I live with my aunty, and this is what we do for a living. I sell groundnuts after school hours. I do this everyday including Sundays.”

When asked if she gets advances from men, or if there have been attempts to lure her into bed, she responded: “Yes, I do, but I don’t allow that to distract me. I want to be useful in future and add value to my family. Hawking that I do now is a phase that will surely come to an end one day. I know that I won’t be doing this forever.”

Even though she lamented the volume of advances from men, Blessing says closing very late while trying to record appreciable sales, and having to walk lonely paths to get home remain a source of worry to her.

Yemisi, a bread hawker at Abesan Gate in Ipaja, appears to have taken things in her strides. She is always spotting flashy outfits, coloured hair-do and loud make-up while on duty.

The light-skinned skinny lady who though gets a lot of attention from men as a result of her looks, always attends to her customers nicely.

She told The Guardian: “I have always liked to look good and beautiful. I am a young girl who is not married and I should portray myself as one who is ready to attract suitors.”

When asked why other female hawkers appear to pay scant attention to their looks while on duty, she responded: “It is what they want for themselves. And the fact that I am hawking should not stop me from looking good. I should be able to attract customers too with my looks. When I dress up every evening to come out to do my business, I get a lot of compliments and it keeps me going. That is why I do not feel the heat the country has placed on us.

“I am doing my bid to ensure that I survive in this economy, but that I am a hawker does not mean that I should dress shabbily,” she concluded.

Bukky, who hawks food in the Agege area of Lagos avoids taking her wares to garages and motor parks, claiming that many female hawkers have been sexually abused there.

“I have been doing this business for over five years now. This has been the source of livelihood for my family. Even though I know that hawking as a woman has brought favour upon me, as some people prefer to patronise me because of my femininity, I am careful enough not to sell my food in garages, where I will be exposed to a lot of men. This is because women are prone to rape and sexual assault in such places.

“I have people who hawk in garages and have become victims of rape and even got pregnant in the process, I don’t want that to happen to me,” she stated.

On challenges she encounters doing business, she said: “There are times that I wake up and all my body aches, and I don’t feel like stepping out of the house. At such times, I always push and encourage myself because if I yield, it means no income for the day, and my customers will gradually turn to somewhere else for food. Even when I am faced with heavy downpour or scorching sun, I still have to encourage myself to endure in order to preserve my customers.

“If I have the means, I would prefer to get a shop and settle down there for my business, but it is so expensive to get one, and I cannot afford it. That is why I have to continue doing this, else I opt for begging, which is derogatory,” she added.

For Ayo, who hawks soft drinks, her major challenge has been chasing buses and cars in traffic snarls. “The men in the business tend to beat me to it, but then I still make sales especially when you have chilled drinks, which are an attraction to customers.”

She, however, noted that her line of business, is more profitable when hawking than having back in the shop as buyers are usually on the go. “There are dangers in the business, but God has been on my side.”



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