I am struck each day by the unbelievable courage, strength and power of the women Johann and I have been working with in Douala. For nearly a week and a half, we have listened to their stories, learning about their lives and the obstacles they face everyday. I hope this post does not come across as over-the-top, but what the women here are struggling to do deserves every bit of it.
Because one of our objectives for UCOMAS is to produce a documentary that presents the purpose, need and future of the market women’s association, we have been conducting interviews with each of the members of the UCOMAS executive bureau. Even though we ask the same questions to every woman, (Describe your typical day at work. What constraints do you face in the market? What obstacles do you encounter as a woman? In Sandaga, in general, how are your interactions with the men? And so forth…) each perspective is different and each response gives me a new found appreciation for what these women are attempting to accomplish.
During a typical day, they wake up at 4 AM, spend 12 hours in the market, then go home to clean, cook and take care of their children and families. That stripped down and shallow depiction alone is worthy of enormous respect. However, the conditions for women in Sandaga market are much more complex and daunting. Officials from the Communauté Urbaine, for example, abuse their positions of authority to manipulate the commerçantes, making women pay almost 8 times the legal amount in taxes and other fees. Sanitation is non-existent—no potable water, no toilet facilities, and no way to conserve their produce or keep their sectors clean. Rapport with the men is also harsh, oppressive and at times dangerous. The market women are generally perceived as inferior to their male counterparts, and are treated as such. They are given the less desired places to set up shop in the market, are victims of verbal and physical abuse, and are often harassed.
When we asked why UCOMAS was created, the women were very clear. And very strong. As many of them described, they are coming together in solidarity and together, with one voice, standing up to defend their rights and themselves. This is not an easy task, and they have already confronted much resistance. The environment in Sandaga is not accustomed to such a show of force and UCOMAS is doing something groundbreaking. During one of our first interviews with Adelaide Foute Tega, the president of UCOMAS, Adelaide discussed the barriers the association has already faced and candidly said something pretty striking in response. We had asked her if she had any ideas for UCOMAS’ future and her answer was powerful— if they have support, someone who can defend and help THEM, UCOMAS has the potential to be very, very strong.
UCOMAS has much to do and a lot of potential, but they are still in development and need help. Adelaide is not the only person who recognizes this weakness; AMA manager Eric Dongmo has been preoccupied with the same problem. At the beginning of the fellowship, AP requires that we solidify a work plan, which outlines what we hope to accomplish by the time we leave. When Johanna and I covered our work plan with Eric, he was extremely interested and persistent on going over our plans to outreach to other international organizations for financial and structural support for UCOMAS. It has become increasingly clear to me that one of Eric’s biggest worries is the financial and long-term security of UCOMAS; they desperately need continued help and they are counting on our communication support to find more opportunities. I am determine to do the best I can and hopefully leave UCOMAS stronger than I found it.
Also, upon request–Check out our progress via Flickr photostream at:
Posted By Helah Robinson
Posted Jun 14th, 2009