Name: Adelaide Foute Tega
What she does: Leads a women’s market traders union
Impact: Empowers women by teaching them the laws and regulations of the market, equipping them with the ability to defend their rights and developing further leadership skills
Nominated by: Helah Robinson, Vital Voices Global Partnership
Adelaide Foute Tega, a market trader in the Sandaga Market of Douala, Cameroon, is a co-founder and president of the Sandaga Market Women Traders Union, UCOMAS (Union des Commerçantes du Marché Sandaga). Sandaga houses close to 1,300 traders, over 800 of whom are women. However, despite their overwhelming presence in this workforce, women have traditionally been overlooked in the hierarchy of the market and their rights abused. Only two women have ever been part of the 42-member ASCOMSAD, the currently operating general association for workers in Sandaga market.
The first of these women was Adelaide. Though she often tried to highlight the problems facing women traders, the men of the association often ignored her suggestions and no concrete action was ever taken. Her frustration grew given the severe barriers and obstacles women traders face in Sandaga market on a day-to-day basis. Sexual harassment, discrimination, theft and harassment from their male counterparts are common occurrences. The main issue women face is a lack of access to information about the workings of the markets, including their rights in the marketplace and the laws that govern them. Major abuses emanate from the fact that women are unaware about how much they should pay for their taxes, to whom and what rights of recourse they have. As a result, community officials are able to manipulate and take advantage of the women, often forcing them to pay double or triple the standard fees.
In an effort to address these injustices, Adelaide partnered with other like-minded women and founded UCOMAS as an organization of women traders to address the needs of women in the market and improve their socio-economic conditions. Adelaide refers to it as a “support system” among women traders to further their interests and defend their rights. The women immediately tackled the need for infrastructure and a leader of UCOMAS, electing Adelaide as the first president of the organization.
What started as a handful of women traders immediately grew to 150 women by the end of the first elections and the group now boasts over 200 members. Their principal objective is to empower the women of Sandaga, teaching them the laws and regulations of the market, equipping them with the ability to defend their rights and developing further leadership skills. Current projects include the construction of toilets inside the market, a cleanliness program that will equip members with brooms to clean their selling spots, the installation of a refrigeration unit for the conservation of their fresh produce, and several technical and advocacy trainings.
Adelaide was the runner-up in the category Business and Entrepreneur. Hannah Davies of One World Action reads out a message from her accepting the award.