From London To San Diego – Can Markets Offer Women A One-Way Street To Empowerment?

In November 2019, London saw a new attraction on its streets – the Lady Lane Market. As part of the regeneration program for The Petticoat Lane Markets, the Lady Lane Market was launched to “target and empower women in the community.”

Although street markets have long been a part of the capital city’s vibrant culture, “they have traditionally been male-dominated spaces.” The first of its kind, the Lady Lane Market offers women from all backgrounds a unique opportunity to showcase their skills and earn an income.

The market comprises “independent local women who have joined a program of digital and business training to support and grow their emerging enterprises.”

For many traders, the Lady Lane Market is more than simply a means of income – it offers empowerment, opportunity, support, and camaraderie.

Sophia Mohamed of Aseel’s Kitchen on Lady Lane spent years “wondering why every woman can’t achieve what they want,” says the market proves that, “Women can have our own businesses, give women the power and we can do it. I know we can do it. We can achieve things if we work together.”

The women of Manipur in India have been working together and empowering one another since the 16th century, when the tradition of a women-only market first emerged.

Harnessing The Power Of The Ima Keithel Market Tradition

The Ima Keithel or Mother’s Market continues to thrive today, after closing for 11 months during the coronavirus pandemic. Here, thousands of women gather, not just to sell their wares and support their families, but also to join “the campaign on various societal issues and against unsocial activities,” says political commentator Iboyaima Laithangbam.

Over the centuries, Ima Keithel has “been playing a pivotal role in the women’s empowerment” in the male-dominated Manipuri society. It’s also an economic necessity, “providing for the basic needs of thousands of families.”

For these women, “the market is more than a job: It’s a crucial social institution and a way of life for thousands of women. Here, the news is shared, ideas are debated, protests shaped, financial credit disbursed, all with a sprinkle of humor.”

How To Become An Empowered Woman On San Diego’s Market Scene

Although San Diego has yet to establish a women-only street market, it does have an initiative in place that “helps female refugees establish a small business at the UC San Diego Farmers’ Market.”

The project, called ‘Source of Change,’  By offering these women a platform to establish and manage their own business, the university hopes to not only empower them but to give them “a dignified, self-sustainable way of life that relies on neither charity nor exploitation.”

Naila Chowdhury, Director of Social Impact and Innovation at UC San Diego, believes the market empowers women on many levels, saying, “A woman is better able to negotiate her economic, political and social rights—her human rights—when she is financially independent.”

Marketing A Way To Empower Women And Transform Society

Behind the Lady Lane Market, the initiative is a long history of women taking to the streets to feed their families. There’s also a long history of market trading as a means of empowering women – giving them the opportunity and community in which to develop new skills and establish themselves as financially independent beings.

Both the Lady Lane and the Source of Change initiatives harness the positive energy of Ima Keithel tradition, providing more formal training than has been available in India but following a similar pattern of vendors helping and supporting one another.

In recognizing the street market’s significance as a social institution and a place of financial empowerment, both London and San Diego are making moves in the right direction.

Perhaps, in the not too distant future, we’ll see something comparable to the 5,000-strong Ima Keithel market in Manipur cropping up on the streets of London or San Diego. When that happens, women will be truly empowered.

Not only will they have a place to meet, share ideas, earn an income, but they’ll also have the opportunity to create a new way of life – one that’s based on community rather than competition.