6 months of pandemic: StreetNet’s response to COVID-19

When 2020 started, informal traders all over the world had no way of knowing this year would put their resilience, determination, and solidarity to a more challenging test they could hardly imagine, despite their lives always being in danger. Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world, leading to crippling social and economic problems for all nations, we can attest that StreetNet International and its affiliate organizations have risen to the challenge.

The StreetNet International statement in response to COVID-19, issued as a primarily immediate reaction to the global pandemic, assisted affiliated organizations in navigating these tough times. Specifically, StreetNet International encouraged its affiliates to:

  • “Call on your governments both at local and national level to consolidate their efforts and all stakeholders concerned to put in place measures and resources to keep all workers and their income safe, no matter what their job or employment relationship is;
  • Call on your governments to provide a universal health care and a basic emergency living cash grant to all informal economy workers and the most vulnerable categories of population regardless of their nationality and residency status;
  • Call on your governments for all informally engaged workers and the most vulnerable to be exempted from the bills for utilities during a time of coronavirus crisis;
  • Call on trade unions, CSOs and any other possible allies in your countries to jointly advocate and address the government with possible solutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, considering all workers, despite their formal or informal employment form;
  • Call on your members, comrades and all citizens in your community and country for a mutual solidarity support to assist each other in such a needy times and global crisis.”

Many affiliated organizations consolidated these demands and made great strides for informal traders’ rights and livelihoods during the pandemic.

Our women and men on the ground

Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, street & market vendors, hawkers and cross-border traders have been mobilizing and organizing to ensure No One is Left Behind. From crowdfunding initiatives to vigorous advocacy, informal traders are calling for recognition of the key role they play in the economic and social lives of their communities and their countries.

Contradicting fears that informal traders were vectors of infection, affiliates across the globe are leading the way when it comes to respecting health and safety guidelines. In a few months, they managed to come up with alternative practical solutions and adapted their operations in response to the pandemic by wearing masks, washing hands, practicing physical distancing, and monitoring compliance with protocol regulations.

Affiliated organizations had to deal with changing circumstances and faced different challenges according to their local context.

In some cases, both local and national authorities have teamed up with informal traders to monitor markets, demonstrating how a joint response is the best solution to such a crisis. In other cases, informal traders have suffered from intensified police brutality, which was only made visible due to the work of activists on the ground.

In some countries, informal traders have been targeted by social protection policies that ensure their survival, in large part due to the lobbying of informal economy workers’ organizations. In other countries, they had to rely on their own networks and local community for sustenance.

Responding to all these challenges while respecting lockdown rules and physical distancing, required informal traders to become comfortable and innovative with information and communication technology extremely quickly.  Crucial face-to-face interactions had to move to WhatsApp, Viber, Zoom, Skype technologies – which required an enormous effort and willingness to learn and adapt from informal traders who were already overwhelmed with other issues.

After half a year of hard work, informal traders and other informal economy workers are bracing themselves for the difficult times to come with the rallying cry 2 Billion Strong: Recovery Starts With Us!

Joining forces

On May 1, 2020, StreetNet International and other informal economy workers’ organizations representing waste collectors, domestic workers, and home-based workers, joined the WIEGO Network Global Solidarity Platform and developed a statement based on three principles:

  • Informal Economy Workers Are — and Have Always Been — Essential Workers
  • The Global Economy Can’t Recover Without Us
  • Economies Must Be Reset to Align with Core Principles of Inclusion

The demands in this statement were then the basis for a social media campaign “2 Billion Strong: Recovery Starts With Us”, focusing on the importance of the work performed by informal economy workers and how these essential workers should be involved in responses to the global pandemic.

StreetNet International also joined forces with other international organizations. Oksana Abboud, international coordinator, participated in the Cities Alliance webinar “Learning from Cities to Advance Gender Equality—The new EU Gender Action Plan in light of COVID-19”, on June 26, 2020.

StreetNet International also co-organized a side event during the High-Level Political Forum on July 16, 2020 and organizer for the Americas Maíra Vannuchi presented a case study of Brazil’s universal basic income policy.

StreetNet along with other organizations representing informal economy workers joined the upcoming Global 16 Days Campaign scheduled for October 2020, led by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, which will highlight the importance and value of women informal economy workers, their great contribution to the national economies but at the same time will emphasize on elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work calling on the governments to ratify the ILO Convention 190.

Tracking and disseminating information

During the pandemic, StreetNet’s team developed a system for tracking information in its Affiliates’ countries regarding COVID-19 related policies, their impact on informal traders and initiatives developed by affiliates.

Through this tracking system, StreetNet’s team was able to identify best practices by affiliates in specific countries and share useful guidelines and examples related to solidarity and health and safety at working space.

Along with WIEGO, StreetNet also developed the COVID-19 Health Guidelines for Informal Traders, which were translated in different languages and widely disseminated through StreetNet’s communication channels to all its Affiliates.

Strengthening our affiliates: an action roadmap during and after the pandemic

The pandemic demonstrated the resilience and determination of affiliates, but it also allowed StreetNet to identify the most challenging gaps in knowledge, skills and capacity. As such, StreetNet is now investing in activities to strengthen the capacity of its internal operational team as well as its affiliates to properly respond to the COVID-19 crisis and further advance the organizations.

The Emergency response project is supported by the Open Society Foundations and focuses on 7 main areas:

  • Strengthening Capacity and extending a StreetNet operational team;
  • Providing technical expert mentorship for strengthening affiliates’ capacity on strategic planning and advocacy;
  • Online trainings on negotiations skills for informal economy workers
  • Communication package support for the affiliates;
  • Country-based projects on post-COVID19 recovery plans for the affiliates;
  • Online thematic webinars to raise awareness and promote visibility of informal economy workers, their main needs and concerns;
  • Establishing a properly functioning internal and online communication system.

StreetNet’s strategy with this project is clear: in the short-term, the priority will be to set up an effective coordination and communication operation system. This way, StreetNet will be able to provide immediate technical support to the affiliated organizations, focusing on sharing best practices and initiatives in response to the pandemic as well as solidarity support.

The priority for medium and a long-term perspective – it is to strengthen the capacity of affiliates to advocate for themselves and their members on the local and national levels. This means the affiliates should be recognized as essential actors representing informal traders with established long-lasting negotiation forums in governments, which will allow them to have a united voice in governmental discussions and decision-making processes including with regard to new models of economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 period.

Moving forward – stronger, united and in solidarity

Six months of pandemic take a toll on every person, organization, and country. And yet, there are still reasons to be hopeful. The health crisis was very damaging for informal traders, but people across the globe realized how important their work is probably  for the first time. Through mobilizing, organizing, advocacy, lobbying and solidarity, informal traders are making a noticeable difference in cities as far apart as New York and Durban. The models of economic recovery chosen by different governments will shape the post-pandemic world. Now is the time to have our voices heard and state, as loud as we can because – Nothing for Us without Us!

The crisis also opened up some emerging opportunities for the informal traders to be able to intensify their struggle for recognition, establishing dialogue with authorities, promote formalization of their jobs and to design the future they want.

The situation for informal traders in many countries is still critical. Now, more than ever, their essential contribution to social and economic development must be recognized and respected by all. 

StreetNet International is mobilizing all their affiliates and supporters to promote the rights of street, marketvendors, hawkers, and cross-border traders to dignify their lives and jobs. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and amplify our message.