A Step in the Right Direction for Street Vending in Lima

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By Olga Abizaid

In a soon-to-be-released study conducted by Women in Informal Economy: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) in partnership with the FederaciónDepartamental de Vendedores Ambulantes de Lima y Callao (FEDEVAL), a group of street vendors from Lima identified the problems they face in securing their livelihoods. Among other things, vendors talked about the hurdles that policies and practices from the city government represent to their livelihoods. In particular, they spoke about difficulties in obtaining licences to operate in public spaces. Without these, vendors are vulnerable to potential evictions and confiscation of their merchandise by municipal authorities.

However, these difficulties could change. After two years of discussions, Lima’s Metropolitan Council passed the Ordinance No. 1787. This ordinance regulates street vending in Lima´s downtown area—known as El Cercado—and will, no doubt, be a referent for the rest all districts in Lima’s metropolitan area.

Contrary to most street vending regulations in the world, this ordinance recognizes street vendors as workers, seeks to strengthen their organizations, and aims at regularizing street vending in public spaces through gradual processes of formalization assisted by the local government.

The result of a participatory process promoted by WIEGO in which 150 vendors’ organizations expressed their views and submitted proposals and recommendations, this new legal framework includes a number of measures.

The emphasis placed on streamlining the allocation of licences to operate in public spaces and extending them to two years–instead of one– allows for greater certainty for vendors in their occupation. The allocation of licences will also take into consideration and give priority to the most vulnerable among street vendors –namely, women, pregnant women with minors, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Because the goal is to formalize street vendors, the new ordinance states that in order to obtain a licence, vendors have to register into a formalization process and participate in capacity-building workshops to develop skills in various areas. The objective is that with these new skills, vendors and their organizations will be better equipped to operate in the market and to represent their members, respectively. The intention is that eventually vendors will leave the streets and establish themselves in formal businesses, in turn allowing the neediest people to obtain those licences. The ordinance also makes the city government responsible for the promotion of savings schemes (individual and collective) so that vendors would have access to the financial sector and would be able to accumulate the necessary capital to make the transition from the streets to formal urban commercial projects.

The majority of street vendors—an important segment of Lima´s economy—are in vulnerable positions in case of accidents and illnesses because they are not covered by health schemes and do not have the means to replace the loss of income when they are not working. Hence, the proposal to include them in health and social protection schemes is a positive development.

Despite the contributions vendors make to the local economy by paying taxes and fees and their role in keeping the public spaces where they work safe and clean, the general public still perceives them as a problem. The creation of Tripartite Concertation Committees included in the ordinance may be key to revert that image. These committees are designed as institutionalized spaces for dialogue between the authorities, vendors and neighbours associations. While the definition of how these committees will operate is yet to be defined, the exchanges that would take place there—in a less politicized environment—may result in more positive dynamics between all three stakeholders. The experience in India with these types of spaces has been positive.

However, it is also important to note that the ordinance’s guidelines target only regularized vendors, namely, those vendors that obtain licences. The others will be scrutinized by the authorities and run the risk of being evicted and having their merchandise confiscated. The implementation of the ordinance will also face important opposition as was evident in the coverage made by media in Lima.

The ordinance is an important achievement for vendors, and therefore it is essential that they are aware of its contents so that they can benefit from the measures and programmes targeting this sector. To that end, WIEGO, in partnership with the city government and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, is organizing information sessions on the ordinance in all the areas of Metropolitan Lima during the month of July. For more information about these events, please visit the Facebook page of the Lima project.