By Neehal Khatri
When Vimleshni Lata was growing up, she loved to tune into her favourite radio station and listen to recipes which she would then try out, especially during Christmas time. Over the years, she has honed her baking skills and she now operates a home-based baking business in Lautoka.
Since opening her business over three years ago, Vimleshni has managed to grow her customer base gradually through word-of-mouth advertising. She specialises in making cakes and pastries for events such as birthdays, engagements and weddings, taking orders from customers over the phone.
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Fiji in March this year, social gathering restrictions kicked in and the unemployment rate soared, especially in the Western Division. As a result, Vimleshni started receiving fewer orders for cakes and pastries which has affected her income.
Fortunately for her, she had diversified her income streams earlier on by operating a side business in threading, haircutting as well as bridal dress up and makeup services. This has allowed her to earn a little bit of income to help offset the decline in her baking business.
Vimleshni shared that her ambition was to open a cake shop but because of her financial situation, this is something she cannot do at the moment. According to a recent survey on the impact of COVID-19 on Fijian businesses by Pacific Trade Invest Australia, the top barrier for women-led businesses to action initiatives is a lack of finance, revenue or cashflow at 35%, compared with 21% for male-led businesses.
As a woman entrepreneur operating in the informal sector, without a business licence, Vimleshni’s options for obtaining finance are even more limited. And while she had planned to register her business this year, she has put this on hold because of the pandemic and the resulting drop in her income.
Vimleshni’s message to women who want to start their own business is that everyone has a talent in something, and they should go for it in the same way that she has pursued her multiple talents.
In the Spotlight: Informal Women Workers
As part of the 16 Days of Activism global campaign, the Fiji Women’s Fund is sharing a series of stories featuring the experiences of women entrepreneurs in the informal sector as well as those who have transitioned, or are transitioning, into the formal sector.
16 Days of Activism is a global campaign focused on ending violence against women and promoting women’s rights. In 2020, the Campaign is dedicated to informal women workers whose lives and livelihoods have been acutely impacted by COVID-19 and the unprecedented economic crisis that has followed. According to the International Labour Organization, more than 60% of the world’s employed earn their living in the informal economy and 92% of women in employment in developing countries are informally employed. They face precarious workplace conditions and are typically excluded from national labour laws and denied social protection.
The Australian Government through the Fiji Women’s Fund has been supporting women’s groups, networks and organisations to amplify the voices of women in the informal sector through our partnerships with grantees like the Women Entrepreneurs Business Council, Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation, Women in Fisheries Network, Talanoa Treks, Rise Beyond the Reef, Ra Naari Parishad, Naitasiri Women in Dairy, Waisomo Women’s Group and the Soqosoqo Vakamarama Kadavu.