Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre opens women-only Saturday street market

Summer Fair women-vendor-only market. (Photo/Alice Kendall)
Summer Fair women-vendor-only market. (Photo/Alice Kendall)

Last week marked the opening of the Downtown Eastside women-only market, running every Saturday on Columbia street. The Summer Fair is run by the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC), and was created to address the issue of men’s violence against women in the existing street markets.

The need for a women-only vending space is just one outcome of the City of Vancouver’s decision, in November of 2015, to evacuate the community market on Hastings street between Carrall and Columbia, rezoning it in several less visible and high-traffic areas of the Downtown Eastside. Community advocates explain that women were being abused in the three new locations where the city allows street vending.

“Long story short, women were not being treated very well.” Alice Kendall, Executive Director of the DEWC, told 24 hours.

“There was some kind of abuse and exploitation of women that were participating. Women are not very well-represented in those spaces because of a lack of an appropriate kind of model or safety and security for women. The issues of violence against women in this community is tolerated to such a degree that people kind of see it as an expectation.”

The plan for the women-only market has been in the works since late February of 2016 when a community member from the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council brought it to the attention of Superintendent Michelle Davies at a Police Board meeting.

“The whole situation with street vendors has been a challenging one in recent years, but we’re looking at solutions for all different types of vendors and making sure there are safe spaces in the community,” Mayor Robertson said in response.

Last Saturday’s event featured between 20 and 30 female street vendors, selling handcrafted goods and used items. Male vendors are not permitted to use the space, but people of all genders are encouraged to visit as customers.

Jess Martin
Jess Martin

Jess Martin is a public relations professional, an aspiring writer, and an assistant editor at Feminist Current. She prefers to write about feminist topics, disability, or environmental issues, but could be persuaded to broaden her horizons in exchange for payment and/or food.

In her spare time Jess can be found knitting, gardening, or lying in the fetal position, mulling over political theory that no one in their right mind cares about.

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  • Petronella

    This is good news for these women, who are the poorest of Vancouver’s poor, to have the chance to earn a bit of money. Interesting the wording that the DEWC’s advocate is obliged to use: it’s
    the usual passive voice, about how abuse and exploitation “were happening,” no mention of who was doing the abuse and exploitation. In the longer version of this story at the link, this sentence is interesting: “The issues of violence against women in this community is tolerated to such as degree that people kind of mete it as if it’s an expectation.”
    “People” mete out violence against women. Who are these “people?” Are women not also “people?” Ah, the pretzels we twist ourselves into when we are afraid to name the actors!

    • will

      “”People” mete out violence against women. Who are these “people?” Are women not also “people?” Ah, the pretzels we twist ourselves into when we are afraid to name the actors!”

      Absolutely! It’s incredible slight of hand, is it not, the way that the constant explicit threat of violence to women from men is “hidden” in plain sight with this serpentine use of language? Our collective denial is killing us.

  • Sara Marie

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    When I first started reading, I assumed that a “woman-only” market would only have women as customers. I am glad that at least this market has women-only vendors, particularly if it helps modify the problems women (I guess women vendors?) have had at mixed-sex markets. And it’s true that men do have more money than women, so by allowing men to shop at the market, the women vendors have a much larger potential customer base than if it was just limited to women customers.

    I don’t know what the precise types of harassment, abuse, etc the women are experiencing at mixed-sex markets…and I am very interested to know if having all-women vendors helps the situation. I am concerned that male customers could target both women vendors and female customers at this market. But again, I’m not at all familiar with what has been going down, and I do hope having this all-women vendors helps greatly!

    Perhaps there is also a stricter policy on customer behavior here, with more enforcement? Would love to hear from women who know more.