Girl Power – Indian Style

Inside India’s vibrant 500-year-old market where there are over 4000 traders… and all of them are women

From the dazzling array of fresh fruit, spices and textiles, the sprawling Imphal market in Manipur could be mistaken for any other bazaar in India but it has one distinct difference – all 4000 traders manning its stalls are female.

Ima Keithel which translates as ‘mothers’ market’ is a meeting ground and trading hub, run exclusively by women and is reportedly the largest all-women market in Asia and possibly the world.

Although there is debate over when exactly it was established, some say the market dates back to the 16th century. This female-only workforce originated during the ‘Lallup’ era when men from the Meitei community were called upon to serve the King leaving the women the responsibilities of commerce and farming, according to Oddity Central. 

Only married women are allowed to run the stalls and family members pass their trade on to the next generation keeping the enterprising spirit alive.

Despite threat of closure over the years, the market is still thriving. It did however take a battering during an earthquake in January which killed nine people and destroyed some of its structures.

Tourists visiting the region will be greeted by friendly traders offering a lively blend of traditional handcrafted items, modern clothing and local produce.

Although Ima Keithel was damaged in the 4 January earthquake, it has returned back to normal. Nine deaths were reported from in and around Imphal due to falling debris. Imphal has a population of some 270,000 and people were jolted from their sleep and ran out of their homes in panic when the earth shook. A woman reads the news at her vegetable stall (pictured)

This female-only workforce originated during the ‘Lallup’ era when men from the Meitei community were called upon to serve the King leaving the women the responsibilities of commerce and farmingThis female-only workforce originated during the ‘Lallup’ era when men from the Meitei community were called upon to serve the King leaving the women the responsibilities of commerce and farming
Local delicacies: A Manipuri woman sells smoked and dry fish in Ima Keithel marketLocal delicacies: A Manipuri woman sells smoked and dry fish in Ima Keithel market
A woman vendor on her way with 'Yongchak' to Ima market.   Khwairaman Bazar, known as Women's Market, the market stalls are all run by women, the main market of Imphal, Manipur, India
A woman vendor on her way with yongchak to Ima market (left) and one of the 4000 traders at the market sells garlic (right)
This market is said to reflect the empowerment of the women of Manipur. A woman vendor sells Yongchak (pictured)This market is said to reflect the empowerment of the women of Manipur. A woman vendor sells Yongchak
Female shoppers look delighted at the selection of traditional handcrafted items, modern clothing and local produce available to buyFemale shoppers look delighted at the selection of traditional handcrafted items, modern clothing and local produce available to buy
Tools of the trade: Women sell farming and kitchen implements and other hardware at the mother's marketTools of the trade: Women sell farming and kitchen implements and other hardware at the mothers’ market
Fabric of life: A view of the section of cloth and textiles being sold at Ima Market in Imphal, ManipurFabric of life: A view of the section of cloth and textiles being sold at Ima Market in Imphal, Manipur
Family members pass their trade on to the next generation keeping the enterprising spirit alive at the market. Vendors wait for customers (pictured)Family members pass their trade on to the next generation keeping the enterprising spirit alive at the market. Vendors wait for customers
Despite threat of closure over the years, the market is still thriving. Women buy fish at Ima Market (pictured)Despite threat of closure over the years, the market is still thriving. Women buy fish at Ima Market
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