Economic Empowerment

‘We also know that improving women’s economic empowerment is not a straightforward process. We must recognise from the outset the complexity of improving women’s economic status, but not be deterred by it. There is so much opportunity for creativity and innovation and importantly cooperation.’
Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum (2016).v

‘Empowering women economically and in their leadership roles is not only a shared regional responsibility but also a local, cultural and ethical one.’
His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese, Head of State, Samoa (Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships 4th Annual Forum, Samoa, 2016).vi


Women’s economic empowerment matters. Both for its own sake, but also because without sufficient access to and control over income and other resources, it is difficult for women to advance their leadership or escape violence in the home.

The informal economy is an important source of income and livelihood for the majority of households in the Pacific. For example, an estimated 80 percent of households in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and 75 percent of households in Vanuatu rely on the informal economyvii. Whilst Pacific Women also supports the transition of women into the formal economy, women are likely to continue to work largely in the informal economy. Barriers that women face in benefiting from the economy, particularly the informal economy, include lack of social and legal protections, and the absence of voice in decision making around policies and legislationviii. This is why Pacific Women seeks to support activities that look at how regulations, policies and services, as well as social norms, affect how women gain from and influence both the formal and informal economies.

UN Women’s six-year multi country Markets for Change (M4C) program is one example of a Pacific Women investment that is supporting women’s decision making and enhancing safety, as well as building more inclusive markets that promote women’s economic empowerment. The project works on the structural and systemic barriers that constrain women’s full potential, such as gender-blind local government regulations, as well as supporting women’s agency through offering market vendors new skills training in finance and leadership.

M4C is one of 14 activities supported by Pacific Women that have a primary focus on women’s economic empowerment, and one of five that focus specifically on the informal sector. The other nine activities focus on women in the formal economy. The formal sector activities include a Coffee Industry Support Project with CARE Australia in PNG that works at both the structural and individual level, influencing workplace policies in the coffee industry to be more inclusive of women. Many of these activities work strategically across multiple Pacific Women outcome areas to better leverage change, most commonly also working in the area of women’s leadership.

Pacific Women’s investment in women’s economic empowerment activities ranges in scale, with 10 activities involving investments of less than $1 million each, up to the multi country M4C program which has an investment of over $12 million. The case studies that follow share examples from four countries, showing how economic empowerment has helped build resilience and transform women’s lives.


Project name: Markets for Change (M4C) in the Pacific
Project partner: UN Women
Total funding: $12,724,587*
Funding timeframe: 2014–2019

Despite widespread devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in March 2015, the women market vendors in Emua Village in Vanuatu have rebuilt their market quickly and even found time to celebrate their achievements at the United Nations (UN) International Day of Rural Women.

The Emua Market House was completely destroyed after Cyclone Pam in March 2015. Photo: Ellie van Baaren/UN Women.

Pacific Women supports M4C, which is a six-year program that aims to ensure marketplaces in Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

M4C is working with women leaders, such as Mrs Winne Douglas, the Treasurer of the Emua Market Committee.

‘The market is very important,’ explained Mrs Douglas. ‘This is our business. It must grow and we have to look after it for our community. We must respect it and work together with one spirit, and we must help other associations like ours.’

Under Mrs Douglas’ guidance, the Emua market operates as a cooperative with around 40 to 50 growers contributing, linked to a saving scheme.

The Emua Market House reopened on 19 May 2015 and women vendors began selling vegetables grown from the first seed distribution after Cyclone Pam. Photo: Murray Lloyd/UN Women.

Despite the market house in Emua being completely destroyed by Cyclone Pam, it reopened just eight weeks later. Mrs Douglas said the cash reserve from the savings scheme helped village residents to rebuild their lives.

Six months later, the village was ready to host celebrations for the UN International Day of Rural Women. The event takes place around the world each October to recognise ‘the critical role and contributions of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’

Having watched women villagers’ involvement in rebuilding Emua after Cyclone Pam, Mrs Douglas sees great value in affirming the work of rural women and giving them the opportunity to come together to reflect on their achievements: ‘Women will realise they are special and have rights and we will celebrate together.’

Women at Emua with handicrafts made for International Day of Rural Women 2015. Ms Winnie Douglas is on the far right. Photo: Murray Lloyd/UN Women.

In Vanuatu M4C supported the event for the second time. It was organised in partnership with the Vanuatu Government, the Shefa Provincial Council and the Silae Vanua and Maroe Tanvasoko Market Vendors Associations. Over 2,000 people attended the celebrations in Emua, which included an opening parade, string bands, dancing, speeches, displays, stories, local food and handicraft stalls. The event promoted the economic empowerment of market vendors with profits from the sale of cooked food reaching VUV $106,000 (approximately $1,300).

‘This day will put warmth in the hearts of all women,’ Mrs Douglas said.

*This activity is part of a larger program.

Project name: Coffee Industry Support Project
Project partner: CARE Australia
Total funding: $4,450,713*
Funding timeframe: 2013–2019

Coffee production is an essential cash crop in PNG, particularly in the highlands where it provides an income for families who otherwise rely on subsistence farming. CARE PNG’s Coffee Industry Support Project works with coffee industry stakeholders, influencing workplace policies and programs to be more appropriate for, and inclusive of, women.

Ms Alma Lance with coffee farmers in Henganofi District, Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Ms Lance is the first woman graduate to join Sustainable Management Services PNG as part of CARE PNG’s Coffee Industry Graduate Program. Photo credit: Anna Bryan/CARE PNG.

One of the identified constraints to increasing women coffee farmer’s more meaningful engagement along the coffee value chain is their ability to access extension services. Extension officers directly support farmers and share knowledge to improve their farming techniques. They are important intermediaries between businesses, research and farmers, promoting better results and better profits for all stakeholders in the value chain of the coffee industry. Before this project began there were only five women coffee extension officers.

The project has been working to improve coffee farmers, extension officers and coffee industry partners’ gendered understanding and to deliver family business management training to improve women’s participation. The critical gap in women extension officers is also being addressed through the inaugural Coffee Industry Graduate Program introduced this year.

Following organisational capacity assessments with two of PNG’s leading coffee exporters, the project has placed the first four high-achieving agricultural studies graduates, three of whom are women, with two private sector partners PNG Coffee Exports and Sustainable Management Services PNG (SMS) as part of the 12-month Graduate Program.

Ms Alma Lance was placed with SMS through the Graduate Program. She recognises that the job has challenges, but she has seen firsthand that the inclusion of women extension officers results in women farmers being more likely to share their views.

‘It’s like I’m standing on behalf of the women and I represent them. They come to me and we talk openly. I see that most of the time in society we give males a higher status keeping women behind, and it is holding back families and their work. So I think what CARE and SMS are doing with female extension officers is important I believe in having females in extension because it will create change,’ she shared.

Mr Joeri Kalwij, the Director of SMS, said he was motivated to participate in the Graduate Program as it gives his company an opportunity not only to support young professionals to gain valuable work experience, but to also actively recruit young women into a male dominated industry.

Mr Kalwij said the Graduate Program has had a positive impact on his business: ‘It is more than a strategic choice to have female extension officers on our staff. It is simple common sense. The feedback and active engagement of farmers with our entire team during field visits is fantastic. I like to think this is partly due to the fact we have women in our team that maintain this rapport with PNG’s female coffee growers. We certainly have.’

Working through this project, SMS have not only committed to taking on a second cohort of graduates, they have made policy changes to their extension officers’ salary scales to ensure all staff regardless of gender receive the same pay and benefits. These changes mark important organisational-level changes within the industry which will enable women’s more meaningful participation in PNG’s coffee industry.

*This activity is part of a larger program.

Project name: Support for women’s economic empowerment
Project partners: South Pacific Academy of Beauty Therapy
Total funding: $492,672
Funding timeframe: 2014–2015

A Pacific Women-funded scholarship program has enabled its graduates to gain economic independence and has also ended up offering its participants so much more.

Some of the 25 scholarship recipients with the Academy’s Head Trainer, Ms Anjaleen Kumar (fourth from front). With support from Pacific Women, the students graduated with a Certificate in Beauty and Spa Therapy. Photo: Shazia Usman/Pacific Women Support Unit.

Pacific Women supported 25 students (24 women and one man) with low socioeconomic backgrounds from rural areas of Fiji with scholarships to complete a Certificate in Beauty and Spa Therapy Level IV from the South Pacific Academy of Beauty Therapy.

The 2016 graduates, including Ms Sonam Narayan and Ms Akosita Waqa, are finding work in satisfying careers giving them economic independence.

‘I hope every woman in Fiji has a life like mine!’ said Ms Narayan, the top student in the course, achieving the dux award. Following her graduation, the Wakaya Private Island Club and Spa sought her out to take on the role of spa manager, a position commonly reserved for practitioners with over 16 years’ experience.

Having this job enables her to provide for her 8-year-old-son. This is important to Ms Narayan, because as a single mother, she used to rely on her mother and younger sister for financial support.

Fellow graduate, Ms Waqa received the highest mark in the practical part of the exam. With a dream to travel overseas, she applied for a position in Samoa and is now a beauty therapist at the Misiluki Day Spa in Apia. She shared her advice for other women:

‘Take education seriously. Without education you won’t be able to find good work anywhere. If you are qualified, you can stand by yourself and you can say that, yes, I am able to support myself and my family as well.’

In addition to the economic benefits, both women have also reported a positive change in how they are perceived by others.

Ms Waqa said her achievements had a profound impact on her 20-year-old-son. ‘He was so proud. It really motivated him. He now plans to go for it too [and] finish off his education and graduate.’

Ms Narayan shared her transformational experience.

‘Before, whatever I said or did wasn’t accounted for, people said ‘oh yeah, yeah’ and they just leave it [her opinion] behind. Even in my family now, they respect me, my decisions are being valued even more. In the community, they are looking up to me so that I could help them out in some way.’

‘We were really blessed with that scholarship program,’ said Ms Waqa, ‘because if it wasn’t for that program we wouldn’t be able to find work.’

Ms Debra Sadranu, Principal of the Academy and Managing Director of Essence of Fiji: Rejuvenation Centre, also thanked Pacific Women for investing in rural women and contributing to Fiji’s tourism industry.

‘We are truly grateful to DFAT for impacting the lives of our graduates by sponsoring this rural women’s program. The impact of this program has not only assisted our rural women but also alleviated the HR issues in this high demand industry. Hotels and resorts are continuously contacting the Academy for graduates. With the increased student intake, we are now able to facilitate with recruitment. It is a win-win for everybody rural women and Fiji’s spa tourism industry.’

In praising the graduates, Ms Sadranu said:‘Sonam and Akosita are both outstanding women who clearly excelled from being given this amazing opportunity. To witness the outcome of this program has been most rewarding for me as the Principal and the Director. Watching these students evolve from day one, women from rural areas gaining so much confidence and adapting such professional attitudes. Then to be rewarded with employment for their efforts, is in itself an achievement to be both recognised and appreciated.’

Project name: Markets for Change (M4C)
Project partners: UN Women
Total funding: $12,724,587*
Funding timeframe: 2014–2019

Between 75 and 90 percent of market vendors in the Pacific region are women. The money earned by these women is often pivotal in paying for important family expenses such as children’s school fees. In Solomon Islands, UN Women partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Bank of South Pacific (BSP) to deliver targeted financial literacy training to vendors to increase their ability to earn, save and manage their market income as part of the Markets for Change (M4C) project.

L-R: The M4C, UNDP and BSP partnership was welcomed by Ms Janet Ramo and Ms Jilly Maehaka, respective chairpersons’ of Auki and Honiara Central Market Vendors’ Associations. Photo: UN Women.

Principally funded by Pacific Women, the M4C project is a six-year multi country initiative working with market vendors in Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

M4C workshops focusing on marketing, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, women’s leadership and participation are resulting in women increasing sales, increasing their representation on market committees and exercising their voice to ensure their needs are heard and prioritised when it comes to allocating market fees to improve economic opportunity, safety and the health and wellbeing of market vendors.

In Solomon Islands, M4C, UNDP and BSP have collaborated on a series of ‘Continuing Marketing Business Education’ workshops. The trainings build skills in basic financial literacy, budgeting, savings and record keeping. There is also a focus on increasing knowledge and skills around mobile banking services and opportunities to access different types of financial services.

The training is coordinated with the local and provincial governments who have management responsibility for marketplaces in Honiara and Auki.

BSP participates in the training on a pro bono basis and BSP Solomon Islands’ Country Manager, Mr David Anderson, is pleased that that the trainings involve those who have previously had limited opportunities to improve their marketing practices and increase their incomes

Ms Kristy Nowland is UN Women’s M4C project manager for Solomon Islands. She noted that the impact of the M4C project on gender equality extends well beyond the walls of the market place.

‘Supporting economic and social outcomes at marketplaces has the potential to set into motion longer term transformative processes and practices for women’s empowerment and gender equality.’

Key stakeholders celebrate the signing of the M4C, UNDP and BSP financial literacy agreement. Photo: UN Women.

*This activity is part of a larger program.