Economic Empowerment

‘We must not underestimate the cash earnings of rural women. Even though they do not earn a fortnightly salary, they earn a little money every day or every week. Through their earnings they feed and manage family livelihoods. Savings clubs recognise rural women’s earning power and help assist them to save little by little and watch their money grow.’
Dr. Alice Pollard, Advocate, Women’s Financial Independence, Solomon Islands (2017)

“Women are the significant agents of change in our families, communities and economies as a whole. It is their hard work and commitment that builds the strong foundation for the future of their family and that of the nation.”
Hon. Minister Faiyaz Koya, Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Fiji (2016)


This year, Pacific Women supported 25 activities with a primary focus on women’s economic empowerment. Women and girls benefited in a variety of ways, including 3,155 women accessing financial literacy training and financial services, and 58 obtaining formal qualifications that enables them to access the formal labour market, increases their marketability and hopefully benefit from expanded employment opportunities as a result.

Women’s economic empowerment is increasingly recognised as a path to improved economic development for Pacific communities and countries. It can also be linked to increasing women’s agency and ending violence against women. However, it also has the potential to lead to an increase in violence against women, so consideration must be given to possible harmful unintended consequences. Market development programs, lending programs, savings clubs and mobile banking initiatives are showing significant potential.

Women in the Pacific make significant contributions to their countries’ economies. Governments and the private sector are recognising that investing in women and girls has a powerful effect on productivity, efficiency and economic growth. A 2016 studyIII  found that the proprietors of one third of all Pacific exporting companies are women, with the number increasing in the last two years.

By eliminating barriers to women’s full participation in employment, labour productivity will increase through better use of available skills and talent. Higher incomes for women and increased control over income, leads to increased spending on food and education, resulting in improved outcomes for children’s education, health and nutrition. It also leads to greater sustained poverty reductionIV.Twelve of the activities receiving Pacific Women funding are targeted at the formal sector. Examples include support to the Solomon Islands Women in Business Association, CARE’s work in partnership with coffee industry stakeholders to improve the economic and social wellbeing of women coffee farmers and agricultural extension officers in Papua New Guinea and improving training and employment outcomes for women and girls in Vanuatu.

The informal economy remains an important source of income and livelihood for the majority of households in the Pacific. For a range of economic and social reasons and preferences, many women are likely to continue to work in the informal economy and initiatives in this sector are equally critical to women’s income and poverty reduction. Consequently, six of Pacific Women’s activities focused on the informal sector. This includes support for locally-led initiatives, such as the Kirapim Kaikai na Maket project enabling Tsak women in Papua New Guinea to increase income by marketing their surplus production through a network of women’s associations and the establishment of the Ra Naari Parishad centre in Fiji to deliver economic livelihood activities for women. These projects address the barriers that women face, such as lack of social and legal protections and an absence of voice in decision making, to improve their economic status.

Pacific Women also supported activities this year that encouraged sharing, learning and understanding. The Pacific Women Synthesis Report on Women’s Economic Empowerment examined direct factors that enable or constrain women’s economic empowerment in the Pacific. It found that enablers include education, skills, development and training. Barriers include access to quality, decent paid work and formal economy entrepreneurship, as well as access to property, assets and financial services.

A lesson learned through stakeholder interviews in the Fiji country plan review was the need for thorough value chain analysis before funding any women’s economic empowerment activity. This is further supported by the Do No Harm research, a collaboration between the Australian National University’s State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program and the International Women’s Development Agency, which focuses on how economic inclusion and empowerment initiatives can affect women’s experience of violence and identifies the importance of not adding to women’s burden of work for little or no financial gain.

The case studies that follow showcase how Pacific Women is working with governments and development partners to enhance women’s economic opportunities and control of economic decision making and resources.


Project name: Strengthening Business Coalition for Women and Economic Empowerment Partnership with the private sector
Project Partner: International Finance Corporation (IFC)
Total Funding: $3,400,000
Funding timeframe: 2014–2017

The Papua New Guinea Business Coalition for Women, with support from the International Finance Corporation, works with members to develop and adopt policies and practices that encourage the participation and leadership of women in the workplace. Global evidence indicates that doing this will improve the bottom line for individual companies. It also lays the foundation for women’s participation and leadership more generally. The work of the Coalition addresses four key areas: reducing violence against women and improving protection, enhancing leadership capabilities of women, developing ‘gender smart’ human resource policies and practices and improving the numbers of women owned businesses in supply chains.

Employees of the Hidden Valley gold mining operation in Morobe, Papua New Guinea. Photo: PNG Business Coalition for Women.

The Coalition has 65 member companies representing almost 63,000 employees. With funding from Pacific Women, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) works with the Coalition to assist member companies to develop a range of model policies, training, tools and resources to improve women’s leadership and career paths within the private sector.

Over the past year, the Coalition has developed Gender Smart Safety Resources for its members. The impetus to improve workplace safety for women in Papua New Guinea was the realisation that some women were being overlooked for career development opportunities because their employers believed they could not guarantee women’s safety on some worksites.

Amy Luinstra is the Gender Program Manager, East Asia Pacific for the IFC. She explains that

‘the basic premise of a gender smart approach to workplace safety is that men and women experience workplace safety differently. Our Gender Smart Safety consultant and trainer … teaches businesses how to identify the specific hazards that put women at risk at work and how to mitigate those risks.’

A new audit system has been developed to assess women’s safety and to promote continuous improvement on work sites. The audit tools investigate women’s physical, emotional and occupational safety at work. Training includes learning how to conduct a women’s safety audit. The data from the audits can then be used to make targeted changes to create a safer workplace environment.

Recognising the value in such an approach, 20 members helped develop the gender smart safety resources. Pilot materials were then trialled by Oil Search, New Britain Palm Oil Ltd and St Barbara’s Simberi Gold Mine.

‘The Gender Smart Safety program is already positively impacting the safety of everyone on site’, 

reports Mr Bob Vassie, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of St Barbara. Following the review of the pilot, a model policy for women’s safety in Papua New Guinea workplaces is being developed and audit tools and training are being readied for scale up and use by other Coalition members.

Project name: Markets for Change
Project Partner: UN Women
Total Funding: $17,224,587
Funding timeframe: 2014–2019

In just over three years, UN Women’s Markets for Change (M4C) project has made substantial progress towards achieving its outcomes. The best people to explain how the project is supporting different facets of women’s economic empowerment across three Pacific countries are the market vendors themselves.

Ms Leisavi Joel presenting a speech. Photo: UN Women

‘Before the training, I do not have a bank account and my husband had control over the money I earned’,

says Ms Betty Fresa, who has been selling fish for more than 15 years at the Honiara Central Market in Solomon Islands. Since receiving financial literacy training through M4C, Betty has changed the way she manages the money from her stall.

‘I know how to look after as well as take control over my earnings to meet my family’s daily needs. I also opened a bank account with Bank of South Pacific after the training, through which I save part of my earnings.’ 

In Fiji, Ms Sunila Wati has attended five M4C agricultural productivity trainings and subsequently improved her farming techniques.

‘I learnt to use manure more now and less fertiliser – just how they explain during the training – and the new tools [digging fork, gardening knife] that I received.’ 

When her crops were destroyed in the December 2016 floods, she knew what to do.

‘I planted the seeds that I received after the floods, utilising the soil after the floods and the leftover seeds I have shared to another farmer who also supplies to me in the market.’

Despite the disaster, she is expecting increased productivity in 2017.

Ms Leisavi Daisy Joel is the Vice President of the Silae Vanua Market Vendor Association in Vanuatu. After participating in M4C financial literacy, agriculture, communications and leadership trainings, she decided,

‘I have some good knowledge that makes me want to learn more’.

Ms Joel successfully applied for an Australian Government scholarship to study for her Certificate IV in Community Development.

Ms Joel says.

‘If you see an opportunity to improve your life through education, then go for it! Some women think they don’t have a good enough education. But let’s not think like that. Let’s just come together and see what’s happening.’

M4C works to ensure marketplaces in rural and urban areas of Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Project name: Family Teams, Do No Harm and Coffee Industry  Support Project (CISP)
Project Partner: University of Canberra  ACIAR (Family Teams), ANU SSGM (Do No Harm)  and CARE (CISP)
Total Funding: $3,000,00 (Family Teams  $533,150 (Do No  Harm)  $4,507,131 (CISP)
Funding timeframe: 2015-2018 (Family Teams)  2013-2016 (Do No Harm)  2013-2019 (CISP)

Research on the interconnectedness of women’s economic empowerment and their decision making and safety in the family is informing programming to improve women’s livelihoods.

Ms Rose Koiya is one of several village community educators involved in the Family Teams Project. As part of her work, she works with six communities with around 500 farmers. Photo: Barbara Pamphilon, University of Canberra.

The Do No Harm research by the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia program at the Australian National University is investigating how to empower women economically without compromising their safety. Preliminary findings from Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands indicate that increasing women’s income does not necessarily lead to greater bargaining power within the household.

When Pacific women make more money, this does not necessarily translate into economic empowerment. Economic empowerment includes the ability to make decisions over how that income is accumulated and spent. There is a need to address the social norms between women and men that constrain women’s decision making ability so that income can be transformed into greater benefits for women and their families. The research shows that often when women make more income through their own efforts, they do not experience benefits, but rather, this work adds to their existing burdens.

A number of Pacific Women funded projects in Papua New Guinea, including the Family Teams project led by the University of Canberra and the CARE-led Coffee Industry Support Project (CISP), work with husbands and wives together to change how they relate to each other, allowing women to have more control over decisions that affect their lives. This approach is showing that norms can be changed over a short period of time and that these changes are improving livelihoods and income for the entire family.

Ms Rose Koiya is a farmer and village leader who has participated in the Family Teams project.

‘In the past’, Ms Rose Koiya explains, ‘my husband and I never talked about the budget and he always look[ed] down on me because I am not educated and I am just a simple village woman. He always told me to work hard in the garden so I can earn money and feed the family. He would use his wages to buy what he wanted’.

Due to the training, Ms Koiya proposed to her husband that they work together.

‘My husband is now attending church with me and we are budgeting our money together’,  she says.

‘The training truly changed my family to be united and happy.’

Other positive results reported by participants in the Family Teams project include greater family harmony, increased crop production and sales and increased incomes.