Empowered Women Will Drive Economic Growth in the Pacific

Making it easier for women in the Pacific to start businesses and gain formal employment will improve livelihoods and create more open and productive economies, says a recently released book by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Women and Business in the Pacific, a joint publication from ADB’s Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) and the Government of Australia, examines how women in seven Pacific countries engage in the private sector. It identifies numerous barriers to women’s entrepreneurship and employment, and suggests a range of responses for each country to consider.

“Women’s economic empowerment will not happen automatically or quickly in Pacific island countries,” said ADB Director General for the Pacific Ms. Carmela Locsin. “It will require a sustained, collaborative effort from governments, development agencies, civil society organizations, and the private sector. This book, with its innovative and pragmatic recommendations, will help these institutions formulate effective programs to ensure women in the Pacific can participate fully in their economies.”

“No nation can reach its economic potential without harnessing the energy, skills, ideas, and talent of women,” said First Assistant Secretary in Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Office of the Pacific Ms. Kathy Klugman. “With the diversity of ways it presents to support women’s empowerment and their equal access to economic opportunities, Women and Business in the Pacific will help governments, business, aid organizations, and women in the Pacific themselves to achieve the goal of seeing more women working and leading in the private sector.”

Data collected for the book illustrates the under-representation of women in the Pacific in economic activities. Women constitute just 34% of the formal workforce in Fiji and only 29% in Samoa, where they earn 62% less on average than men. In Tonga, only 18% of formal businesses are women-owned, while only 25% of small and medium-sized enterprises are owned by women in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Only 8% of state-owned enterprise board members in Vanuatu are women, and only 10% in PNG are.

Women and Business catalogues, analyzes, and seeks to inform responses to the contexts that economically marginalize women in Pacific countries,” said the book’s lead author and PSDI’s Gender Expert Ms. Vijaya Nagarajan. “These include limited access to land, finance, skills training, and trade and markets, as well as—more broadly—threats to women’s autonomy and issues with dispute resolution and the enforcement of rights.”

The book offers a diverse range of strategies countries could apply to bridge these exclusions, spur business activity, and enhance women’s independence and security. These include amendments to business and labor laws; creating entrepreneurial “hubs” where women business owners and entrepreneurs can access training and advice; supporting groups of women in the agricultural sector to develop skills and resources for processing, storing, packaging, and transporting crops; and improving women’s access to finance using secured transactions frameworks that enable non-land assets to be used as collateral.

PSDI is a regional technical assistance facility undertaken in partnership with the governments of Australia and New Zealand, and ADB. PSDI supports ADB’s 15 Pacific developing member countries to improve the enabling environment for business to support inclusive, private sector-led economic growth.