Economic Empowerment

Increasing Economic Opportunities for Women in the Pacific

Nations thrive when women can participate in politics, business and society as equals. Ensuring that women are free to fully participate in their country’s economy is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. The UN has estimated that low female participation in labor markets in the Asia–Pacific region costs the region up to US$47 billion each year. When women have higher incomes and bargaining power their children tend to be healthier and better educated. This tends to increase a society’s long -term prosperity.

Economic opportunities for women in the Pacific are amongst the worst in the world. In 2012 the Economist Intelligence Unit rated the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea as 124th and 125th respectively out of 128 in the world, for economic opportunities available to women. In no Pacific country does economic opportunity available to women rise above the global average. [1]

This is influenced by a combination of broader cultural and economic factors. Many women are located in subsistence agrarian societies located on geographically dispersed archipelagos, characterised by dysfunctional market chains. Women’s private sector activity in Pacific Island countries is mostly in the informal sector. Currently women do most of the growing and selling of small-scale agricultural produce in Pacific Island marketplaces. Outside the agriculture sector, men outnumber women in paid employment by about two to one. Even then, men typically earn 20 to 50 per cent more than women because they are working in higher paid jobs.

Development programs funded by donor agencies such as the Australian Government and other development partners in the Pacific are responding to international research that shows the benefit of improving women’s financial literacy and access to banking services. Making these services more available and suited to women’s needs is likely to increase income in women’s hands. At the local government level, programs are helping to improve marketplace management. This includes a focus on what taxes and fees are charged because these affect women the most. Attention is also being paid to improving the broader regulatory and policy environment to support women’s employment and businesses. Various development actors and governments are currently exploring ways to redirect benefit streams towards women in countries which have active mining and energy extractive industries. This is particularly important so that mining royalties are channelled into improving health and education services for women and children for the long term benefit of the communities in which they operate.

[1] Economist Intelligence Unit (2012). “Women’s economic opportunity 2012, A Global index and ranking from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Findings and methodology”, p. 8