Six Ways to Count Her In: Economically Empowering Women in the Pacific

Encouraging women to formalize their businesses will increase their economic empowerment. Photo: ADB
Encouraging women to formalize their businesses will increase their economic empowerment. Photo: ADB

By Malika Shagazatova, Ingrid FitzGerald, Aleta Moriarty

Significant disparities persist in women’s participation in the labor market and access to financial resources in the Pacific. A comprehensive approach to improving data, expanding financial inclusion, and promoting gender equality in the workplace is needed.

Despite progress, significant gaps remain in women’s economic empowerment. Globally, women are less likely to be part of the labor market than men. Only 63% of women aged 25-54 work, compared to 94% of men. Women also earn less, typically making 77% of what men earn, with the wider gap in developing countries

Our research indicates a significant gap in women’s economic empowerment in the Pacific. We recommend that governments take the following actions:

Count her in – ensure all women are counted in the research and data.   Gaps remain in our knowledge on gender equality in the Pacific. The report recommends that we improve sex-disaggregated data collection and reporting by regulators, such as central banks or banking authorities. It suggests governments work with national statistics agencies and international survey designers to improve survey quality and include sex-disaggregated questions. There is also a need to research the economic empowerment of historically marginalized women groups, including women with disabilities, adolescent girls, sexual and gender minorities, ethnic and Indigenous minority women, migrants, and single mothers. Further research on the status and trends of women-owned micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in smaller Pacific Island countries would also help to fill existing data gaps.

Make financial services more inclusive. Women in the Pacific struggle with limited access to resources, and women entrepreneurs also face more difficulties getting loans, with their applications rejected 2.5 times more often than those of men. There is a need to mobilize capital for women-owned businesses, including through the development of national regulatory frameworks for crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending.

Governments are encouraged to work with banks to adjust risk assessment criteria in favor of MSMEs and informal businesses and encourage institutions to accept non-land assets as collateral and increase the uptake of secured transaction frameworks. Improving financial services should be further complemented with financial literacy programs, mentoring and support systems to help navigate risks and gain confidence, legal and policy reforms to protect women's rights to their income and assets, as well as gender sensitization of bank staff and loan officers.

Encourage women to formalize their businesses and provide greater legal and social protection for informal workers. The report found that  Most Pacific women-owned businesses are informal and in most countries women’s employment is mostly comprised of insecure work in the informal sector. In Samoa, nine out of ten women are employed in the informal sector, with just one out of ten employed in the formal labor market. Governments should seek to explore incentives for business formalization and mechanisms for expanding formal businesses. This could include reforming tax, finance, and licensing policies to remove barriers and disincentives for women-owned businesses to formalize.


Develop both the paid and unpaid care sectors. The uneven distribution of unpaid work is another issue that prevents the full economic participation of Pacific women. In Fiji, women spend three times more time on household and caregiving duties than men. Childcare services are scarce and often unaffordable. Governments are recommended to develop the unpaid and paid care provider economy and infrastructure.  Support greater participation of women in business and the workforce by enacting parental leave and childcare policies and investments.

Promote workplace gender equality initiatives and greater opportunities for women in leadership. Women are underrepresented in leadership roles. Only two out of ten board members in Pacific companies are women, and women make up just 13% of CEOs. Without a seat at the table, many of the patterns of economic exclusion will continue to be perpetuated.

There are number of recommendations for government and the private sector to promote greater workplace gender equality, including: support stakeholders in disrupting social norms that function as barriers to women’s business and work with men and boys to support women’s economic empowerment; ratify International Labour Organization Convention No. 190 on violence and harassment in the world of work and adopt and enforce sexual harassment legislation and policies; repeal legislation that restricts women from certain types of work; invest in programming that shifts harmful social norms sustaining a lack of workplace gender equality and violence against women and girls in the workplace; and promote and legislate equal remuneration for work of equal value.

Expand access to digital technology for women. The report underscores significant disparities in women’s access to technology. With the rapid proliferation of AI technology, it becomes imperative to provide training and access, unlocking new opportunities and digital services. Simultaneously, we must address potential risks. These include privacy and security concerns, digital literacy gaps, risks for job displacement, and AI bias which is result of the limited sex-disaggregated data availability. To achieve equitable outcomes, we must expand access while emphasizing the importance of bridging the digital gender gap, safeguarding against data breaches and cyber harassment, and ensuring that AI bias does not further perpetuate unfair results.

The complex and challenging work on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Pacific demands a multifaceted approach—one that recognizes the power of sex-disaggregated data as the bedrock for informed policies, budgets, actions, and transformative projects.

Beyond data, we must also acknowledge the intricate web of vulnerabilities that affect women’s empowerment in the region.  By addressing the unique challenges faced by women and girls from historically marginalized groups, we can pave the way for a more inclusive and resilient future. Together, we can amplify the voices of Pacific women and forge a path toward equality and inclusive growth.