A new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) shows improvements in Pacific women’s economic empowerment but warns closing the gender gap will be critical to driving long-term inclusive and sustainable economic growth.
The report, Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Pacific Region: A Comprehensive Analysis of Existing Research and Data, was released today and was funded by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (WeFi). It drew on more than 200 published papers and studies, and eleven datasets, and details the barriers women face to full economic participation in the region. These include low labor force participation, occupational concentration, gender pay gaps, poor working conditions, limited decision-making power, and unequal access to training, credit, and job opportunities.
“Investing in women’s economic empowerment is a smart choice for Pacific governments because gender equality contributes to more inclusive and sustainable economic growth,” said ADB Director General for the Pacific Leah Gutierrez. “Closing these persistent gender gaps and strengthening the enabling environment for women’s economic empowerment will benefit everyone.”
The report shows an increase in women’s labor force participation since 1999. However, relative to men, women’s labor force participation remains low, ranging from 84% in Solomon Islands to 34% in Samoa. It also shows that the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on women’s employment and women-led and -owned businesses.
Women are much more likely to work in the informal economy and carry a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work, contributing to women’s increased likelihood of living in poverty. In Fiji, for example, 64% of economically active women earn below the poverty line, compared with 40% of men.
Despite some progress toward women’s economic participation, legal and policy barriers persist. Laws mandating equal remuneration for work of equal value and legislation on sexual harassment in the workplace have only been enacted in a third of countries. While digital processes are the most widely cited positive change in the enabling environment, women still have less access to digital technology and mobile banking than men.
The report recommends key actions to boost women’s economic empowerment, such as providing affordable and quality childcare; regulatory reform, including eliminating legal restrictions on women working in certain industries for work considered too dangerous; and improving digital inclusion and training for women. It recommends measures to support women’s economic resilience and recovery in the wake of COVID-19. It also highlights the need for urgent action to address the gender dimensions of climate change that will impact the industries where women are employed, including agriculture, fisheries, and tourism.