Women's Economic Empowerment

What's the Issue?

Historically, gender norms, behaviours and social relations have played a big part in disadvantaging women economically. Institutions, systems and structures often restrict women's economic opportunities, while gender roles and status can limit women's voices and choices when it comes to household and community decisions.

Participating in economic activities allows women to effect positive changes in their own lives, and communities, contributing to positive effects for the whole nation. Advancing women's economic empowerment underpins the success of all the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Pacific Islands countries are geographically dispersed across the largest EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) in the world. Far from international markets, with high costs of transport and geographic isolation, economic growth in the region has been uneven. Pacific populations are mainly rural and rely largely on subsistence activities; women especially are heavily involved in informal economic activities. Women perform a greater share of food growing and in-shore fishing activities, unpaid care and domestic work, and women dominate small-scale market operations. Between 75% and 90% of all market vendors in the Pacific are women; hours are long, profits are often low, and working conditions difficult. Earnings make up a significant portion of the incomes of many poor households. Despite this, women are so often excluded from market governance and decision-making.

Moreover, the region is particularly vulnerable to the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, as well as other aspects of climate change, making food security a growing concern.

Our Solutions

UN Women recognises that, in order to advance women's economic empowerment, our work must address the intersections between women's economic empowerment, safety and discrimination, leadership and participation, disaster preparedness and livelihoods.

Marketplaces are a critical space in which these interrelated factors come into play. UN Women works towards improving working conditions for women market vendors in Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, with its Markets for Change (M4C) Project.

M4C works to ensure that 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. The project supports the creation and strengthening of representative marketplace groups, which in turn enhances the roles and influence of women market vendors. The project also focuses on boosting financial literacy amongst vendors and market vendor associations, and is supporting greater access to financial services, improved agricultural skills and, in some cases, more secure agricultural production.

M4C works to strengthen the accountability and capacity of market management and municipal and provincial governments through the provision of training and technical support, laying the groundwork for local government to employ gender-responsive policies, procedures and decision-making processes that are receptive to the needs of market vendors, especially women.

The project also has an infrastructure component, which focuses on improving onsite services at the design and construction phases to ensure that marketplaces are safe and more resilient to environmental shocks such as extreme weather events.