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From Participation to Power: Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Pacific

A new Australian aid report, ‘From participation to power‘, builds on nearly 10 years of Australian Government commitment Pacific Women program – one of the largest and longest-lasting aid commitments to gender equality in the world – to study what works to strengthen women’s economic empowerment in the Pacific region.

Its key message is that women’s economic participation is not automatically lead to empowerment and economic equality with men. For economic development initiatives to meaningfully advance the empowerment element of women’s economic empowerment, it is essential to address gendered power dynamics. This includes the allocation of resources, the prevention of violence, women’s time and care responsibilities, and opportunities for collective action and building mutual support.

The mainstream development discourse has consistently portrayed women’s economic participation as an automatic “win/win” for economic development and women’s empowerment. However, this has not always been the experience of Pacific Women’s partners. Revenue increase does not necessarily reduce the risks faced by women, and women may face criticism, increased restrictions on their mobility and violence when undertaking ‘non-traditional’ activities outside the home. The non-financial dynamics of women’s empowerment, such as leading, influencing and organizing, are also crucial because many women will not feel they have a right to equality with men.

The report highlights how Pacific-led programs have strategically addressed gender inequality as a component of economic growth initiatives. By deliberately addressing gender dynamics and meaningfully pursuing the empowerment of women, these programs have reduced poverty and increased economic opportunity and well-being for individuals, households, businesses and communities.

The report’s findings are summarized in seven lessons.

1. Use Pacific-centered and women-led approaches
Women’s economic empowerment programs and interventions must be appropriate and relevant to how women operate economically. Women are generally not consulted in the development of economic policies and industrial strategies. However, women have specific economic priorities, strengths and needs depending on their context.

2. Deliberately address gender stereotypes
Women may face criticism, increased restrictions on their mobility and violence for undertaking ‘non-traditional’ activities outside the home and for disrupting what is considered acceptable behavior for women.

3. Take steps to help women protect themselves from violence
If women are to participate equally in and benefit from the financial economy, they must be supported and protected from male violence. Violence reinforces gender inequality and manifests itself in: controlling behavior; economic violence; sexual, physical and emotional abuse; and denial of bodily autonomy.

4. Collective action and cooperation are essential
Collectives support their members to increase their productivity, protect their income and improve their working conditions. Importantly, women’s participation in collectives also facilitates women’s security, leadership, and collective voice in advocating for their economic needs and priorities, as well as their rights.

5. Encourage a fairer division of labor between women and men
Reducing and redistributing women’s unpaid care and domestic work requires a commitment to change in several areas, including the provision of affordable childcare, investments in gender-sensitive infrastructure, women, child-friendly education and workplaces, recognizing care as work and increasing the contribution of men and boys. care, among others.

6. Plan to reach the most marginalized
Planning and designing for the most visible and vocal members of society risks not reaching the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society. When economic development initiatives aim to “leave no one behind”, then they must take into account the reality of life for women and girls in the Pacific, where poverty rates are high, businesses are small and job opportunities are low.

7. Ensure employment practices are both safe and fair
For employment to empower women, it must be secure and involve decent working conditions.

Download the full report ‘From Participation to Power: Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Pacific‘.

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