Growing the Solomon Islands’ Economy – One Woman at a Time

Investing in women’s economic empowerment.

“INVESTING in women’s economic empowerment is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do for the private sector and for society as a whole,” said Strongim Bisnis Women’s Economic Empowerment Director Gianluca Nardi in Honiara.

Strongim Bisnis recently joined a number of Solomon Island organizations to celebrate International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day was born at the beginning of the past century as a celebration of women’s rights. It was first observed in the USA through commemorating women garment workers’ protests for improved labour conditions.

“The women’s rights movement has done much to increase women’s participation in the economy however some barriers for women have proven to be very hard to eradicate such as unequal pay and limited access to higher earning positions,” said Mr Nardi.

Strongim Bisnis has produced an infographic which highlights the fact that women in Solomon Islands are major, and often unrecognised contributors to the national economy including;

  • According to the International Trade Centre (2014) 90% of tourism income, both formal and informal, is generated by women.
  • Women represent at least 50% of the agriculture workforce although 81% of them are in unpaid work, against 58% of men according to data from the Solomon Islands Government (2016). Around 90% of the vendors at Honiara’s Central Market are women generating an annual turnover of SBD78-129 million according to IFC (2010) data
  • Educated women invest 90% of their income in the family (men only 30-40%) thus constituting a major driver of community development in developing countries (Nike Foundation, 2009). In addition to their strong contributions to economic activities, around 80% of the unpaid domestic activities are performed by women in rural areas (Laven, 2015),

Solomon Islands has made legislative advances in the past decade with the approval of the National Gender Equality and Women’s Development Policy 2016–2020 and in civil society it has seen the rise of strong women’s business and savings organisations and many successful businesswomen.

According to SIG (2016) data, women are underrepresented in technical and vocational education with only one in four enrollments in training and rural training centres.

Only 20% of women have bank accounts compared to 32% of men (SIBC, 2015) and women in formal employment and women earn 18% less than men on average (SIG, 2016). Almost all leadership positions in Solomon Islands are held by men and with only two out of ten legislators, senior officials and managers being women in 2009 (SIG, 2016) and only one member of parliament out of 50 is currently a woman.

“The root causes of the gender gap are deep and complex, said Mr Nardi. “These include perceptions around the roles that women and men are expected to perform in society, workplace discrimination, unpaid and time-consuming care of children, the sick and elderly that keeps women at home, functional illiteracy and gender-based violence which has devastating physical and psychological effects on two-thirds of women especially in rural areas.”

The rewards for promoting equal economic opportunities for women and men are clear. A 2015 McKinsey study suggested that if women participated in the economy identically to men, industries would be more competitive and the annual global GDP would increase by 20% or USD 28 trillion. A FAO report highlighted that if women had the same access as men to productive resources like land, training and finance, the agriculture production in developing countries would increase by 2-4%.

Strongim Bisnis is an inclusive growth program supported by the Australian Government that has a focus on women’s economic empowerment. It works with the private sector, the government and civil society to promote a business environment that is more enabling for women to participate in economic activities. Strongim Bisnis aims to improve women’s access to financial education and services, vocational and business training and to support higher value economic opportunities for women through dignified paid employment and entrepreneurship. It complements Australia’s broader support to Womens’ Economic Empowerment (WEE) that includes the SICCI/IFC Empowering Women is Smart Business Program, the UN Women Markets for Change Program and support to SIWIBA.