‘A woman is economically empowered when she has both the ability to succeed and advance economically and the power to make and act on economic decisions. To succeed and advance economically, women need the skills and resources to compete in markets, as well as fair and equal access to economic institutions. To have the power and agency to benefit from economic activities, women need to have the ability to make and act on decisions and control resources and profits’ (ICRW, 2011).


When women participate in the formal or informal economy, their families, communities and countries become wealthier. The economic empowerment of women is a ‘development game changer’ and requires removing barriers such as social and cultural norms that expect women to take on the lion’s share of home and family care.

As women are expected to perform the bulk of household work, they often have little time left to pursue economic opportunities. And if they are economically active, it means they have a ‘double workday’ – combining responsibilities for home and family with their economic activities. Women account for 36% of total paid members of the formal employment sector, and form 39% of the non-agricultural workforce.

While women may not be expected to become successful in business, they are expected to engage in income-generating activities to support their family. Women who are generating an income may not necessarily have autonomy over how their income is spent – often it is allocated to the needs of the household including food, education, shelter and transport. Among women who are currently earning an income and living with a man (either married or de facto), over half (53%) earned about the same or more than their husband/partner. Yet less than one in five (18%) has savings in the bank, one in three (31%) has other savings and few own any assets of their own.

Vanuatu and other Pacific governments have made numerous commitments to gender equality and women’s economic empowerment at national, regional and global levels over many years. They have made progress in legislative reform and policymaking, but implementing the new laws and policies remains a challenge. Where are there gaps in implementation and why is women’s contribution to economic development not better recognised?

In 2017, in its call for action on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment (UNHLP-WEE) identified seven drivers of change for breaking constraints:

1) Tackling adverse norms and promoting positive role models

2) Ensuring legal protection and reforming discriminatory laws and regulations

3) Recognising, reducing and redistributing unpaid work and care

4) Building assets – digital, financial and property

5) Changing business culture and practice

6) Improving public sector practices in employment and procurement

7) Strengthening visibility, collective voice and representation.

When a woman is economically empowered, it is not just about realizing women’s rights and gender equality. When more women work, economies grow. A reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labour force participation results in faster economic growth. Closing the gender gap are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8, to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; also Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 2 on food security, Goal 3 on ensuring health and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities.

SOURCE: Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Pacific Regional Overview, prepared by the Pacific Community for the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Ministers, UNDAF country assessment, 2009 National Population and Housing Census, Gender Monograph

This article was originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s August edition of the Life and Style magazine