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Women’s economic empowerment key to achieving SDGs

Women’s economic empowerment key to achieving SDGs

“Women’s economic empowerment is essential for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals” is the message from UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, to mark International Women’s Day (IWD), 8 March, around the world.

This year’s theme for the UN observance of IWD is “women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work”. The theme is a reminder that the context of work – especially regarding digital and communications technologies and the informality and mobility of labour – is changing. Thus, realizing women’s economic empowerment in this environment requires transformative, structural changes, political will, and innovative partnerships.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), when more women work, economies grow. An increase in female labour force participation, or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labour force participation results in faster economic growth. Further, at the household level, evidence from a range of countries shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit children[1].

Despite such benefits at the macro and micro levels, women continue to face gender-based discrimination worldwide. In the Pacific, women may experience discrimination in the forms of limited job opportunities, under-representation in management positions, weak employment and social protection mechanisms, and sexual harassment in the workplace.

“In many Pacific Island countries, women live in rural areas or outer islands, restricting their access to vocational training or education,” states Aleta Miller, Representative of the UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office. “Many women also have to balance social and family obligations. This can present a challenge to their employment options,” she adds.

Women in the Pacific are largely employed in the informal sector. Women make up 75-90% of market vendors in the region. Additionally, data from Household Income and Expenditure Surveys in the region show that women do the bulk of unpaid work, especially domestic work. A defining feature of informal employment is the lack of social protection and labour rights, leaving women particularly vulnerable.

In the Pacific, there is a need for gender-responsive employment legislation and policies to promote decent work and equal pay, and to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. Other social protections, such as establishing a minimum wage and adopting paid maternity and family leave, improve women’s labour force participation. In addition, state-owned and private enterprises can move to expand women’s employment opportunities and to promote women to leadership positions.


[1] The World Bank, 2012, World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development, p. 5.

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