Finance still a hurdle for women in Pacific Island Countries


Access to finance remains the weak link in efforts to encourage the participation of women in business. This was the general consensus among Pacific Islands business representatives at Trade Pasifika 2014, most of them women involved in the informal business sector running their own micro businesses.

Whether they are tapa makers from Tonga, coffee growers from Papua New Guinea, sewing groups from Tuvalu or handicraft makers from Solomon Islands, the story is the same.

Accessing start-up funding continues to be a challenge for most women.
“I am from the National Council of Women in Tuvalu and what I do is encourage women to go into business,” said Pulafagu Toafa, who is also Vice President of the Tuvalu National Private Sector Organisation, the national arm of the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO).

PIPSO – a regional organisation set up to promote private sector development in the 14 member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum – is the secretariat and leading organiser of Trade Pasifika 2014.

“Some women are now running their own business in Tuvalu but the complication comes when they go to financial institution to borrow money. They meet many complications because the bank has a lot of conditions where they don’t lend to women who don’t have jobs because they cannot provide security,” Toafa said.

Similarly in Tonga, where many women involved in the informal sector make handicraft, especially tapa, getting finance to start businesses is often a difficult, even discouraging process. As in many other island countries in the Pacific, tapa making in Tonga is an art that mainly involves women.
Income earned always goes back to putting food on the table for these women and their families, said Soana Lepa, who was at Trade Pasifika 2014 selling tapa on behalf of Tongan women who couldn’t make it to the trade expo.

In Vanuatu, where financial literacy has been instituted in women’s organisations to at least help members save for seed money, a good thing is the assistance being provided by the National Bank of Vanuatu.

“We have the know-how, we have the skills but our main challenge is funding to start the business,” said Sala Moses, from the Vanuatu Women In Business. “We have donor funding but it’s specifically for the day-to-day running of the organisation. So what we’ve done is get a volunteer from Australia to provide training to the women on the basics of running a business. Most women in the informal sector don’t go to school at all so they need training on how to manage their money, how to start from scratch, how to manage their time, budget and costing. These are the basic elements of starting a business and they have to know these things to become successful in their business. So those are ways that we can help our women. Because it’s very difficult to get finance, we have a savings programme in place, where women save fortnightly with the National Bank of Vanuatu and the Bank helps them to access loans of up to 100,000 Vatu (US$1062.70),” Moses said.

As evident at the Trade Pasifika 2014 expo, where the informal sector is very well represented especially by women, there is huge potential in turning a small income-generating entity into a very successful business.

Like the tapa and other handicraft items in the Tonga booth, artefacts in the Solomon Islands’ Women in Business booth are also proving very popular with the public.

Financing may be difficult to access in Solomon Islands but women have supported each other, selling their wares under the Women In Business brand and sale proceeds go back to the women.

From paper beads and dress accessories cleverly and attractively fashioned out of recycled paper to an assortment of woven hats and handbags to brightly coloured sarongs, the offerings of Solomon Islands Women In Business Association have sold like hot cakes, said Jocelyn Lai who represents the informal sector in Solomon Islands.

“Yesterday, we had a customer that wanted to buy the whole lot but I asked her if she could wait until Friday because we didn’t bring enough. We just wanted to show the public what our products are and if we want to sell them on Friday (last day of the expo), then she can buy them. We also had someone come in here and he wanted to buy 13 sarongs. We couldn’t supply him because we didn’t bring that many, but a little bit of everything. So we have been getting very good response for our handicraft and we are surprised at the interest,” said Lai.

Solomon Islands crafted bangles were selling at F$15 (US$8.10), paper bead necklaces at F$25 (US$13.50)and sarongs at F$15.

Organisers of this year’s expo are promoting the participation of women in business as well as youth entrepreneurship.

Trade Pasifika 2014, underway in the Fijian capital Suva, is a three-day event that ends this Friday.


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