You are on page 1of 5

The e-Newsletter of the Gender Network

August 2015 | Vol. 9, No. 2

Jumping Hurdles: Changing business law to speed up gender equality
By Vijaya Nagarajan1
Challenges faced by Pacific businesswomen
Women in the Pacific, like in other less-developed regions,
face two sets of challenges to realizing their economic
potential. They share the hardships stemming from
geography, limited infrastructure and services, and a
dearth of economic opportunities that hinder economic
development throughout the region. But women must
also contend with an additional series of barriers—
cultural, legal and institutional—that compound these
challenges and prevent their full economic contribution.
These include laws that do not allow them to directly own
land or goods or register companies, limited access to courts and lending institutions, a lack of
opportunities to develop professional or marketable skills, as well as deep-seated cultural practices.
Taken together, these challenges can severely limit women’s participation in the formal economy and
exclude them from entrepreneurial activity. This confines many women to the informal sector,
operating home-based businesses where co-mingled personal and business resources prevent business
investment, resulting in low productivity and labor returns, and perpetuating poverty. The effect of this
is not only felt directly by women—who work more for less—and the families they spend much of their
incomes on; women’s economic exclusion also carries enormous financial costs as national and regional
economies miss out on a key local resource: the true potential of one half of the population.
To lower the barriers to Pacific women’s participation in the private sector, a multi-pronged approach is
needed. Broader initiatives to ease the constraints to doing business in the Pacific should, where
appropriate, include provisions to accommodate the specific needs of women to ensure them equal
access and benefit. Meanwhile, dedicated projects are needed to confront the skills and training
shortcomings that limit women’s opportunities in the formal and professional sectors. This is the
approach of Private Sector Development Initiative (PSDI) and its Economic Empowerment of Women
(EEOW) activities. PSDI consists of five core areas: Business Law, Financing Growth, Reform of State
Owned Enterprises and Private Public Partnerships, Competition Law, and Economic Empowerment of
Women. It operates in fourteen Pacific countries and further information on its activities is available on
http://www.adbpsdi.org/p/what-is-psdi.html.
Four specific activities initiated by PSDI during the last twelve months, aimed at empowering women
economically, are described in this article.

1

ADB Gender Specialist Consultant, Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative

2
Reforming business laws to eliminate discrimination
Legislative reforms that address direct and indirect discrimination are essential as they remove
enormous barriers that impinge on women’s autonomy and restrict their ability to engage in business.
PSDI’s business law core area, works to introduce legal frameworks that facilitate private sector growth.
In doing so, attention is paid to discriminatory legislative provisions that restrict women’s engagement
with the private sector.
A clear example of this is the Business Names legislation in Solomon Islands. Following an assessment
carried out in 2013, it was recommended that a provision in the legislation requiring women to obtain a
male relative’s written agreement before registering a business be removed. This amendment was
proposed by PSDI, and was passed by the Solomon Islands government in August 2014, removing one
impediment to women starting businesses.
Currently, PSDI is assisting with the development of policies that will eradicate direct and indirect
discriminatory provisions in Solomon Islands’ National Provident Act. Amendments to allow women
access to their deceased husband’s accounts are addressing a form of direct discrimination. Other
amendments allowing women in the informal sector access the National Provident Fund’s services has
resulted in women, who dominate the informal sector, being able to save for their futures. Furthermore,
an inclusive approach to the Credit Union Policy in Solomon Islands has been proposed to enable
women to save and access finance.
Company law reforms supported by PSDI and implemented in Solomon Islands and Samoa have made
company registration cheaper, faster and simpler. Data on the gender of company directors and
shareholders in Solomon Islands shows a 25% increase in women directors and 15% increase in women
shareholders, although their proportion in comparison to men has remained unchanged, as illustrated in
Table 1.
Table 1: Directors and Shareholders by Gender in Solomon Islands
Directors
Shareholders
Date
Dec-10
Jun-15

Male

%

Female

%

Total

Male

%

Female

%

Total

2,163
3,291

77%
78%

663
935

23%
22%

2,826
4,226

1,934
2801

73%
74%

718
976

27%
26%

2,652
3,777

Designing new laws to promote women’s economic empowerment
Recognizing that women are consumers, competitors, complainants and employees was basis of
incorporating economic empowerment of women in PSDI’s assessment of consumer and competition
policy in PNG. The Competition Law core area in PSDI has released the first Issues Paper on ‘Consumer
Law and Economic Empowerment of Women’ which recognizes that far fewer consumer complaints
received were from women with only 5 out of 34 complaints originating from two women in 2014.
Furthermore, it acknowledged that the informal economy is important and yet remains unregulated.
Women, who generally have responsibility for providing for the family, purchase goods regularly from
the informal economy, and thus, have no access to legal redress for non-compliance with safety
regulations, hygiene standards or product quality. As one woman in a focus group stated, ‘is it worth
your while to go through this process? Time wastage ...will they listen …preemptive thinking is that it
won’t get anywhere.’

3
The importance of designing competition and consumer policies that encourage women’s participation
in the economy and promote the creation of a fair and sustainable market is guiding future work
undertaken by PSDI. Attention will be given to designing inclusive complaints mechanisms, increasing
awareness and encouraging inclusive practices in the regulator to ensure that women’s voice are heard
and interests are protected.
Financing women’s entrepreneurship
Analytical work undertaken by the finance core group in
PSDI indicated that secured transactions reform, which
enables lending secured by personal property, would bring
benefits to Pacific entrepreneurs. It would be particularly
beneficial to women who are additionally disadvantaged as
their access to land is further limited by customary laws
and practice. Secured transactions laws allow people to use
a variety of assets including personal assets and invoices as
collateral for loans. It removes the reliance on land as the
main form of collateral and will encourage women to take
out loans and financial institutions to lend to women.
Fig 1: Gender of Borrowers in Vanuatu
1800
1600
1400
1200
1000
800

2011

600

2015

400
200
0
Equal men and
women

Majority women

Majority men

Gathering sex-disaggregated data is vital in tracking effectiveness of reforms and for designing further
initiatives. The registry of Vanuatu was thereby upgraded to collect information on the gender of
borrowers. Data collected to date shows that women have indeed benefitted from these reforms. As
illustrated in Figure 1 above, there has been a significant increase in women borrowers as either equal
parties or as majority members of a borrower group in Vanuatu. Further initiatives are being designed to
promote the uptake of secured transactions processes among financial institutions and potential
women borrowers.

4
Pilot aimed at mentoring women into management roles
As women lack the skills and confidence to participate in senior management, they concentrate in the
lower levels of employment within companies and the public sector. The benefits of facilitating women’s
entry to senior position on the boards of corporations and government enterprises has been recognized
by PSDI’s core group dealing with Reform of State Owned Enterprises and Private Public Partnerships,
and a training program has been designed and implemented to equip women with the skills and
confidence to participate in such roles.
PSDI worked with the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce to design a program that addresses these
deficits through four components:
• Providing a program on corporate governance to women improving their chances of
successfully applying for senior management positions.
• Developing comprehensive materials, learning strategies and case studies that are gender
sensitive and specific to Solomon Islands.
• Train-the-trainers program.
• Creation of a data-base of potential candidates for senior positions.
The training program, undertaken by two women trainers with extensive legal and accounting
experience, was conducted in three sessions: July 2014, October 2014 and February 2015. Sixty percent
of the participants were women, and the topics covered included financial audit and insolvent trading.
All participants took on roles as directors, company secretaries and managers in a mock directors’
meeting thereby gaining hands-on experience. Overwhelmingly, the participants reported that they
valued the training, pointing out that they were able to understand the role of directors in managing the
direction of the corporation’s business.

“I came here to learn,"
said company director
Lynette daWheya
(right). "This has been
very good for me both
professionally and
personally... I didn't
realise I had so much
responsibility as a
director.”
Individual sessions to train selected trainers were held and gender sensitive training materials are being
developed for future training sessions. These materials will include case studies of businesses headed by
women, problem scenarios dealing with the types of issues women often confront including developing
a comprehensive business plan which meets the scrutiny of financial institutions, and information on
how to contribute to discussions of corporate boards.

5
Conclusion
Wherever possible, the impact of PSDI’s initiatives on women is assessed. Interventions to economically
empower women take many forms as discussed above. While some initiatives have amended
discriminatory legislative provisions to allow women’s private sector engagement, other initiatives have
focused on designing new laws and policies that address social and customary norms and promote
awareness and engagement of women. Developing pilots that address skills shortages and institutional
practices has been another type of intervention which PSDI has been using. These pilots not only
demonstrate what is possible but they also encourage replication, thereby increasing the impact on
women’s lives and private sector growth.

_____________
The views expressed in this paper are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian
Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy
of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this
paper do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's
terminology.