The Australian Government has announced a new $2.3 million initiative to help address barriers to women’s participation in the workplace in Solomon Islands.
In partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Australia’s four year program will provide tools and support for businesses to recruit, retain and promote women as employees, business leaders and partners, including in non-traditional roles.
Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, announced the new program at the 8th Australia-Solomon Islands Business Forum in Brisbane.
“The empowerment of women and girls is a key priority for Australia’s foreign, trade and aid agenda in Solomon Islands, and across the Indo-Pacific,” said Minister Wells.
“This new initiative will support companies seeking to introduce gender smart policies for women employees. The evidence is clear – investing in women is not just the right thing to do; it makes smart business sense as well.”
The program builds on the successful partnership between Australia and IFC in Papua New Guinea that is working through the PNG Business Coalition for Women to develop and deliver solutions for businesses to benefit from greater gender equality.
Speaking at the Australia-Solomon Islands Business Forum, IFC’s Operations Officer for Gender, Sarah Twigg addressed the scale of the opportunity.
“Only 9 per cent of women hold a formal wage paying job in the Solomon Islands,” said Ms Twigg.
“There is significant evidence that closing the gender gap in employment could increase productivity in the region by 13 – 25 per cent. This has important implications for the Solomon Islands.”
“We know that companies that are able to get more women into jobs at all levels, and place policies and practices to help women stay employed, to be safe at work, and to reach their full potential, are performing much better. This is a strong business case for positive change.”
The new program will start work with the country’s largest employer, SolTuna in the second half of 2016.
SolTuna General Manager, Jim Alexander said supporting women is central to SolTuna’s operations.
“Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes good business sense for us to open up opportunities for advancement to our entire workforce regardless of gender,” Mr. Alexander said.
“It’s not a new thing for SolTuna, with a workforce that is over two thirds female; there have always been women in positions of senior responsibility.
“In the past few years we have started encouraging women to apply for jobs in the trades, security and operating machinery in areas outside of production which is a change in the traditional staffing profile.”
The program complements Australia’s ten-year, $34.8 million commitment to progress gender equality in Solomon Islands under the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program.