I’m very pleased to welcome you all here today. Thank you for your interest and commitment in advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship in Fiji. As our panellists will no doubt shortly elaborate, women’s economic empowerment is a prerequisite for the realization of human rights, sustainable development goals and achievement of gender equality. On that note, I would like to reflect and highlight that empowerment has often been regarded as a destination that can be reached like developing a highway: fast-track programmes which can be rolled
out over any terrain. But what if we instead look at it as a journey along winding pathways full of twists and turns, which may circle back on themselves, lead unexpectedly into deserts or thick forests?
To me, reflecting on and looking at empowerment in this way urges us to pay more attention to what can be learnt from the everyday experiences of those whom development and initiatives seek to ’empower’ and to the pathways of empowerment that women are already taking for themselves. I shall stress that our goal here is to make these pathways visible and to learn from women’s lived experiences. A pathway that is rooted in the perspectives of women and aims to learn from their daily struggles to make money, to navigate abusive relationships, to protect and care for their children and families and to influence the decisions, social norms and institutions that affect and restrict their lives.
I am pleased to share that the Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project aims to ensure that women entrepreneurs have a real and fair chance at success. It intends to deploy a multi-pronged approach which is guided by a gender
transformative vision to ensure an enabling environment for women to build and grow their businesses, improved access to financial services and capital, as well as increased use of ICT tools and innovative technology in their business operations.
I would like to underscore that a gender-transformative approach to financial inclusion focuses on increasing access to appropriate financial services for women, while also challenging gender inequalities in power relations, socio-cultural norms, and regulatory frameworks. Besides empowering women with better choices and resources, gender-transformative financial inclusion aims to make positive changes in the relationships between women and financial institutions, and within households, support networks, markets, and communities. This involves a holistic assessment of the entrepreneurial ecosystem – the business environment – to identify how inequalities are embedded in the local context, impeding women from improving their livelihoods. Moreover, looking beyond simply the gaps in services and products available to serve women, to focus on the formal and informal rules and norms that structure
the power relations between women, men, and institutions in that environment.
Within this framework, the Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project will galvanize support for scaling up investments toward closing gender gaps in economic participation, and unleashing Fijian women’s creative potential, through collaboration and coordination – amongst government, the private sector, banks, women entrepreneurs, technology providers and innovators. National Consultation is the beginning of this journey! Our discussion today and close collaboration in the months ahead can lead the way to greater commitments and actions. There are many
challenges to women’s entrepreneurship, but also many successes, and there has never been a more important time to
make a concerted push for women entrepreneurs.
I am looking forward to a fruitful and constructive policy dialogue, capacity building, inspiring ideas and networking across public and private sector and all relevant stakeholders today – with a gender transformative approach at the heart of it – to foster and accelerate women’s entrepreneurship in Fiji. With these words, I have the pleasure to now officially open the National Consultation on Enabling Environment for Women’s Entrepreneurship.