On International Women’s Day 2019, we celebrate women entrepreneurs in Solomon Islands. Strongim Bisnis is proud to work with the West AreÁre Rokotanikeni Association (WARA) to help grow rural women’s businesses and incomes through savings clubs. This partnership supports a network of saving clubs of around 3,000 women through a revolving loan facility that provides women entrepreneurs with access to micro-loans.
Strongim Bisnis is also supporting SunPower and WARA to distribute small-scale solar panels in Malaita, using WARA’s network of savings club members. This initiative will improve women’s access to technology and provide additional sources of income for saving clubs members, such as through selling phone battery recharging services. When women in rural areas have the opportunity to invest in their businesses, the impact on their lives and their families can be life changing.
Access to formal banking services is one of the main barriers facing women entrepreneurs and women’s economic empowerment in Solomon Islands. Just one in five women have a bank account, making savings clubs vitally important for access to financial services, in particular savings.
But providing better access to finance is not the only factor in achieving women’s economic empowerment in Solomon Islands. Women face serious risks in pursuing income because of restrictive gender norms, according to a 2018 report by Oxfam and Australian Government initiative Strongim Bisnis. This report identified major barriers for women such as unpaid work in the home, violence and sexual harassment, and limited decision-making control. Training and sensitization to these issues at the community level is needed to see meaningful change.
The organisations that promote saving clubs play a big role in helping to tackle different barriers. Some savings clubs work with households to teach the importance of making financial decisions together, some promote products and services that improve access to technology to reduce domestic chores, while others provide business linkages with products and services such as networks of mobile money agents, re-washable sanitary pads, and bio-gas stoves.
WARA is a volunteer women’s association that manages a network of saving groups that allow members to manage their own finances, learn to budget for household items, and save for their family’s futures. WARA operates mostly in areas accessed only by irregular shipping and motorised canoe, places with no formal banking services available.