Sources: FCOSS, Fidji Council of Social Services

Approximately 2600 women entrepreneurs have accessed financial inclusion services at the Fiji Council of Social Services in over 15 years as part of its microfinance program. FCOSS national vice president and gender specialist, Cema Bolabola revealed this while presenting at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) Tripartite Training on Civil Society Engagement in Sydney, Australia yesterday. Bolabola said these services included savings and access to small loans for micro enterprises and household expenses.

“Infact, 70% of all borrowers are women and these include women who are market vendors, buyers ad re- sellers of fish, vegetables, handicrafts and used clothing, farmers, fabric artists, taxi drivers, caterers and one to set up an internet shop,” she added.  

Working with Communities in Fiji, Bolabola told participants who were mostly Pacific representatives from government and civil society organisations that the FCOSS microfinance program was established as an attempt to address the gender gap in women’s access to financial services.

“At the time of its establishment, bank services were deemed not user friendly for start-ups in small business. The program also aimed to increase women’s access to training in financial literacy and basic business skills,” she said.

“The program helped to build women’s  self confidence  in themselves and   feeling of  ‘can do’ through   growth in business and over time, women clients (savers/borrowers) from the same  areas started to build groups to access resources and training from other providers.”

Bolabola said CSOs need consistent support to build capacity, community voice and agency for gender equality.

“CSOs have the coverage of the population, they know the community so the opportunity exists to continue to scale up their work on gender equality.”

She said another opportunity that should be explored would be to identify common gender equality issues for united CSO voice in advocacy to effectively influence policy and action.

The weeklong training is aimed at enhancing the knowledge and skills of governments to engage with CSOs in ADB-supported projects and to facilitate cross-learning and promote multi-stakeholder cooperation.