FCOSS financial inclusion services reach 2000-plus Fijian women

SOME 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.

She said those services included savings and access to small loans for micro-enterprises and household expenses.

“In fact, 70 per cent of all borrowers are women and these include women who are market vendors, buyers ad resellers of fish, vegetables, handicrafts and used clothing, farmers, fabric artists, taxi drivers, caterers and one to set up an internet shop,” Ms Bolabola said.

Presenting on CSOs Promoting Gender Equality: Working with Communities in Fiji, Ms Bolabola told participants – 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 businesses. The program also aimed to increase women’s access to training in financial literacy and basic business skills.

“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.”

Ms Bolabola said CSOs needed 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 week-long training aimed to enhance the knowledge and skills of governments to engage with CSOs in ADB-supported projects and to facilitate cross-learning and promote multi-stakeholder cooperation.

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