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Pacific women’s unique economic experiences are under-represented in Pacific development initiatives. Economic empowerment initiatives typically focus on economic participation, without consideration for women’s household labour and the unequal social and economic dynamics within their homes and communities.

Within the context of COVID-19, these inequalities have become more pronounced and the need to address them more pressing. This article argues that it is critical that development partners consider how existing economic structures and systems have led to women’s disproportionate economic vulnerability while also prioritising an approach to women’s economic empowerment (WEE) that meets women’s immediate economic, priorities, and material needs. Pacific development organisations have found that greater emphasis is needed on the non-financial dynamics of WEE, such as care distribution, leadership, and collective organising. This article critically considers what works to build WEE in the Pacific region, drawing on the experiences of projects supported by the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development Program. It discusses successful measures used by Pacific NGOs to build WEE and their efforts to change gendered power dynamics within the constraints of donor funding and mainstream development programming that continues to be underlined by the ‘smart economics’ rationale.

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