Women play critical roles in fisheries across the world, particularly in the pre- and post-harvest sector. Women are also known to engage, to a lesser extent, in fish harvesting, primarily in inshore waters, and often for consumption purposes. In fishing communities the household often functions as an economic unit and roles of both men and women tend to be complementary, with women controlling land-based activities, such as net-weaving, processing and marketing fish, while men engage in fish harvesting. At the same time, women remain responsible for sustaining the fishing household, and maintaining community networks and support structures.
With fisheries development and other technological changes, this division of labour and the nature of the work undertaken by women has changed in many areas. While some women have adapted to the changed situation, using it to their economic advantage, in other cases it has become much more difficult, and women are being eased out of the fisheries, or continuing within it at meagre profit levels, or as low-paid wage labour, with limited or no access to social security or decent conditions of work. This has had implications for their economic status within the household and community, and on food security and household wellbeing.
Systematic attention on the issues women face, both as workers in the fisheries and as members of fishing communities, is clearly called for. In this context, there is need to take cognizance of organizational initiatives of women themselves. Women have organized, as part of co-operatives, self-help groups etc., to defend their economic interests. Women have also organized politically as part of unions and community-based organizations to raise issues such as need for transport, market facilities, access to fish, social security etc. They have raised issues of concern to them as members of fishing communities, responsible for the wellbeing of the community—issues related to health, sanitation, education, displacement, pollution and climate change, among others. In many parts of the world, women have also been active as part of community-based organizations in protecting and managing natural resources.
It has become clear that the struggle of women in fisheries needs to be at various levels. There is need to challenge inequitable and patriarchal gender relations within and outside the household, and within organizations. There is also need to seek recognition for the paid and unpaid labour of women that goes towards sustaining the fisheries and fishing communities. The right of women to participate in fisheries decision-making needs to be upheld.
At the same time, and as important, there is need to link with the struggle for sustainable small-scale fisheries. In this context, there is need to analyze and challenge: forms of fisheries development that jeopardize and overexploit resources; unregulated developments in the coastal zone that threaten to take over spaces traditionally occupied and used by fishing communities while destroying resources; patterns of trade that bring few benefits to small-scale communities while making their livelihoods more vulnerable; and models of aquaculture that impose high social, environmental and economic costs on these communities.
There is equally a need to challenge fisheries management and conservation approaches that are leading to privatization of resources, denying access to sustainable small-scale fisheries. While co-management approaches to fisheries management appear to present opportunities for women’s participation, these again are new sites of struggle for many women as they are often imposed ‘top down’ by government agencies through artificially-created institutions that protect elite interests, or work through existing gender-oppressive community structures. In some countries on the other hand, the introduction of co-management does appear to present women with an opportunity to deepen local democratic practices and to consolidate the linkages between community livelihoods and wellbeing, and the sustainability of the fisheries.
With growing awareness about the potential impact of climate change on fishing communities and livelihoods, there is also need to formulate responses to this, while challenging externally-formulated strategies being mooted to deal with climate change, with implications for fishing community livelihoods.
The proposed workshop is being organized against this backdrop in order to reflect on what needs to be done—a “gender agenda” for sustaining life and livelihoods in the fisheries.
- Analyze the impact of current developments within and outside fisheries on life and livelihood in fishing communities, locating women’s experiences in the context of these developments;
- Share local agendas and strategies of women’s organizations in fisheries, taking stock of achievements and obstacles;
- Define an agenda and strategies for sustaining life and livelihood in fisheries into the future.