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Gender inequalities pervade aquaculture and fisheries. Participation is marked by strong gendered divisions of labour, and sector policy is gender-blind even though sociological and ethnographic studies show that policy impacts are highly gendered. In projects concerned with economic development, the main approach taken to address inequalities is to “empower women,” but, in so doing, the projects often ignore some fundamental empowerment concepts.
This presentation will build on a recent review of studies of women’s empowerment in aquaculture and fisheries (Choo and Williams, in press). The review revealed the long term nature of empowerment, which often needs to be supported by deep institutional change. The review also found that narrow development approaches based on finding income-generating opportunities for the women tended to give them only welfare-level work and could even overburden them. Women achieved little economic benefit. To succeed in reaching higher stages of empowerment, women must be able to access the resources they need and hold secure rights to space and resources. Finally, women’s empowerment can increase or decline as circumstances change. This is particularly pertinent because ongoing changes in fish supply chains tend to work against women, but may also work for them.
These conclusions can guide development planning but they would be more powerful if they could be advanced further with systematic economic research, which, to date, has been almost entirely lacking. We know little about the economic dimension of women’s empowerment. This presentation will explore what economics research might bring to women's empowerment and gender studies, including discussing the views of leading fishery economists.