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Fisheries Changes Challenge Gender-sensitive Development


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Text of speech presented at the Asian Fisheries Society Indian Branch (AFSIB) Global Symposium on Aquatic Resources for Eradicating Hunger and Malnutrition – Opportunities and Challenges, Mangalore, 4-6 December 2012.

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Fisheries Changes Challenge Gender-sensitive Development

  1. 1. 1 Global Symposium on Aquatic Resources for Eradicating Hunger and Malnutrition – Opportunities and Challenges AFSIB, Mangalore, 4-6 December 2012 Change Challenges Gender-Sensitive Development Meryl J Williams Honorary Life Member, Asian Fisheries Society ( blindness and inequality reducing fish valueThe Asian Fisheries Society Indian Branch first looked into gender in fisheries in 1990, here inMangalore. You held the Women in Fisheries in India Workshop. Incidentally, Dr. M.C.Nandeesha, who was then the Secretary of AFSIB, suggested the workshop topic andspearheaded its organization. In the Preface to the proceedings, Dr H.P.C. Shetty, the thenChairman, said “even though the integration of women in the fisheries mainstream is already onthe move, there is still ample scope for further substantial growth.”How right he was! If we were frank in judging global progress, we would say barely any hasoccurred; if we were brutally honest, and if we had the information to prove it – which we don’t– we’d say “we’ve gone backwards.”Two young researchers recently pointed out why this matters.Gifty Anane-Taabeah, a young woman researching cage aquaculture in Lake Volta, Ghana toldthe IIFET panel on Gender in Fish Supply Chains in July this year that “gender equality thinkingshould not focus just on the numbers of women and men in fish supply chains”, but should aim“to empower women and men in supply chains to boost overall productivity.”Based on her studies in Lake Selingue, Mali, West Africa, Charlotte Tindall, from the UK, saidat the 8th Asian Fisheries Forum Gender Symposium in Kochi that “one of the majorconsequences of the gendered vulnerability and control over resources is the low quality of fishreaching the market, translating into lower incomes throughout the chain.”What they are saying is that gender blindness and gender inequality reduce the quality and valueof the fish - for everyone.Let me return to AFSIB’s 1990 Workshop. The Society did not start looking at gender inequalityin a vacuum. At the time, India had more and better educated women coming into the workforce,and a high demand for quality fish products. But most importantly, just 10 years before theWorkshop, all countries agreed the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms ofDiscrimination Against Women. It said: "...the full and complete development of a country, thewelfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women onequal terms with men in all fields.."
  2. 2. 2But this bold vision has had little impact in the fisheries sector, including, of course, aquaculture.I am going to challenge you to go out and change that. Change your thinking and do somethingabout the gender gap in fisheries. This will not be easy. The World Economic Forum’s 2012Global Gender Gap Report says: “No country has closed the (overall) economic participation gapor the political empowerment gap.” But there is some hope because, the Report also says,countries have closed almost all the gender gap in health and almost all the gap in education.All fisheries change is genderedThe fact that fisheries and aquaculture are going through major changes also offers opportunitiesfor action. We see: the rapid transition from hunting to farming fish; the limits of wild fishproduction reached more than 20 years ago; fish as the most traded food; the geography of fishproduction changed; highly competitive markets; and fisheries space being overtaken by morelucrative uses such as ports, resorts and offshore windmills. Throughout all the change, how youare affected usually depends on whether you are a woman or a man.All fisheries change is gendered, as I want to show with a few examples.The collapse of the Canadian cod fishery is one of the best studied cases of crisis impacts onwomen and men. Barbara Neis, Nicole Power, Marilyn Porter and others said that the collapse ofthe cod stock more than 20 years ago caused severe social distress, especially for families in theinshore Newfoundland fishery. They felt the effects years in advance of the more public crisis in1992 when the offshore part of the stock, which was fished by large vessels, collapsed.Researcher showed that women’s and men’s social status was upset differently; the daily tasks ofwomen and men, in fishing and in the home, changed; and conflicts and violence at homeincreased. The same sorts of patterns have happened after fisheries crises in other countries.Another example is from mariculture in southern India. Ramachandran of CMFRI described howmussel farming on the Malabar coast first developed as a women’s enterprise, thanks to the SelfHelp Group movement. Sea cage culture of fish developed as men’s business. But when musselfarming became profitable, Ram found that men started to take over and the women’s groupsfound they had no legal rights to their farm sites. By contrast, Ram says, men’s rights to cagesites are seen as part of normal economic affairs, and so were legally protected.Daniel Nishchith and Aichini de Silva studied women in fish processing factories in India andSri Lanka. The factories need educated workers to understand the quality processes. Daniel andAichini both found that the factories kept costs low by hiring single women who aksed for fewerbenefits. Women received lower wages than men, their working conditions allowed littlebargaining power and exposed them to health hazards and sexual harassment.A famous example of gendered change that affects whole communities involves fisheries,aquacutlure and massive mangrove destruction in El Oro province, Ecuador. First, artisanalfishers (including cockle collectors, who were mainly women) lost vast fishing areas to shrimpfarmers. Shrimp diseases decimated the shrimp industry but a new conflict has arisen. This one isbetween members of new local associations who hold 10-year community-managed concessionsand the independent cockle collectors. The concessions were partly from a suggestion of a now-
  3. 3. 3defunct women cockle collectors association. Cockle collecting still is identified with low-statuswomen’s work and thus stigmatised, even though women and men now do it.A final example is mangrove replanting. Farisal Bagasit, Alice Ferrer and their colleagues all saythat women are the mainstay of environmental conservation activities such as mangrovereplanting. They have strong evidence from projects in the Visayas, Philippines, where womentend to have stayed the course in replanting schemes.OK to “empower women”, but don’t mess with inequalityThese few cases show gendered outcomes and gender inequity. But what is being done – or not -about change and gender inequity?The global fisheries response, to be diplomatic, is very muted. No mention of gender or womenin the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and no attempt yet to fix this up in thevarious technical guidelines. The new FAO Small Scale Fisheries instrument being developedwill address women. But gender is more than about women in Small Scale Fisheries.Gender is just not on the global fisheries agenda. Outside fisheries? Yes, gender equity is one ofthe 8 Millennium Development Goals. As a result, women are mentioned in the fish relatedarticles of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development plan of action. But this has notled far. Last year, the FAO Workshop on Future Directions on Gender in Aquaculture andFisheries said “a common vision is needed to guide actions as a starting point...”Fisheries development assistance has only given light support for gender. I suspect that soundproposals and good ideas are missing for gender projects are one of the reasons. My friend andcolleague Poh Sze Choo said last year at the World Women’s Congress in Ottawa: “some of thedevelopment projects that were designed to “empower women” were rather turning the womeninto “beasts of burden” by adding to their existing workloads, without taking any away.” In someexceptional cases (and I have visited some here in India run by CIFA and CIBA) understandingand putting women’s needs first can prevent projects making women into “beasts of burden.”Research in gender and fisheries has been thin on the ground. In addition, many of the famousgender and fisheries researchers have gone on to bigger and better funded issues. Some wereeven snubbed in fisheries; their advice was not welcome when it challenged the prevailingthinking. Some topics on gender and other social research have been taboo. For example,countries dealing with the social fallout from individual transferable quota schemes do notencourage gender research.In fact, I am struck by the parallels with the poverty vs income equality research debate. Six daysago in the New York Times, Chrystia Freeland, a columnist, says that think tanks in the US havebeen encouraged to work on “poverty” because their donors feel good when they show theirconcern for the poor; but, she says, “income inequality” is taboo, because it raises the sensitiveissue of the wealth of the donor. In fisheries, we are encouraged to worry about “empoweringwomen”, but not to look into more sensitive inequality topics such as masculinities in fisheries,feminisms, power relationships and the fundamental social and economic settings. The fundamental
  4. 4. 4settings include the balance of responsibility between women and men on reproductive functions likeraising caring children and the next generation of fishers, caring for the elderly, and volunteer and unpaidwork.Raewyn Connell, an eminent Australian sociologist wrote in her 2005 paper called “Change among theGatekeepers”, that it sounds utopian to invite men to “end men’s privileges and to remake masculinities tosustain gender equality…. Yet this project is already underway.”And she is right! I have listened to many men in this room talk about their support for the careers andaspirations of their wives, daughters and girl students. I’m sure they are also helping out more at home inways their fathers would never have imagined.We do have other positive signs. Thanks to fisheries advocacy groups (for example ICSF – theInternational Collective in Support of FishWorkers), researchers, societies and some nationalagencies (such as ICAR), the visibility of women and gender in fisheries is on the rise. Hardfacts and figures help. In its 2012 “Hidden Harvest” report, the World Bank says that 47% ofworkers in the fisheries (excluding aquaculture) workforce are women – that is half.The AFSIB and the Asian Fisheries Society have been promoting gender and fisheries events for over 20years. On shoestring budgets, we have barely kept the fires burning. A few other societies, such as theInternational Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade, have put their toes in the water. Professionalsocieties have important roles to play in helping understand what is happening and what can be done tofoster greater gender equality. But if research, development and advocacy were doing more on gender infisheries, then the societies could hold stronger gender events.The gender events are also still weak because the mainstream fisheries and aquaculture agenciesdo not yet address the larger gender equality issues. They prefer the safer topic of “empoweringwomen”, and stay clear of men’s issues, power and political issues, and the fundamental socialand economic problems. Yet, I remind you, the Gender Gap Report says that the big genderinequalities are in economic participation and political empowerment. These are the gaps thatpolicy, development, advocacy and research must take seriously.Refocus gender on economic participation and political empowermentIn conclusion, to go with gendered change in fisheries, we need to change how we approach genderinequality or we will keep losing fisheries value. We need to refocus on gender in economic participationand political empowerment. The task is immense and gender equality will not happen quickly. We eachneed to work out what it means for us. For me, now, I have three dreams. I want to see the FAOCommittee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (COFI) discuss gender on its agenda – soon. I want to see allfisheries and aquaculture scientists required to take a Gender 101 course in their basic degree. And I wanteach fisheries and aquaculture organization to have, and to implement, a serious gender policy andprogram.4 December 2012