The Essential Role of Gender Equality in Fisheries and Aquaculture

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SEATTLE — Maintaining production in the fisheries and aquaculture sector would be impossible without the estimated 100 million women who work within it. However, their contributions are overlooked: gender equality in fisheries in aquaculture is still only a goal yet to be a reality. However, moving toward equality can fuel economic growth, prevent poverty and increase productivity.

This industry is male-dominated in a number of ways. Although women account for an estimated 50 percent of total workers, they see less return than men for their work. The United Nations calls women’s role in the sector “invisible,” due to the stigma that marks their work as having little value, resulting in lower pay and opportunity.

However, women are essential to the industry. WorldFish explains that “women have a vital role in fisheries and aquaculture — as fishers, fish farmers, processors and traders.” Most women work in post-harvest roles, including 90 percent of jobs tied to processing in developing countries.

This contrasts fishing, the pre-harvest role and almost completely male dominated job. Although more dangerous, fishing is still better regarded in the industry and provides a stronger source of income. Men are typically able to use credit for acquiring resources such as spears and boats, a luxury infrequently afforded to women.

Gender equality in fisheries and aquaculture depends on opportunity for advancement. Women are most often responsible for work that is unpaid or pays poorly and leaves little room for entrepreneurship. Much of this low-return work includes repairing nets, gathering bait and cooking. Other jobs like processing leave a high margin for error; in many developing countries, lack of access to refrigeration results in spoiled fish, taking money from women’s pockets.

Women are also vastly overlooked in policies pertaining to fisheries and aquaculture. The FAO explains that “international and national fisheries laws, policies, management plans and programs are often gender-blind but not gender-neutral in their effects,” ultimately reinforcing based policies. Under-representing women’s contribution fails to identify the true needs of the industry while stepping on women and their essential contributions.

WorldFish summarizes that gender inequality results in “women having fewer opportunities and receiving smaller returns from fisheries and aquaculture than men — including lower income.” This results in many women “being left in positions of poverty.”

Much of this inequality stems from gender roles. These stereotypes support the notion that women are to work in the home or not pursue careers. In almost all corners of the world, the mere fact that many consider fishing a “man’s work” breeds inequality that has real consequences.

The FAO explains that “gender-blind policies have resulted in massive losses to the sector in terms of production and income,” impeding performance and fueling inequality. Many changes can begin at home by reinforcing equality and powering forces that develop more equitable policies. This also necessitates challenging social norms that allow men to overpower many dominant industries around the world.

The source suggests “gender sensitive indicators” as a way to improve inaccurate policies and better recognize the diverse set of people behind the industry. For such a dominant sector, reaching gender equality in fisheries and aquaculture is not only necessary, but imperative to truly represent the industry.

Studies show that improving gender equality in fisheries and aquaculture also yields economic benefits. According to a 2010 FAO study, a more equitable working environment in Bangladesh’s aquaculture industry generated a 10-20 percent increase in food production. Including women in the workforce, no matter the industry, improves overall household income and reduces poverty.

And more than just economies can benefit; gender equality brings “smart strategies for furthering agricultural development and food and nutrition security,” according to the FAO. If women were able to attain the same resources for agricultural farming as others in developing countries, output could increase between 2.5-4 percent. This has the potential to bring a 12-17 percent reduction in undernourishment around the world.

And inevitably, tides are turning on gender roles in the industry. The United Nations reported on increased women’s involvement as fisherpeople in parts of South Asia, following other developments around the globe. “Who says women can’t fish?” tells eight success stories about women fish farmers in Bangladesh and Nepal, who used fishing as a way out of poverty. This presents what many think of as the future of the industry: equitable and profitable for people no matter their gender.

Today, many diverse solutions, improved research and information are paving the way for improvement. However, changes begin in the home, challenging the way the world views its trip to the fish market. Although gender equality in fisheries and aquaculture has yet to be reached, it has the potential to bring benefits that instill the importance of equalized gender roles in sustainable development.

Cleo Krejci
Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Cleo Krejci

Cleo writes for The Borgen Project from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her academic interests include English and journalism, Spanish, art and creative writing. Cleo hopes to become a creative nonfiction writer.

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