According to Professor Siri Gerrard, little has been said about gender and gender perspectives in relation to the fishing industry in Norway the past fifteen years. She has studied fishing and the fisheries policy for more than forty years.
“But there’s a lot going on globally!” she says.
Scholars and world leaders are preoccupied with how important women in rural areas are for our common future.
“I say it again: Rural women are decisive actors for reaching our common goal, which is to combat starvation and malnutrition globally,” said Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), speaking at a UN high-level event in Rome in December.
Among other things, FAO works towards making women more visible within the fishing industries. They are often strongly represented at all stages, from haul to refinement. But their contribution is not recognised. They are invisible. Thus, they are not given access to the same benefits as men are, such as new technology. When women are made visible, however, small changes can make big differences.
The audience at the event heard about one project from the Ivory Coast. Here, smoked fish is an important part of the diet; it is both nutritious and it keeps well. For many women, fish smoking is the only possible source of income, but the work entails some serious health injuries such as eye diseases and respiratory diseases.
“If you have children and don’t do this work, how are you supposed to feed them or send them to school?” asks fish smoker Tia Florence in FAO’s film. She describes the job in the following way:
“This is hell itself.”
The children are also exposed, as they often come to work with their mothers.
As part of the project, the women were given access to basic smoker ovens – a measure which resulted in better health for both mothers and children, and lower environmental expenditures as a result of less use of wood firing and less discharge of toxic substances.
But there are other ripple effects too: The fish taste better, which gives better prices, and the work is less demanding. This means more spare time for the women, which they spend on education among other things.
Livelihood for one out of ten
There are many similar projects. Throughout, research shows that it is worthwhile to facilitate for women, as they to a larger extent than men invest their extra income in family and local community. The ripple effects are several.
She is fishery officer and works with statistics and information at FAO. According to Gee, gender and the fisheries has been a topic for several decades within the organisation, but it is only recently that their work is beginning to show concrete results in the projects.
Norway is also involved on the global scale, particularly through NORAD (the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation). They have, among other things, supported an international network of researchers working with women and gender policy within fishing and aquaculture. In August, Siri Gerrard participated at a conference organised by this network: 6th Global Symposium on Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries. Researchers and other interested parties were gathered in order to discuss how to strengthen the fishing industry by bringing in gender and especially women’s perspectives.
“Fishing, aquaculture, and related industries make up the livelihood for as much as ten to twelve per cent of the world’s population. And half of these people are women,” said Jennifer Gee at the conference.
“Project partners such as the EU and Norwegian authorities have strict requirements in terms of gender perspectives. This helps ensure that gender becomes more than just a bullet point on a check list.”
Women are pushed out
The research projects that were presented during the international symposium demonstrate that women within the fishing industry have many disadvantages: They have little access to bank credit, technology, and market information, and many run a high security risk.
In some places, technological progress is pushing women out of arenas they previously had access to. In India, for instance, the fishers’ catch became much bigger when they advanced to motorised boats. Women fishmongers used to take care of the fish retails, but this has now been left to male merchants. Several studies show that improved facilities for storing and processing fish make male fishers want to compete with women over access to these facilities.
But the research also offers good news:
- A study from Bangladesh found that income from aquaculture was a key factor for women’s improved recognition and financial freedom. Here, sixty per cent of the fish farmers were women.
- In Costa Rica, women shell collectors have united in order to demand professional rights, as their profession is not currently recognised by the state as formal work.
- A study of fish corrals in India shows that women possessed more knowledge on important parts of the production than men did. Their work provides increased family income, and the money is spent on food, health services, and education.
- In Cambodia and Thailand, the number of female fishers and boat owners is increasing.