Where are the women in aquaculture and fisheries?

A woman feeds her catfish in Stung Treng, Cambodia. Photo by: Sylyvann Borei / WorldFish / CC BY-NC-ND

CANBERRA — The “blue economy” is becoming an important part of the development agenda, focusing on the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs, while preserving the health of marine and coastal ecosystems.

But gender is still rarely a focus, even as growing fisheries industries and climate change threaten increased poverty and household burden for women who are commonly found working in smaller areas of the industry.

The 7th Global Conference on Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries, held in Bangkok this week, hopes to change that.

“For women in developing countries, fisheries are very important,” said Meryl Williams, chair of the gender and aquaculture fisheries section of the Asian Fisheries Society and co-chair of the organizing committee.

“But women are commonly not even counted in fisheries statistics. We don’t know how many there are, where they are and if their numbers are going up and down. The database is so weak it is hard to know the basics,” she said.

Why a focus on women is needed

Natasha Stacey, associate professor at the Charles Darwin University Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, has delved into development projects to assess how they identify and support needs of men and women in aquaculture and fisheries.

Focusing on 20 coastal livelihood projects implemented in Indonesia over a period of 20 years, Stacey found that gender was low on the priority list. Even gender awareness training was low.

“Out of 20 projects only 15 percent implemented gender awareness training,” she explained to Devex. “A lot of projects would identify men and women as beneficiaries, but not many focused specifically on women. And 40 percent had no clear gender focus.”

The problem, Stacey explained, is that without a strong focus on women, it is very hard to improve types of livelihood outcomes they need, and can even disadvantage them.

“In Eastern Indonesia, a program came in, and in consultation with senior men in the community, they decided to move the fish landing area some kilometers away from the village. This meant that the women had to walk and transport fish a lot further — and negatively impacted them.”

Stacey’s work highlights the need for a greater focus on women for sustainable development outcomes.

Strategies for identifying and recording the role of women

Among the strategies to be discussed at the global conference this week are the use of photos and comments by research participants to tell their own stories — known as photovoice, a fast, cost-effective, and high-impact research method.

“You give the camera to a person and then step back — it is their story,” Janine Pierce, an adjunct research fellow at the University of South Australia and board member of Aquaculture without Frontiers, told Devex. “In fisheries, the cameras will find their way into the hands of women and you get their stories in a way firsthand that are not filtered if you engage with one person in an organization.”

Pierce continued: “I’ll get a picture of a person standing on an oyster farm and they’ll say ‘Look at my beautiful oyster farm — I want it to stay that way, It’s powerful.”

In Vietnam, women illuminate the impacts of climate change through the project: “In the oyster farms ... stories of increasing typhoons, impact on infrastructure, and warming of the water were coming up,” Pierce said. “Pictures capture that — including the need to change aquaculture to make it safe in changing weather.”

Williams explained that the impacts of climate-related disasters, such as typhoons, create an added burden for women working in fisheries, the lack of data and insights mean a disaster response is commonly unplanned.

“In fisheries, women are often doing the in-shore [work], small-scale fishing including cleaning,” Williams explained. “Those areas are the most affected by disaster. And if there is no work, men will often go to the cities to work, leaving women with the extra burden of bringing up families without the support for their own enterprise options.”

“A lot of the development initiatives in fisheries and aquaculture are just the very things that wipe women out — going more into intensive and larger scale systems.”

— Meryl Williams, chair of the gender and aquaculture fisheries section of the Asian Fisheries Society

Encouraging stronger investment on gender in aquaculture and fisheries

On the first day of the conference, a new website was launched around why gender matters in aquaculture and fisheries, with a call for greater resources to support data and research in the space.

“Resources to do this kind of work — focusing on both climate and gender — need to increase 100 fold,” Williams said. “Too often gender is hidden, tagged on, or not considered an important part of any project.”

Williams was also concerned that disaster fatigue: “The funding available for the research subject is commonly linked to the number of disasters, but each one doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention as the ones before them.”

Williams encouraged the development community working on fisheries to “put their money where their mouth is,” and become more gender literate.

“People’s concepts of thinking about development is especially important to fisheries and gender equality,” Williams said. “But a lot of the development initiatives in fisheries and aquaculture are just the very things that wipe women out — going more into intensive and larger scale systems.

“If gender intervention planning is not done properly, they risk overburdening women with more work, rather than building their confidence and empowerment within the family and stopping backlash.”

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About the author

  • %25257b6eb61a8f df39 4ae1 bb29 9056d33aa739%25257d

    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.