A "feminist perspective" in fisheries builds on the fact that women of fishing communities take on multidimensional roles that straddle both production and reproduction...
Gender Relations in Fisheries
Yemaya Mama ...

The Context

The fisheries sector is an important source of life and livelihood for millions of people around the world. As the world's largest wild food harvest, fish provides a vital source of protein as well as cash income for many families in the developing world.

More than 120 million people throughout the world are estimated to depend on fish for all or part of their incomes. In 2000, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, about 35 million people worldwide were directly engaged in fishing and fish farming. Most are in the South and the majority are small-scale, artisanal fishers eking out a living from coastal and inshore resources.

The highest numbers of fishers and aquaculture workers are in Asia (85 per cent of the world total), followed by Africa (7 per cent), Europe, South America, North and Central America (about 2 per cent each) and Oceania (0.2 per cent).

Women in Fisheries
There are hardly any authentic statistics available on the number of women involved in fisheries-related work, though it is well known that women play important roles in the sector.

Women engage in a wide range of activities in the fisheries and in fishing communities all around the world:

  • as workers (paid and unpaid) within the fisheries, in pre- and post-harvest activities, including liaison work with institutions and agencies . In many countries, it is mostly women who are engaged in inland fishing and aquaculture.
  • as workers in seafood processing plants
  • as caregivers of the family and in maintaining social networks and the culture of the community
  • as workers in non-fisheries sectors to supplement the household income, and the often erratic returns from the fisher
  • as members of fishworker movements and fishers' organizations

Available data does not capture the multidimensional nature of work undertaken by women of fishing communities. Not surprisingly, few policies are formulated with these realities in mind.

In general, while the exact nature of women's work differs by culture and region and between rural and urban areas, the common factor is that it is rarely seen as "productive". It has low social value and is normally seen as an extension of the "domestic" space. Little value is attached to the domestic and community tasks performed by women.

In reality, however, through their participation, women have strengthened fishworker's organizations and broadened their agendas. Apart from bringing in issues of concern to themselves as workers in the fisheries, they have, more significantly, raised concerns about the quality of life in fishing communities, focusing on access to health, sanitation and education. Women have brought in a community perspective to fisheries issues. Their ability to do so stems from the multi-faceted roles they perform roles that straddle the home, the family, the community and the workplace.

A Feminist Perspective in Fisheries
A "feminist perspective" in fisheries builds on the fact that women of fishing communities take on multidimensional roles that straddle both production and reproduction. It highlights the need to question the concept of "production" and stresses that production should be understood to refer to both the production of commodities and the production of life (reproduction). Mainstream discourse regards the production of life as something "natural" and relegates it to the private sphere. It remains invisible and is considered to have no real cost.

By recognizing and valuing the labour that goes towards the creation and sustenance of life, we also simultaneously value and respect nature and its resources. Such a perspective counters the agendas of organizations that, in the long term, facilitate the unsustainable use of resources and undermine the community basis of fisheries.

Redefining what is valuable also means redefining the power relations that exist between the rich and the poor, between men and women, and between races and nationalities. Such a perspective is important in the quest for sustainable, equitable and gender-just fisheries.

A feminist perspective seeks to reshape gender relations by questioning the dominant discourse and those who set its terms. Gender issues thus focus not only on women, but on the relationship between men and women, their roles, rights and responsibilities, while acknowledging that these vary within and between cultures as well as by class, race, ethnicity, age and marital status.