The invisible 50%

WSI Carmen Gonzáles Garcia, Marie Christine Monfort, Mariana Toussaint and Sofía Loronzo Paramos of the International Association for Women in Seafood Industry (WSI), a young organisation which made its first formal appearance at the Icelandic Fisheries Exhibition

The International Association for Women in Seafood Industry (WSI) made its first formal appearance at the IceFish exhibition and Marie Christine Monfort, the driving force behind the organisation becoming established, commented that it was great to launch WSI at an event in Iceland which has such a strong reputation for upholding the status of women in industry.

“This is our first concrete action,” she said, speaking on the WSI stand. “We have made some influential contacts here in Iceland, including Marz Seafood which is a 100% female-run company trading in seafood.”

WSI is a young organisation, set up at the beginning of 2017 to highlight the disparity in status between men and women in the seafood industry. Around half of people working in the industry are women – but the reality is that the majority of these are in low-paid work and very few break through the glass ceiling.

“There are obstructions in the way of women who want to work in fishing. There shouldn’t be, but there are. Our priorities are to raise awareness of the situation of women in seafood. We want people to be conscious of this and to think about it. At the same time we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. It’s a complex business and we have to select our objectives,” she said.

“We have been in contact with the University of Vigo’s school of international trade and business, and they have supported us with grants to bring three people with us to IceFish,” she said.

The three graduates who came to the IceFish exhibition are Mariana Toussaint who works for the FAO in Rome, Sofía Loronzo Paramos who works at Spanish fishing company Pescanova and Carmen Gonzáles Garcia of the Vigo-based Fishing Accelerator.

“We are conducting a survey of attitudes on gender issues here at the exhibition,” said Mariana Toussaint, commenting that this is seen as less of an issue in some countries.

The WSI survey on gender attitudes in the fishing industry can be found here, and responses to it are encouraged

“But it’s still a big issue. There are companies that do what they have to to look good, and people say that everything’s fine – but it’s not,” she said.

“The fact is that there are more opportunities for men than women. Things can look good, but when you look at the numbers, fewer than 25% of senior positions are held by women.”

“There’s a lot of talk and often no results,” Carmen Gonzáles said. “We see that men who have daughters tend to be more aware of the lack of balance and the situation. Much of the younger generation thinks that they are already there, but the day-to-day reality is that things are still tough for women in the fishing industry. There’s also a strong unconscious bias. When me go for job interviews do they get asked if they have a boyfriend or if they’re looking at starting a family? And that’s a life decision that never stopped a man from getting a job.”

“This isn’t just a matter for women – this is for men to think about as well and we’re not shy about spreading the word,” Sofía Lorenzo said, commenting that a woman has to work three times as hard as a man to reach the same level.

“Women in high positions aren’t allowed to wrong in the same way that men can be,” she said, adding that prevailing attitudes mean that a man can make an error in business or management, while a woman making the same misjudgement is criticised much more harshly.

“Women shouldn’t be afraid to be wrong. They need to be able to take decisions in the same way that a man is able to.”

“We are changing things, step by step,” Marie Christine Monfort said. “It’s a long process but we can’t wait for the men in the seafood industry to decide that it’s time to let more women in.”

She made the point that the seafood industry as a whole has a workforce that is approximately 50% female, but the bias is such that the overwhelming majority of these are not visible. These are the lowest paid people and they don’t have a voice.”

“It’s a very conservative industry, and leaders of the fishing and aquaculture sectors seem to not be aware of this situation. There are many parallels with the environmental movement. Thirty years ago there was a lot of talk about the poor situation of many stocks, disputes and search of consensus about what needed to be done, but we had to wait before seeing real commitments to happen. Today we are in the initial phase. We need to spread the diagnosis. We need to raise awareness – and we hope to inspire changes. WSI wants to be part of this movement.”

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