Fishing sector’s equality shortfall
Ahead of the FAO Fisheries Responsibility Symposium which brought together 800 experts in Rome earlier this month, Meryl Williams and WSI, the International Organisation for Women in the Seafood Industry, prepared a summary of their latest understanding of marine resource mismanagement.
Their assessment demonstrates that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which encompasses gender equality and women’s empowerment, is far from being met in the fisheries environment.
“It has been so far dramatically overlooked by private and public stakeholders. The focus of the fisheries expert communities is on Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water – and this is one of the few SDGs that has no gender-specific targets. This complex subject and its ability to contribute to sustainability and be affected by it, are largely misunderstood,” Meryl Williams said.
“Fisheries sustainability in its environmental dimension is a crucial subject that relies on the responsibility of all stakeholders both private or public. Unfortunately, evidence proves that it has dramatically failed, and we consider that SDG 14 will never be attained if 50% of the population it affects is not taken into consideration.”
The WSI assessment of ‘marine resource mismanagement’ identifies wrong diagnoses in that fishing activities led by women are often ignored and not recognised – so that their fishing effort is not taken into account in fisheries management, they are not counted in fishing statistics and their knowledge is not incorporated in the diagnoses. Little effort is being made at national and international levels to remedy the very poor state of sex-disaggregated statistics.
“Marine resource decisions are mainly made based on information for the production segment of the value chain, ignoring the strong drivers in the pre-harvest and post-harvest segments, which also are the segments where women work.”
Shortfalls in economic assessment, utilisation of knowledge and expertise, and in decision-making are also identified
“Invisible unpaid or underpaid auxiliary work allows fishing activities by men to continue even when the activity is not profitable. Women’s labour can be considered as hidden subsidies. Public policies and marine management tools are constructed in the absence of data describing the number of fishing women and their fishing effort and ignoring in most cases the level of their unpaid contribution,” Meryl Williams said.
“Women in this business have expertise and information that are not utilised due to their absence during management policy making. Ignoring women’s knowledge can result in inadvertently disadvantaging them when policy and management decisions are made, such as in assistance and adjustment measures and opportunities. In the context of climate change, the adaptation challenge requires urgently a proper diagnosis and the involvement of the players so-far ignored, the women.”
WSI’s summary makes it clear that women do not enjoy equal conditions and are slowed down when carrying out their work, with impediments to accessing inputs such as capital, bank loans, new technology and training, and stereotypes and social norms and sometimes laws, prevent women from accessing some jobs, for example, fisherwomen are not recognised as professionals in many countries and cannot become members of professional organisations.
“Discrimination can prevent women from accessing high profile and well paid jobs in the seafood industry. Women represent at most 10% of board members, 1% of CEOs. Family burdens lie disproportionately on women shoulders where taking care of family members is time consuming and costly, leaving fewer resources for women’s own work,” she said.
“Low wage jobs and significant gender pay gaps with men are common, as are cases where women work in fisheries service roles without remuneration. Reports show that women, who occupy 90% of all jobs in the labour intensive seafood processing industry, commonly suffer discrimination, violence, sexual harassment and poor working conditions.”
According to WSI’s findings, the social dimension of the fisheries industry is very far from reaching SDG 5.
“What is needed first and foremost is an awareness that the sustainable exploitation of marine resources will not be attained if 50% of the population it affects is not taken into consideration. Gender must be embedded in all elements and targets of SDG 14. This is the responsibility of all stakeholders; private fishing companies, seafood enterprises, national administrations, professional organisations, international organisations to go beyond the rhetorical pretence ‘sustainable’ and engage seriously in gender equality," Meryl Williams commented.
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