Views & Reviews
Role of women in the development of fisheries and aquaculture
DR. NCHUMBENI HUMTSOE
Women play a significant role in fisheries and aquaculture, yet lack of attention to gender roles and relations can result in policies or programmes failing to improve livelihoods or reduce vulnerability of fishing communities. The largely ‘invisible’ role of women in small-scale fisheries must be addressed if actions aimed at improving the livelihoods of small-scale fishers and their families are to be successful.Women’s most prominent role – in small-scale and industrial fisheries – is in post-harvest, processing and marketing. In West Africa, as much as 80% of seafood is marketed by women. In fish processing factories surveyed in India, 60% of workers were young women. In Vietnam, females make up 80% of the aquaculture workforce. Gender roles and responsibilities are evolving. In parts of Cambodia and Thailand, women increasingly fish and own boats. In Bangladesh, women make up about 60% of fish farmers, and many are successful entrepreneurs. But much of women’s contribution to fisheries is “invisible”. Gender discrimination stems from the low value attached to women’s work and is perpetuated in their limited access to credit, processing technology, storage facilities and training.
In Europe, about 97,000 women are active in the fisheries sector, representing 25% of the total ‘visible’ employment (390,000) in the sector. They represented 26% of fisheries employment in EU25. Women are more numerous than men in processing (57%), the most industrialised component of fisheries related activities. Their share is significant in aquaculture, where they represent 32% of the total, while they account for only 5% of the total in fishing. In the process of mobilisation for issues that concerned the survival of their communities, working conditions of their husbands and equal access to fishing rights, wives of fishermen have become aware of the need to seek formal recognition of their contribution to the family fishing enterprise.
In India, the motorization of fishing vessels in one area led to bigger catches and the replacement of women fishmongers by male merchants. Studies show that when improved fish preservation and processing facilities are made available, men engaged in capturing fish begin to compete with women for access. Gender discrimination follows women into the industrial processing sector. Women from fishing communities in India who became wage earners in the seafood export industry were found to be paid less than men, and were away from their homes for longer periods, making it more difficult for them to fulfill their domestic roles.
Opportunities offered by aquaculture also need to be assessed from a gender perspective. If a woman knows she may lose a fish pond at the death of her husband, she may not invest in the enterprise. The introduction of cage culture may deprive women of water used for drinking, washing dishes or soaking cassava. If aquaculture reduces water levels in wells, women may have to look for other, more distant sources. The degree of participation of women in the fisheries sector is an overall reflection of the cultures, the laws of the country and the priority given by the state to ensure gender equity.
Generally, women in Asia, especially those from depressed fisheries households, participate actively in many fisheries activities, including aquaculture. However, the lower status accorded to women in many Asian societies means that their contribution to fisheries is undervalued and unrecognized. Women participate in almost all activities in the fisheries sector including the construction of fishing gears, fish sorting, fish handling, and fish processing. Some women participate directly in fishing activities with their family members in lakes, rivers and streams. Fish selling is almost exclusively the domain of women.
However, despite their pervasive involvement, women’s invaluable contribution is often overlooked and undocumented, such that women do not benefit from adequate working conditions, facilities, training and access to information. The fisheries sector plays an important role in the alleviation of poverty, achievement of food security and enhancement of economic growth. Women’s involvement in fisheries and aquaculture activities include pond cleaning, fertilising, feeding the fish, fish capture, fish selling, etc. They also cook and preserve fish for domestic purposes. Women are included as team members in the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, which conducts laboratory research on artificial breeding of fish, spawning and fry nursery. Women clearly dominate specific activities in aquaculture and post-harvest technology and they can play a major role in extension services.
In earlier times, the role of women was largely restricted to the household and their participation in other spheres of activities was practically non-existent. This situation was mainly due to ignorance and a misconception about the skills of women and man’s own conception of his superiority. This situation is very aptly reflected by the commonly used expression of ‘weaker sex’ while referring to women. In spite of the very impressive technological and sociological progress the world has witnessed during the present century, women are yet to participate in various activities on an equal footing with men. Misconceptions, taboos and superstitions still persist in many of the under- developed and developing countries. This prompted the United Nations to declare the 1980s as the ‘Decade of the Women’, during which period activities were initiated all over the world to uplift the status, role and welfare of women.
This declaration was due to the realization of the enormous loss of economic and social benefits by not involving women adequately in the development process in general and the agricultural and rural sectors in particular.
In Nagaland , fisheries resources comprise of about 30,000 hectares of lentic and 1600 Kms of lotic resources. Of this utilization percentage is remarkably low at present. The state is also endowed with hill streams and rivers which has varieties of endemic fish fauna. Doyang reservoir having a total water area of 2258 hectares is also another asset of our state. Though culture fishery is contributing major fish production in our state, Doyang reservoir has the great potential of fish seed production and rearing. Stocking of our own hatchery reared seed fish can increase the yield of desired species where natural productivity is high but recruitment is limited.
Enhancement rely largely on natural aquatic productivity as it requires little feed or energy input and can provide high returns from limited resources. Another important option for sustainable livelihood in our state is integrated farming where both man and women can played an important role. The role of women in fisheries has received a lot of interest in recent years, at the regional as well as global levels, as evidenced by the many scientific conferences and workshops, apart from the publications being brought out by several institutions on the subject, qualified scientists and others concerned with fisheries development and management, should facilitate and motivate the womenfolks in our state to enhance their role in the field of fisheries development and aquaculture.
The effective and active participation of women folk, proper technical and professional support from fisheries expert and professional enhanced budgetry allocation can propel sustained growth in the field of fisheries development and aquaculture in a state like Nagaland. The state can also adopt the best practices from other states in the field of fishery development and aquaculture to better address poverty issue, unemployment and to attain sustainable economic development.