Gender and equity - research

Women in fisheries, Bangladesh
Women in fisheries, Bangladesh

At WorldFish we are involved in a range of research on gender and fisheries. Ongoing and previous research efforts include:
Aquatic agricultural systems (AAS) are changing rapidly with globalized market processes, population growth, migration and urbanization. This multi-year research initiative aims to reduce poverty and improve food security by addressing the key constraints for men and women whose livelihoods depend on AAS, including unequal gender power relations.
In order to truly integrate gender concerns in agricultural development, the program is taking a gender transformative approach to research in development.
The program aims to sustainably increase the productivity of small-scale livestock and fish systems, making meat, milk and fish more available and affordable to poor consumers across the developing world. To achieve this goal, one of the main program objectives is to enable participation in and access to pro-poor and gender equitable production and marketing systems, with an emphasis on addressing current gender disparities.

Markets, trade and migration

Stereotypically, but by no means universally, men fish while women process and trade. However, many development interventions focus entirely on the fishing activities such as regulating catch, gear and access rights, rather than on improving processing and access to markets.
Both fishers and traders migrate seasonally between regions and even across national boundaries to find better catches and markets. The number of women migrating in search of economic opportunities appears to be rising. One aspect of migration and markets, and the remote locations of fishing communities and camps, is that there are relatively high HIV prevalence rates in many fishing communities.
Women processors and traders in parts of Africa are particularly vulnerable, when they resort to transactional sex to obtain fish.
We still know little about how consumption patterns and changes in seafood and labour markets in Africa, Asia and the Pacific affect livelihoods, and how these changes may be gendered in their effects. How does market engagement affect poverty and what are the different constraints of women and men to more effective participation in markets? These gaps in knowledge affect our ability to inform sectoral policies which emphasize poverty reduction.


Capabilities and well-being

A well-being approach to small-scale fishing encompasses economic aspects of livelihood together with a focus on capabilities such as education, health and food security. Fishing communities are often marginalized, mobile, and found in remote locations which can constrain their access to education and health facilities. Women and girls often suffer the worst levels of education and health.
Well-being is closely linked to vulnerability. Shocks include price changes in fish and input markets, sudden illness and deaths, births and marriages, war and conflict, natural disasters and climate change. We lack sufficient information on how these kinds of events affect the livelihoods and wellbeing of men and women differently in fishing communities.
While we have some understanding of coping strategies and responses to shocks in fishing communities, we still know little about how men and women assess well-being and how their perceptions affect their livelihood strategies and quality of life.


Social identities and networks

Identity is socially and culturally constructed and linked to a sense of belonging in networks. Identities shaped by social networks have gendered consequences in fishing communities and can affect the ability of individuals to cope with or rise out of poverty. Membership in formal organizations such as fisheries associations or cooperatives is more prevalent among men than women but poor men may also be excluded.
In promoting gender equity in the fisheries sector, it should not be assumed that all women want to become fishers, in some areas fish traders actually have more prestige and greater economic status. We need more comprehensive work on how these identities affect the livelihoods of men and women in fishing communities differently. Do formal networks improve livelihoods and bargaining power of women and the poor, or do they exclude certain members of communities? We need a better understanding of how networks can be used and improved to bring about gender-equitable returns from fisheries.

Governance and rights

Governance regimes affect access, control over and management of resources in fishing and aquaculture communities around the world. Co-management and community-based fisheries management [CBMF] have emerged as important efforts to shift from a top-down, command and control approach to one in which decisions about resource use, and the benefits from those resources, are devolved to the people who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Through research on governance and rights we will gain a better grasp of how men and women participate in governance structures at the local, regional and national level. We also need to understand the gendered impacts of new trade regimes such as food safety standards and certification on small-scale producers. WorldFish has supported the Fisheries Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Cambodia and the Community-Based Natural Resource Management Learning Institute to study “Gender implications in community based natural resource management: the roles, needs and aspirations of women in community fisheries.” This study has provided a number of valuable insights into the gender dimensions of governance, rights, capabilities and well-being. WorldFish also has extensive experience in community based fisheries management studies carried out over a ten year period in Bangladesh.

Climate change, disasters and resilience

Climate change has emerged as one of the biggest challenges to the resilience of human societies. Coastal and flood plain communities are at higher risk to climate change-related disasters. Costs to women and children are often disproportionate. Assessing the gendered impacts of climate change and disasters, and differences in responses between women and men is necessary. A better understanding of the gendered nature of coping and risk perception will help us in the design of gender equitable mitigation and adaptation strategies to address the potentially unequal impacts of climate change on vulnerable groups. We also need to ensure that policies and institutional arrangements, such as disaster preparedness plans and post-disaster rehabilitation processes, incorporate gender concerns. Women need to be included in decision-making related to mitigation and adaptation options that build resilience in fishing communities.