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Introduction: Why do we need gender analysis in fisheries and aquaculture research?

Both men and women are employed in large numbers in these two sectors but women’s work is often underestimated or invisible

With an estimated 200 million people directly or indirectly dependent on fisheries by 2008, this sector contributes significantly to livelihoods around the world (FAO/IFAD/WB, 2009). The current estimates from the Big Numbers Project (BNP) for employment in small-scale capture fisheries in developing countries alone reach 25-27 million, with an additional 68-70 million engaged in post-harvesting (FAO, WorldFish and World Bank, 2008). As women form the majority engaged in post-harvesting in many countries, revised estimates of employment in fisheries could indicate that the sector is predominantly a female one, challenging the long-held notion that fisheries is a male domain.

Preliminary BNP data for nine significant fish producing countries, based on available national statistics and case studies, reveal that 47% of the labor force in the fisheries sector (including post-harvesting) is women (FAO, WorldFish and World Bank, 2008). If statistics for gleaning were included, these figures could be higher. Thus, gender analysis is necessary to understand the differentiated contribution of women and men to production and value addition within the sector, as well as how men and women might use and make decisions differently on the natural resources on which they depend for their livelihoods. Cash earned by women contributes to the local economy, and in some areas is provided as capital to male producers to improve their productive fisheries assets.

Labor productivity in these sectors remains low if women do not receive sufficient returns on their work
Gender disparities in fisheries can result in lower labor productivity within the sector and inefficient allocation of labor at household and national levels. Customary beliefs, norms and laws, and/or unfavorable regulatory structures of the state, reduce women’s access to fisheries resources, assets and decision-making (Neis et al. 2005, FAO, 2006; Porter, 2006; Okali and Holvoet, 2007), confining them to the lower end of supply chains within the so-called “informal” sector in many developing countries. This results in women receiving lower returns on their labor. This implies that women are likely to constitute a larger proportion of the poor within this sector, as much as in agriculture, forestry and industry. They often have little or no access to productive technologies which could increase the economic returns from their labor.

There is increasing evidence that those countries which have performed well towards achieving gender equity have also reached higher levels of economic growth and/or social well-being in general (World Economic Forum, 2008). There is a growing literature on how nations with greater gender equity could exhibit greater competitiveness in trade (World Economic Forum, 2008).

 
Human rights of women who comprise half of the fisheries population are being violated
Aside from the economic rationale for gender analysis, the violation of women’s rights for social equality in the fisheries and aquaculture sector undermines the well-being of women and deserves analysis in its own right, from a rights-based perspective. Women and men often have different access and tenure rights to water and land resources used for fishing and aquaculture. Even though women use aquatic and coastal resources, they are often excluded from fisheries governance and rarely consulted in attempts to manage these resources. The differential impact of and contribution to ecological degradation and depletion of aquatic resources by women and men are often overlooked. These disparities are likely to be exacerbated by climate change (Brody et al., 2008). Important for sustainable change are measures to improve governance, especially enhanced voice and accountability, and public sector capacity to be responsive to gender-specific needs.
 
The well-being of the entire household and thereby society in general increases if inequities between women and men are addressed
Even though women bear the brunt of the costs of gender inequities, these costs are distributed widely and are a cause of persistent poverty for all members of the society. Addressing gender inequities by improving women’s incomes and educational levels, as well as their access to information and decision making processes, enhances human capabilities of the household, as well as society in general. An IFPRI study (Smith and Haddad 2000) found that women’s education level and status within the household was the single most important factor for reducing child malnutrition in the world.
 
Some gender concepts and definitions
 

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles and status of women and men, girls and boys. It is a set of culturally specific characteristics defining the social behavior of women and men, and the relationship between them. Gender roles, status and relations vary according to place (countries, regions, villages), groups (class, ethnic, religious, caste), generations and stages of the lifecycle of individuals. Gender is, thus, not about women but about the relationship between women and men.

Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men. To ensure fairness, measures are often needed to compensate for historical and social disadvantages that might have prevented women and men from having access to a level playing field. Equity is a precondition to equality.

Gender equality is the condition when women and men enjoy the same status. Gender equality means that women and men have equal conditions for realizing their full human rights and potential to contribute to national, political, economic, social and cultural development, and to benefit from the results. The concept of equality acknowledges that different treatment of women and men may sometimes be required to achieve sameness of results, because of different life conditions or to compensate for past discrimination. Gender equality also signifies that society places equal value on the similarities and differences between women and men, and the varying roles that they play.

Gender analysis is a tool to better understand the different social, economic, cultural and political realities of women and men, girls and boys. At its core is understanding culture (underlying values, norms and beliefs), expressed in the construction of gender identities and inequalities.

It aims to uncover the dynamics of gender differences across a variety of issues. These include gender issues with respect to social relations (how ‘male’ and ‘female’ are defined in the given context; their normative roles, duties, responsibilities); economic/livelihood activities (gender division of labor in productive and reproductive work within the household and the community; reproductive, productive, community managing and community politics roles); access and control over assets, resources, services, institutions of decision-making and networks of power and authority; and well-being in terms of needs and aspirations, the distinct indicators and perceptions of well-being, and needs and aspirations of men and women, both practical (i.e. given current roles, without challenging social norms) and strategic (i.e. needs which, if met, would change their position in society).