In much of the developing world, including the countries in which the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish (Fish Innovation Lab) operates, women’s involvement in and contributions to the aquaculture and fisheries sectors do not automatically mirror that of men’s.
This can help explain why, historically and until very recently, women’s roles have been largely invisible or marginalized and “[d]ocumentation of their contributions remains isolated as case studies, rarely appearing in the official statistics, due to most countries not collecting sex-disaggregated data on fisheries related matters.”
The lack of gender-disaggregated data and data on fish caught by women, which is critical to understanding household food security, results in an underestimation of the total fish production and of the contribution of aquaculture and fisheries to household income and food security.
Even as collecting gender-disaggregated data has become increasingly mainstream among development actors, experts have advocated that we “move beyond the perception of women as fish processors and caregivers, by better understanding their access to fisheries resources, identifying their roles and relationships with others, and by acknowledging the benefits of directly involving them in decision-making” within aquaculture and fisheries value chains.
As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations argues and as is strongly supported by other leading development agencies and organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CGIAR and USAID, gender equality “is not simply a matter of human rights, but is key to eliminating poverty and hunger.”
In fact, over the last few decades, USAID’s advocacy for ensuring that the involvement and contributions of women are considered and accounted for throughout USAID-supported development efforts has been codified and mandated through approaching gender equality, empowerment and mainstreaming as a cross-cutting theme in the Feed the Future Innovation Labs.
As gender mainstreaming has begun to be more fully implemented across aquaculture and fisheries development projects and programs, how to set goals for gender mainstreaming across lab- and field-based projects, how to document findings and how to share knowledge across disciplines have become increasingly important.
Drawing on Past Experiences
Through our prior experiences serving as gender impacts leads with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Ragsdale and Read-Wahidi, Mississippi State University) and as the gender advisor for multiple African and Philippine fisheries programs implemented by the Coastal Resources Center (CRC) in collaboration with local partners (Torell, University of Rhode Island), we understand the importance of and goal-setting processes for gender mainstreaming in agricultural development.
Translating this understanding to aquaculture and fisheries management and research-for-development projects at the Fish Innovation Lab was a no-brainer.
For example, collecting large-scale survey data from both a man and woman within the same household who identify as key household decision-makers – and using a previously validated instrument, such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, to accomplish this – produces gender-disaggregated data that can be used to directly compare a smallholder female farmer’s agricultural decision-making autonomy vis-à-vis that of her husband’s decision-making autonomy.
Likewise, conducting focus group discussions that are purposefully gender disaggregated helps ensure that women’s opinions are heard in rural villages where women may not typically be granted permission to speak openly in community meetings in the presence of men.
Conducting field days and other extension or technical trainings that consider female participants’ unique needs and responsibilities (e.g., childcare) helps ensure that women have access to expert knowledge and training.
Results from a gender needs assessment in Ghana indicated that providing female fish processors and traders with access to credit and business skills can enable them to expand their business and secure greater control in fisheries that improve resilience to economic shocks.
Fish Innovation Lab Approach
The Fish Innovation Lab supports applied aquaculture and fisheries research in five Feed the Future countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia.
A common thread in all projects is to promote technology adoption and positive behavior change that improve nutrition and food security among vulnerable groups and sustain fish stocks for future generations.
To successfully achieve technology adoption and behavior change, we need to know how men and women engage in aquaculture and fisheries value chains and understand what motivates their behaviour.
This means learning about the lived experiences of women and other marginalized groups and using an intersectional lens in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of research-for-development projects and programs.
The Fish Innovation Lab uses a framework adapted from Kleiber and colleagues to identify gender barriers specific to the aquaculture and fisheries sectors, and we support Fish Innovation Lab research teams to address these barriers through their projects and programs.
Below we include an outline of this framework with real-world examples to illustrate how gender barriers can occur and how they can be addressed:
- Access to and control over assets and resources: Women and men may have different access and control over fisheries and aquaculture resources and habitats, as well as gear used during aquaculture, fishing and postharvest activities. For example, a recent gender analysis conducted in fishing communities in the Philippines found that men control most high-value fish species. In contrast, women only partially control the mangroves and seagrass beds they depend on for harvesting bivalves.
- Access to diverse livelihoods and income: Cultural bias may direct what livelihoods are appropriate for women and men. Unequal gender roles may give women fewer opportunities than men. Women are more often engaged in subsistence livelihoods, including gleaning and fishing with nets from the shore – work that is often unpaid or paid less than other work in the fish value chain. However, through capacity development, including organizing and efficacy building, women’s livelihoods can be strengthened while giving them a voice in fisheries management. In Senegal, for example, women processors 1) organized to get a price premium on their smoked fish, and 2) implemented a code of conduct where they refused to buy under-sized fish. This put pressure on fishermen to follow fisheries-management rules to mitigate overfishing.
- Access to and control over credit, capital and savings: Compared to men, women often have unequal access to credit, capital and savings, which are necessary to purchase vital inputs and to start or expand their businesses. Likewise, women often do not have the same control over their income, credit and savings as men – as gender norms often dictate that women defer to a spouse or other man on income, credit and savings decisions. Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) – first launched in Niger by CARE in 1991 – have been successfully implemented worldwide in vulnerable communities. VSLAs allow members, particularly women, to save together and provide their members with essential access to microcredit.
- Tenure rights and access to and control over land: When women lack secure tenure rights, they often have weak decision-making control over the land and bodies of water from which they earn their livelihoods. For example, lack of land tenure rights may prevent women from developing inland aquaculture ponds. It is also critical to consider the fisheries’ livelihoods and interests of women and men when developing tenure, access rights and co-management arrangements within small-scale aquaculture and fisheries. In Gambia, for example, the TRY Oyster Women’s Association was granted exclusive use rights to the cockle/oyster fishery in the Tanbi Wetlands National Park.
- Access to markets and market resources: Women often have weak access to markets and market resources for expanding profit margins, such as fresh and higher-end fish species, technical trainings and real-time commodity information. Women’s access to markets and market resources may also be restricted by upfront business expenses, such as transportation costs, because women often lack access to cash. Also, women’s access to markets and market resources may be restricted by gender norms, such as norms that prevent women from traveling far from their village or without an adult male relative.
- Access to education and capacity development: Women’s and girls’ unequal access to both primary education and higher education in many developing countries can restrict their opportunities to engage in the fish value chain. In the Fish Innovation Lab’s Fish4Zambia project conducted at Lake Bangweulu, disaggregating the data by gender revealed that women (23%) were significantly more likely than men (9%) to have not completed any years of school. Gender-based differences in education are of concern, as women with low literacy are less likely to fully benefit from extension and other technical training and programs.
- Food security and nutritional security: In many developing countries, women’s fishing is often focused on smaller, but nutritionally important, catches consumed by the family. However, women and children in food-insecure households may have less access to food within their own families, and this can intensify during both seasonal hunger periods and major food-insecurity events, such as droughts, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic. Interventions that target the mothers and fathers of infants and young children can have important impacts on stunting and “hidden hunger.” Conducted in Kenya, the Fish Innovation Lab’s SecureFish project aimed to increase sustainable, small-scale fishing and child nutrition through social marketing. Mothers and fathers in fishing families, women elders, and mama karengas (women who market fried fish) received social marketing messages 1) on dietary diversity’s importance for child nutrition, and 2) to encourage fishing families to feed their children a portion of their catch to promote brain development and growth.
- Occupational risks and gender-based violence: Men and women are exposed to different work-related risks due to their roles across the fish value chain. Women and girls are at higher risk for gender-based violence, such as intimate-partner violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment and sexual coercion or assault. For example, “sex for fish” is a widespread and well-documented form of gender-based violence in fishing communities in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and elsewhere. At Lake Victoria, for example, “in the 1970s, a new practice arose that the women hated. The population of fish in the lake began to diminish because of overfishing and environmental problems – sewage and agricultural runoff, for example. So the men began saying: give me sex, and I’ll make sure you get fish to sell. Many women felt they had no alternatives even if it meant they could be infected with HIV.” Yet in Tanzania, researchers worked to establish an open fish market where female fish buyers could purchase fish in a safer environment without pressure to provide sex for fish, which was common when women bought fish straight from fishermen’s boats.
- Governance and policy coherence: Gender equity principles are often missing in aquaculture and fisheries policy. Gender norms restrict women’s participation in governance at all levels, and governmental agencies and other policy makers often fail to recognize the invisible but essential roles that women play across aquaculture and fisheries value chains. Further information is included in a paper on the Asia-Pacific region.
- Monitoring, evaluation and learning: According to USAID, “the purpose of monitoring, evaluation and learning practices is to apply knowledge gained from evidence and analysis to improve development outcomes and ensure accountability for the resources used to achieve them.” Lack of gender-disaggregated data and data capturing women’s essential roles marginalizes their contributions and can mask issues holding back women’s productivity. Likewise, lack of prioritization, funding, and training for gender responsive programs and research and for gender-responsive monitoring, evaluation and learning can mask issues holding back development across aquaculture and fisheries value chains.
Clearly, purposive and informed gender mainstreaming in aquaculture and fisheries sectors “provides women a chance to take up their position in society and to recognize and avail opportunities to generate wealth: thus, it is also a crucial component in alleviating poverty, achieving greater food and nutrition security, and enabling good governance and sustainable development of fisheries resources.”
For more information about the Fish Innovation Lab’s work related to gender equity, please visit fishinnovationlab.msstate.edu/newsroom/gender-equity. Access the free course: How to Increase Your Gender Responsive Agricultural Development Capacity
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