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Promoting gender in fisheries activities in Somalia

Training a new generation of Somali women boat builders
These Somali men and women are acquiring specialized skills as boat builders
Asma Ahmed Ali and Mohamed Haybe Ali at work at the boatbuilding training facility in Berbera. Asma Ahmed Ali’s mother encouraged her to become a trainee in this boatbuilding programme, and she’s hoping that her new skills will lead to long-term employment
The success of the sea trials for these boats built to FAO safety specifications has generated significant interest in the new vessels, and private sector companies are already showing interest in purchasing boats directly from the boat yards being trained
Somali women putting their new boatbuilding skills to work
Samsam Islmail Aar, a female boatbuilding trainee Berbera, uses her new skills. Samsam dreams of becoming an engineer, and she believes her new training will help her achieve this goal
Spoilage is a serious concern in regions where temperature frequently reach 45˚C. These Somali women are learning proper handling techniques on a US-funded project to add value to dried fish drying activities

Rebuilding the fisheries sector in Somalia, following years of conflict, is crucial for strengthening food security and nutrition among the Somali population and generating employment in the sector.

In Somalia today, over one million people face severe food insecurity, while an estimated 307,800 children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, according to FAO data.

Generating employment in the fisheries sector is also key, especially for women. Employment rates are particularly low for women, with the 2012 Human Development Report index placing that figure at 75% unemployment among Somali women.

For this reason, FAO’s fisheries activities in Somalia are working to include women in specialized training that will help strengthen fisheries activities in the Horn of Africa nation, while simultaneously creating sustainable employment in the sector for both men and women, and allowing women, with their newly developed skills, to play a key role in Somalia’s strengthened fisheries sector.

Training women boat builders

A Norwegian-funded component of the fisheries programme developed with FAO has focused on the need to build better and safer vessels for small-scale Somali fishermen, replacing the unsafe boats currently being used by the majority of coastal fishers.

In addition to sub-standard safety specifications, they are also fuel inefficient.

The FAO-Norway project has developed vessels appropriate to the needs and activities of artisanal, small-scale fishers in Somalia.

The vessels are built to full FAO safety specifications and include in built insulated ice boxes that can reduce the consumption of ice and increase catch quality.

The first two new designs incorporated into this project – 7-meters and 10-meters – have been completed and have passed rigorous sea trials.

Boat building is currently taking place in Mogadishu, Berbera and Bossaso. During this year, with additional funds from the EU, construction activities will expand to the remote Indian Ocean communities of Hobyo and Eyl.

According to FAO’s Head of Fleet Renewal in Somalia, Mike Savins, “It’s crucial that we ensure that Somalis are leading the efforts to build quality vessels in Somalia, vessels that will be competitively priced and enable private sector operators to successfully take over the work we have started.

We were approached by women’s representatives asking they be included in the training, glass reinforced plastic hull  repair was a task traditionally performed by women in the past, but these skills were lost when Somali institutions collapsed in the 1990s. ”

The success of the trials has generated significant interest in the new vessels, and private sector companies are already showing interest in purchasing boats directly from the boat yards being trained.

The new vessels, are being constructed entirely by Somalis and among these trainees, the project has been specifically seeking out women who can learn the necessary vessel building skills.

“This has been an exciting aspect of the project, “according to Savins. “Women’s involvement is more common in the post-harvest sector, but we have been very pleased to see women involved in constructing vessels at the initial stage of this project.

We have been working with local women’s organizations to select candidates, and we’ve seen a great deal of enthusiasm from the trainees themselves, who are eager to put their new skills to work.”

The response from the women involved in the project has been overwhelmingly positive. Samsam Islmail Aar, one of the Somali women being trained said, “I want to be an engineer, and I am hoping the boat building training I’m receiving will help”.

A fellow trainee, Asma Ahmed Ali, added that she joined the project at the urging of her family. “My mother encouraged me to join the training,  and I believe the practical skills I am learning will help me to get a new job.”

Coastal women in Somalia are far too familiar with the dangers associated with fishing. According to Andy Read of the FAO Somalia team, “I was in Garowe last year, where our new boats had just saved four fishermen from drowning when a storm blew up out of nothing. Unfortunately, even the safe boat couldn’t rescue two more fishermen, who died in the violent storm and washed up on the beach a week later. 

I still remember the words of a female representative on our steering committee who told me ‘The wives and mothers of Puntland are tired of walking the beaches, looking for the bodies of our lost ones. Please make safety training your highest priority’.”

This tragedy has led to new projects for FAO Somalia to address the safety concerns of Somali fishers. In addition to building boats to FAO safety specifications, FAO is beginning  two small projects teaching Somali women to make lifejackets that we will be distribute to all registered fishermen in Galmudug and Puntland.

120 trainees, all Somali women, will be trained under this project, with the objective of manufacturing 5,000 lifejackets.  When the project comes to an end, the sewing machines and skills will remain with the local women.

FAO Somalia is also planning to initiate a trial Automatic Identification Systems project in Bossaso. This work with the local association to track 200 vessels in membership of the co-op, using low cost, simple tracking devices will improve knowledge of fishing patterns as well as increase safety.

The transponders have to be recharged at home as Somali artisanal boats have no batteries or wiring. As well as  targeting the fishermen about this initiative, the project decided in addition that it would be most effective to primarily target the wives, mothers, and daughters, about the need to recharge transponders ashore each week.

The female representatives on the FAO Somalia fisheries steering committee have welcomed this approach, and are confident that their involvement- which will include visits to the fishermen’s cooperative to check that the transponders are broadcasting the vessel positions- will guarantee that fishermen will always be carrying charged transponders.

Unfortunately, fishing is far too often a dangerous profession, but in its work rehabilitating Somalia’s fisheries sector, FAO fisheries work is concentrating on generating local employment, boosting incomes and strengthening food security, while simultaneously building back a safer Somali fisheries sector that can help to minimize risks to coastal fishermen.

Somali women have been an important ally in this movement, whether building safer boats, learning the skills to sew life jackets, or ensuring that their husbands and sons are properly maintaining and using electronic tracking devices on their fishing boats.

Women in the post-harvest sector

Women’s involvement in the post-harvest sector is much more common in the fisheries sector. Worldwide, women are estimated to make up over 90% of post-harvest fisheries workers.

In Somalia, FAO projects underway and financed by Norway and the US are involving Somali women in work to encourage fish consumption and to promote safe techniques for fish handling, including fish drying, creating a use for surplus fish that would otherwise spoil quickly in the 45˚C temperatures regularly encountered in north Somalia. 

FAO has been working with ten communities in Bossaso on a US-funded project to add value to dried fish drying activities. Fish landed in the morning are filleted, thinly sliced and marinated then spread out on drying racks by 10 am to allow the sun to dry them and to avoid spoilage.

Late afternoon catches are salted and spiced to prevent spoilage overnight. They are placed on the drying racks the following day. These techniques for handling fish have been quickly adopted and have decreased spoilage. All processed and dried products are consistently packaged in retail-ready pouches.

Ms Shukri Ahmed Mohamed is one of the community organizers working with this project. She notes “It is important to have women involved in these activities since their contributions have a big influence on ensuring stronger household level financial management and food security that will directly benefit their families.

We are working with the women to stress that these activities should be viewed as long-term, sustainable income generation approaches. With this in mind, we are providing participants with appropriate business training to carry out these activities, including  training in sales, marketing and financial management.”

FAO’s Savins recently returned to the Al Kheer camp in Bossaso, where he spoke to women who had undergone training a year earlier. The women spoke about how useful the training was, specifically the methods on how to preserve fish for long periods without refrigeration.

Recalling earlier training he conducted with the community, Savins said, “I remember training a group of eleven women on post-harvest fisheries techniques, and asking them if a simple, publication guide in the Somali language would be helpful to them.

Ten out of the eleven women told me they did not know how to read, but they still encouraged me to produce this guide, assuring me that their children would be able to read it to them.

This made a deep impression on me, and it’s important for us to see how this training can make such a  difference in the lives of these women and their families.”

We will be following the progress of these Somalia fisheries projects. Click here to see our earlier post on work carried out rehabilitating the fisheries sector in Somalia.

Dunk testing’ of the boats. The boats are filled with water, then the fishermen climb in and try (unsuccessfully) to tip the boats over. The boats have built-in buoyancy and are unsinkable
Practical lessons teach Somali women proper post-harvesting techniques
In addition to fish preparation and hygiene training techniques, Somali women are also being provided with the appropriate business training to carry out these activities, including training in sales, marketing and financial management
Learning fish drying techniques
It is important to have women involved in these activities since their contributions have a big influence on ensuring stronger household level financial management and food security that will directly benefit their families
Somali women during their training sessions
Participants in the FAO and USAID training on value added fish drying


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