This report is about fishing and Ni-Vanuatu women as part of communities. Whereas several reports have been written about Ni-Vanuatu women (the most, recent being Charlotte Bowie's 19951 assessment of needs of Vanuatu's rural women: Voice blong of woman) there is little information about women in relation to fishing.
In the two months allowed, the consultant attempted to investigate the national role and needs of women in fisheries matter and to gather as much information as possible from and about women fishers in the six Vanuatu provinces. The information contained in report, although it is of necessity limited, will assist decision makers within the national government, non-government organisations and other aid organisations, to accommodate the needs of communities in fisheries development plans and policies in the country.
Whilst attempting to avoid making this report another in the series about women, it is important that an outline is given of women's position in Vanuatu society - as witnessed, verbalised by nationals and written about. This outline will provide background to the fisheries issues central to this report.
Gender bias favouring men is widespread in Vanuatu1 as illustrated by the higher number of boys in school, less females in training initiatives, less employment opportunities for girls, the lack of female participation in local and national government and lower participation in high level policy decisions and planning2. However, because of the sexual division of labour, there is little or no time left for women to participate in community and government decision making, nor attend training and development sessions is widespread in Vanuatu.1,2
Vanuatu women are the bearers of children, are responsible for all aspects of childcare, agriculture, food preparation, firewood and water collection, household duties, and are expected to contribute to household income-generating projects and church activities. Reports stress over and over that, outside of caring for children, preparing meals, carrying firewood and water (all of which add up to a considerable time and work load), the woman's role is to spend most of her day working in the garden. Walking to and from the garden may take several hours. Often the gardens are a long way from their home, sometimes more than two hours' walk, one way.
These basic societal tasks are not valued in monetary terms. Bowie (19951 : 59) considered that in Vanuatu, women's family labour is discounted and often viewed as the obligation of the female, i.e. her social role rather than real 'work'. 'When men do the same tasks, it is labelled as economic activity.'
According to Mackenzie-Reur (19952 : 20), 'More women are involved in agriculture and other primary activities (82%) in comparison to their male counterparts (63%), yet their contribution towards the economic and social development of the country is not recorded and inadequately recognised....' A 1985 survey on Tanna showed that 85% of adult women did moderate to heavy work, while the proportion of men doing the same was much lower3.
Speaking about Pacific nations, Liloqula (19894 :182) said 'women are really the significant force in the economic development of our nations and an effective programme to support and promote their production and participation needs to be looked into.' However, gender blindness prevents statisticians and economists from seeing how and how much women contribute to the economy. Their invisibility in databases is then reflected in economic policies and therefore in the distribution of benefits (Stephens, cited in Bowie, 19951). The present report is intended to provide the basis of an effective programme to support women who fish in Vanuatu.
The Vanuatu Constitution states that women and men have equal rights. Even then, Ni-Vanuatu women have to be educated on what their rights are.
When Parliament passed the Divorce Bill in 1986 its action was seen as amajor breakthrough. The Family Law Act was presented to Government in 1985 yet by 1995 it had not been actioned. Similarly, the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women has not been signed and ratified. Hence it cannot be used as a guideline for formulating national legislation affecting women. However, Vanuatu has signed the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection, and Development of Children3 and this could form the basis for a national policy on family welfare.
The relatively low human population has also produced a lower fishing intensity - but this is set to change. The human population has been steadily climbing back from the decimal on of labour recruiters ('blackbirding') and white-man's diseases of the later 1800-early 1900s. In 1967 the national population stood at 77,988; increasing to 111,251 in 1979 and 142,944 in 1989. Although most of the population Iives in rural Vanuatu, the 'drift to the towns' is illustrated by the comparative figures of 90% of the population being rural dwellers in 1967, falling to 81.6% in 19892. Rapid urbanisation is one of the more outstanding features of Vanuatu's demographic history, such that between 1967 and 1989, the urban population (Luganville and Port Vila) increased annually by 5.4%. Between 1979 and 1989 it increased by 7.5%2. In 1994 the national population was estimated at 160,700 of which 126,200 was in rural areas, and the 1996 population at 168,400 of which 128,800 lives in rural areas (source: Statistics Office). Recent information from the Statistics Office is that the national population is increasing at slightly more than 2.8%.
In 1991, just under half (44%) of Vanuatu's population was under 15 years of age and present information suggests that the proportion under 20 years of age is about half of the population. The large number of children brings an immense burden on women who are largely responsible for their care. Life for many Ni-Vanuatu families is becoming more difficult3 and there is considerable pressure on women as providers for the family, particularly as their subsistence role is becoming linked, with the needs of a cash economy.
Overall population density is 11.7 persons/sq. km, and it is highest in the Shepherd Islands, Paama Island and Efate Island. Relatively high population density also exists in Mere Lava (Banks Islands), Tanna (Tafea Province) and north Pentecost (Penama Province); and many smaller islands lying offshore of larger ones are densely populated. The highest densities recorded2 are in Avokh (southern Malakula Island), Ifira Island near Port Vila and Atchin Island (northern Malekula Island) where there are more than 1,000 persons/sq. km. Emigration takes place from areas of high population density; for example, north Pentecost people move to Maewo, Ambae and Port Vila; Banks people move to Luganville.
Economic problems have meant that the national government has cut expenditure on government services. This cost-cutting has also meant the lack of money in rural areas has affected disposable income which in turn negatively affects the standard of living3.
In recent years, the proportion of the national budget allocated to social services has decreased. e.g. Health and Education received 38% of recurrent expenditure in 1986 but this was reduced to 31% in 19892. Information provided by the Statistics Office (1996) is that whereas the population is increasing, the numbers of dispensaries and doctors has dropped slightly over the past three years, and the number of registered nurses has dropped substantially (342 in 1993, 220 in 1995). In this country where there is social inequity, these cut-backs find most expression in the comparative lack of programs addressing women's health and nutrition, women's education, access to clean water and Sanitary facilities. Lack of atention to such matters is a waste of human resources.
Vanuatu is the second most expensive place in the Pacific to live, according to the report. The average income in Vanuatu is 37,000 vt/head/year (1989 census). Urban income is 8.5% times than the higher than per capita rural income2 - reflecting the presence of high-income earning expatriates in the towns. Many Ni-Vanuatu have moved back to the rural areas because of the expense of living in the towns (despite urban population numbers) and the public servants' strike of late 1993 was partly a reflection of the difficulty of 'making ends meet' by salaried Ni-Vanuatu working in Vila or Santo. The minimum government wage is 16,000 vt/month; and many Ni-Vanuatu urban families are extremely poor, their incomes as low as 7,000-10,000 vt/month if rent has to be taken out) (pers. comm., DWA). The DWA estimated that a family would have less than 400 vt/month to spend on fish Nearly 40% of the entire Port Vila population lives in squatter settlements with poor sanitation, over-crowding, poor water supply and disease (National Planning Office report). Poor urban dwellers are also much more affected by the lack of income than are rural dwellers, as they have little or no land nor access to the sea.
The infant mortality rate is 50/1,000 live births (1989 census), a high figure compared to other countries in the Pacific region2. This could be one indication of the social and health status of women in the community; viz. the higher the infant mortality rate the lower the social and health status of women, and vice versa. The total average fertility rate for Ni-Vanuatu women was 5.1 in 1989 (census) and women in rural areas have more children than do women in urban areas. The WBU (1995)5 recorded a national average family size of six.
A major factor which impacts on the health of women is the number of children they have and their age, and the spacing of children. Twenty-one percent of women aged
15-19 years had already had one child (1989 census) and 8-9% of these had had two children. The spread of children is greater in the rural areas, with 25% of rural mothers older than 35 years2. Use of contraceptives is very low in Vanuatu (compared to the situation in other developing countries), being used by only 15% of child-bearing age women. Many rural men do not agree to their wives using contraceptives.
Nutritional anaemia is one of the major health problems of Ni-Vanuatu women, being particularly high in pregnant and lactating women, and in women and children eating only small amounts of protein foods2.
Vanuatu education system provides for six years of primary, four years of junior secondary and 2-3 years of senior secondary. In 1989, about 78% of the female population and 83% of the male population were attending school2. Although it is difficult to estimate the literacy rate, it would be less in older age groups. At ages 1015, 25.7% of males were in school, but only 17.9% of females were (1989). Two main issues which impact on secondary school attendance for primary school leavers are the reduced number of spaces in secondary school (in 1989, only between 20% and 25% of Grade 6 children were selected to attend junior secondary schools) and the requirement to pay school fees (c. 10,000 vt/term/child). In rural areas, it is likely that girl students are negatively affected by the school fees issue. In 1989, 26 Ni-Vanuatu females had obtained a degree, compared with 106 males.
A feature of traditional inshore fishing activity in Vanuatu is that there appears to be so little of it. By comparison with the inshore fishing performed in some other countries in the western Pacific region, Vanuatu is a minor player. Fishing is not an important traditional economic strategy among Melanesian coastal dwellers6 and the populations of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are generally more orientated to cultivation of root crops and pig husbandry. Including poultry and beef raising to the community's larder appears to be more comfortable than taking to the water for many Ni-Vanuatu - even coastal dwellers. The situation in Vanuatu is probably like that in PNG, where only half of the coastal population regard fishing as an important activity: those communities are where there is little land for agriculture riverine and swampy areas and small, infertile islands6. However, over the past 100 years, during which up to 70% of Vanuatu's population has moved to the coast7 nearshore coastal waters have played a more important part in rural people's lives.
In Vanuatu land is available to many communities although there is high human population density on some islands or areas thereof (e.g. north Pentecost, Atchin Island, Tanna, Ra Island). Land-based protein (cattle, pigs, poultry, nuts) is relatively cheap - especially beef- and in many areas these items are consumed as protein sources, or protein is infrequently consumed. Access to inland communities whereby fish could be brought to for sale - is inhibited in the large islands. Moreover, the volcanic origin of most islands often restricts general access to the sea. There are few atolls or extensive reefs in Vanuatu. The inner reef areas of Vanuatu (c. 478 sq. km.) are limited to a narrow fringing reef or reef platform surrounding the islands and few lagoons and barrier reefs and the mangrove and estuarine areas (c. 25 sq. km) are also limited7. Almost all of the subsistence and artisanal catch of fish and shellfish is taken from these inshore areas.
Added to that is the earnings from agricultural commodities. When copra, beef and Lava prices are improving, there is little incentive for people who are not traditionally fishers, to go fishing.
Another factor affecting fishing activity is the retention of strong customary tenure over land and inshore areas: even if an inshore area is unworked by its traditional owners they may not allow outsiders to fish there.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to sweep all of Vanuatu under the one blanket. Commentators have reported often that it is a diverse country: the potential to earn income is different between islands and areas, and application of a single 'remedy' or plan to the whole nation would result in general failure. This study on community (women's) fishing in Vanuatu supports those views.
Information gathered in the 1992 and 1993 agricultural censuses show that fishing activities are most important in Banks/Torres (Torba Province) followed by Efate and the Shepherds (Shefa Province), although on average only 35% of rural households reported fishing in the seven days prior to the survey. Of those not fishing, 60% (1992) and 38% (1993) said that was the result of work in the garden. Preston (1996)8 estimated an average subsistence harvesting rate of 42 kg/hectare in inshore Vanuatu waters, which is moderately high. Because the rate would vary throughout the country, he suggested that over-exploitation must be taking place in some areas.
In 1993, 70% of rural households reported eating fish at some time during the previous 12 months7. Compared to others Pacific Island nations, this consumption rate is very low. The actual fishing rate over the 12 months is relatively much lower, with 53% of the fish consumers having purchased the fish (61% of them from fishers within the village or from other villages (51%).
It is noteworthy that 40% of fishing households reported selling fish in the seven days prior to census-recording. In other words, 'The ongoing introduction of a cash economy to many rural households has also led to the much greater fishing effort as an alternative income generating activity.' (Statistics Office, 1994 : 11.27) It is almost certain that Vanuatu's inshore waters will be subject to greater fishing pressure taking into consideration the increasing population size and its attendant issues.
Self-sufficiency and balanced development depend on the contribution of both women and men to the collection of fish resources in the Pacific islands9. In some areas of Vanuatu, where the sea is often rough or where social tabus prohibit women fishing from boats, men's fishing provides the fish protein for families; and export fisheries do bring revenue to nations. This report is about the contribution of women's fishing to Vanuatu's national security however. The pattern se. down in other western Pacific nations10 is to investigate the importance of women's contribution to subsistence and artisanal fishing, the nutritional contribution of women's fishing, the effects of environmental impacts on women's fishing; and the increasing activity in fish processing and marketing often or mainly involving women.
1 Bowie C. (1995) Voice blong of woman. "The women's voice". Report of the rural women's needs assessment. Vanuatu National Council of women. 183 pp.
2 Mackenzie-Reur V.L. (1995). Statistical profile on the situation of women in Vanuatu. ESCAP, Vila. 67 pp.
3 UNICEF (1991). A situation analysis of children and women in Vanuatu. Vanuatu Government. 97 pp
4 Liloqula, R. (1989). Paper (untitled), pp. 179-182, Workshop on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Fourth regional conference of Pacific women. Suva. Fiji, 17 -23 September, 1988. South Pacific Commission, Noumea. New Caledonia.
5 Women's Business Unit (1995).A study of women in micro business. their resources and their needs. A study done by the Women s Business Unit of the Department of Cooperative & Rural Business Development in cooperation with Statistics Office. Republic of Vanuatu. 46 pp plus.
6 Schoeffel, P and S Talagi (1989). The role of women in small-scare fisheries in the South Pacific. Report of case studies in Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Western Samoa. London Commonwealth Secretariat, Food Production and Rural Development Division 60 pp.
7 Statistics Office (1994). Vanuatu national agriculture census 1994 [sic]: main report. Statistics Office. Office of the Prime Minister. Port Vila. Vanuatu
8 Preston. G.L. (1996). Masterplan for the sustainable management and development of Vanuatu's inshore fisheries resources. Food and Agricullural Organisation of the United Nations, Technical Cooperation Programme. TCP/VAN/4552. technical report no. 2. pag. var.
9 Matthews, E. (1993). Women and fishing in traditional Pacific Island cultures. pp. 29-33, in Workshop: People. society, and Pacific Islands fisheries development and management. SPC, technical document 5.
10 Naqasima, M. (1994). Women and Fisheries Network. SPC Traditional marine resource management and knowledge information bulletin, no. 4: 24-25.