4. Changes in women's role in the fisheries sector, and their impact
"We sell our fresh fish to buy tinned fish
What needs do worn en have for fish? Why would they want to go fishing more, or be more involved in fishing? - to sell for money?; to provide better nutrition for :heir families? The short answer is that women have to provide
Charlotte Bowie's (1995)1 survey to assess the needs of Ni-Vanuatu women found that in 48 of the 77 sites where she conducted interviews, the women identified income as their greatest need.
As Bowie1 pointed out, providing more in a society having expectations of listening to a radio (batteries), telephone calls, having a gas stove, having ice or a refrigerator, motorised transport, and so on, requires money. No longer can goods (as produced in a village garden) be used as trade. Families cannot function without an income using imported goods requires cash. The need to provide brings pressure on women to produce more - not only for direct consumption but also to be sold for cash. As families rely more on manufactured tools, equipment, housing materials and food, the need for a reliable and adequate income increases. Women in Efate, Ambae and Santo villages told the consultant that they sometimes sell their garden produce or even their fresh fish - and use the money to purchase rice and tinned fish, a phenomenon mirrored in other western Pacific nations2.
Many women told the consultant that when they need money they usually sell vegetables, shells, woven goods, kava or water taro in preference to selling fish. Why is this? Except for some garden produce these items are not perishable, and women are comfortable (i.e. used to) in selling them. Water taro and kava also can be shipped to urban centres where they receive better prices than if they are sold locally. Albeit postharvest and transport problems attendant on harvesting fish for sale however, Ni-Vanuatu families are developing an awareness of fish as a saleable resource (pers. comm., Department of Industry, Trade & Commerce).
In the rural areas Ni-Vanuatu women are actively involved in earning money to support their families. Goods in stores in rural areas are expensive. The national government's high import duty on many consumer goods (including foods) is exacerbated in rural areas by freight charges, and locally-manufactured foods are also expensive because of high production costs. Local businesses also are taxed 10% 'turnover charges' and these are passed onto consumers. School fees are (probably) the same throughout the country. There is little money nor economic activity in rural communities, and prices from the sale of goods in markets are low, so new ways have to be found to raise money for school fees and to buy household items, clothes and food. Women 'and men) are increasingly turning to the sale of fish to raise money, and more money is obtained by sending the goods (fish) to towns where selling prices are higher (e.g. the kava water taro). Examples of the relative amount of money around (also the cost of living) is the price for nawita laplap. In Vila market each piece sells for 150 vt, but in Norsup (or local Wala market), each piece sells for only 20 vt/piece. The market fees are 400 vt in Vila of 50 vt in Lamap.
A reason for certain rural women becoming increasingly involved in fishing (for food, for cash) is that they may be the heads of households. More males than females reside in the two urban areas (from in-migration; higher education possibilities), and women in the 20-44 year age group are live more in rural areas than in town3. This imbalance affects rural women for whom wherewithal and ability to keep the household going is more difficult. They need money and their husband in town many not send it back (indeed, he often forms a new relationship there). The WBU report (1995)4 recorded that female-headed households were more common in Santo and Malekula (ahead of Tanna, Efate and Ambae).
Once the problems of post-harvest care and transport of fish are addressed, exploitation of fish for sale in Vanuatu will develop rapidly. This statement is made in defiance of the current situation, and the consultant perceives that motivation will come from the need of families to provide in a country where education, increasing population size and consumerism is effecting change.
The growth of urban areas has created a market for fish and fisheries products. The urban market is there for artisanal fishers because full-time salaried workers do not have the time to catch their own fish (or urban dwellers have no access to fish resources). Urban women employed long hours in shops do not have time to fish but have money to buy fish (or they may not).
Whereas many communities still only fish for food to eat and where once surplus was distributed in the village, there is now the opportunity to fish for sale. Sending fish and other goods to urban markets causes a shortfall in the rural areas. Nevertheless, men and women harvesters of freshwater naura in southern Santo and of nawita in northern Efate, fishers for mangrou in eastern Santo, harvesters of saltwater naura at Futuna, catchers of coconut crabs in Torres and of Caledonie crabs in South West Bay are doing it specifically for urban markets. Women from Saarma village (North Efate) said that their menfolk fish with cast nets and gillnets to sell the fish they harvest. "Less is being shared out nowadays."
Availability of a market intensifies fishing in at least two ways: more time is spent on fishing, and there is a higher demand for more efficient fishing gears. Women who wish to sell fish must therefore find more time (or organise it better) or fish more efficiently - i.e. with nets or native poisons. The women who cannot afford to buy nets will fish with poisons (see also chapter 7). Note that while people fish to sell, they and others are still fishing to eat. Overfishing results from both and more tabus are being placed.
It may be that planers are not informed about the state of resources, and assume there are plenty of fish (e. g. Bowie1 remarked that the people in Torba Province a e nutritionally well-off for protein because they have plenty of coconut crabs). Yet the need for school fees, access to the tourist market and over-harvesting and wastage of crabs (freight space on planes) impact on the resource availability.
Bowie1 provides anecdotal information that the women of Erromango and Tanna and Tongoa say that fish are no longer easily available. Women from west Ambae and Lamen Bay (Epi Island) told the consultant that they rely on buying fish from-shops (although this may be as much a symptom of time management as of resource loss). Freshwater naura in southern Santo streams are becoming scarce because there is a good market for them; Port Olry artisanal mangrou fishers are impacted by other harvesters along adjacent coasts; and the numbers of mangrove oysters at Uribiv Island (Malekula) have been significantly reduced through selling: where previously 8-4 rice bags of oysters could be gathered in one low tide, now only one rice bag can be filled in a low tide. [see also chapter 7]
Women are obtaining more fish by using old (e.g. native poisons) and new (e.g. synthetic handlines) fishing gear. There has also been a change in social acceptability of women fishing in new ways. In Paarma and Mota Lava, women use bamboo fishing rods where traditionally only men did. Women (and men) divers and fishers on many islands use diving masks whereas before they would see below the water surface through a film of coconut oil. The gillnet has supplanted the coconut leaf sweep in men's and women's artisanal fishing.
The increase in fishing activity of women is demonstrated - also - by the number of handlines in the population. Overall, handlines are the most popular fishing gear used: their use increasing by 65% in the 10 years since 19835. They are also the cheapest, so making them accessible to women. In 1992, 95% of the Ni-Vanuatu population owned a handline, much more than the next most common piece of gear, a speargun 56% [custom prevents women from using spears], followed by handreels - 46% [for poulet fishing]6.
Even with gear and time, women still need to have the skills for fishing (netting, handlining). This is one matter that the Fisheries Department attempted to address (chapter 6).
Ni-Vanuatu women display great resourcefullness in the way in which they generate income from a range of activities other than by paid employment4. Of rural women involved in market activities 45% are working 1.5-4 days each week, and 20% are working 5.5-7 days - this is in addition to other household responsibilities they have. Sixty-five percent of women practicing multiple economic activities are active in 2-4 activities at the same time. 'When asked if they could spend more time on these activities, women responded positively: 71% overall, with particularly high percentages in Tanna, 87% and Efate, 89%.' (WBU4: 34).
Most of the income raised goes towards supporting the family. Relative expenditure by women ranged from household goods (89%) and school fees (37%) through to medical bills (2%)4. Women at Port Olry told the consultant that they keep all the money they make for the household, whereas their husbands give them some money from the sale of items (see also chapter 7 on spending patterns).
Up until now, discussion has been on rural, village women selling fish in small ways as additions to the family budget. There are other Ni-Vanuatu women however, who are working at more commercial level in the fisheries sector. According to MackenzieReur3, better education has motivated women to look for business opportunities in domains which traditionally were reserved for men. The consultant heard of or met just some: the Port Olry lady who has a gillnet and esky and sells mangrou along with the men fishers; a lady in Emae Island who trades in bêche-de-mer; one of the managers of the Natai Fish Market in Vila and a former manager of the Santo Fish Market; and there are women who fish with their husbands for poulet; - and the Atchin Island husbands who leave the fishing to their wives and go to the gardens in their stead! Salaried and urban women are also more likely to have access to money to purchase fishing gear and set up businesses.
The participation of women in business is increasing. Figures from the Development Bank of Vanuatu show that in the 10 years to 1995, the proportion of total loans to women increased from S.8% in 1986 to 22.8% in 1995. In 1996, the Development Bank had 63 current loans in the fisheries sector, of which three were to women (one of these is a husband-and-wife team), all in Efate. The amounts of these loans are: 739,771 vt, 326,680 vt and 217,280 vt. Another fishing-related loan to a woman is an aluminium boat building operation in Efate.
Women have gained self-confidence in their own right3 and together with their male counterparts are contributing to the development of the country. It is important to appreciate that the,Ni-Vanuatu women who are making such steps are being supported by their husbands (and families).
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 Vunisea A. (1996). Up against several barriers - Pacific invisibility. Samudra (International collective in support of fish workers) no. 15: 26-33.
3 Mackenzie-Reur, V.L. (1995). Statistical profile on the situation of women in Vanuatu. ESCAP, Vila. 67 pp.
4 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.
5 Statistics Office (1993). Report on the smallholder agricultural survey 1992. Department of Agriculture & Horticulture. Statistics Office, Office of the Prime Minister, Port Vila, Vanuatu.