Synthesis of case studies on the role of women in fishing communities
by B.P. Satia - Programme Coordinator
and C. Zanou Wétohossou - Consultant
Being involved in artisanal fisheries activities, women have become unavoidable actors in the socio-economic development of West African countries. And yet, despite this key role, the importance of their contribution is often not well known. Thus, in 1995, IDAF Programme set up a Working Group on women's key role and issues related to gender in fishing communities. This group, composed of eleven women, all distinguished scientists and rural development experts in the sub-region, undertook ten case studies in fourteen (14) regions in eight countries. It also organized two meetings for an in-depth thought about women's effective involvement in fishing communities.
As the understanding of women's role in development is changing, the policy about women is changing progressively too.
The most relevant changes, from a theoretical perspective are:
1. The woman, who was mainly considered as reproductive, is still is, but from now on in a threefold role of reproduction, production and works within the community.
2. The shift from a view which ignored women to the one of relationship between women and men, in other words the shift from the concept of "women in development" to that of
3. The shift from the consideration of practical needs to that of strategic ones, that is from now on, the interest is focused more on relations of power and social control between women and men, or even on power exercised by women.
4. A change in the analysis unit that shifted from the woman and the household to women and men from different socio-ethnic groups and the relationships among them.
5. The desire to break with the "Mamu Syndrom", that is an interpretation of the society according to which the latter is ruled by adult men of average age with a university training.
IDAF Programme did not stand aloof from this process. Indeed, since it started in 1983, it has paid special attention to activities related to artisanal fisheries, as well as to community development activities within fishing communities. In 1990 it organized a round table to synthesize information related to women's contribution to artisanal fisheries. In 1995, the Programme set up a working group to think about women's roles and issues related to gender in fishing communities. The members of this Working Group are eleven distinguished scientists and experts from the countries covered by IDAF.
OBJECTIVES OF THE COTONOU MEETINGS
They were held from 28th to 30th August and from 9th to 12th October 1995.
The first reflection meeting dealt mainly with the development of a strategy for the analysis of women's role, identification of the difficulties women face and the search for solutions to improve their living and working conditions.
The second meeting dealt with the analysis of case studies per country, identification of the specific characteristics of each country, and the development of a methodological framework for detailed studies.
CHARACTERISTICS OF COUNTRIES
The ten case studies concern activities related to fisheries in the regions of M'Bour and Joal in Senegal, Kaback and Kamsar in Guinea, Koko in the Delta State in Nigeria, Limbe and Kribi in Cameroon, Brufut and Gunjur in the Gambia, Grand-Lahou and Adiake in Côte d'Ivoire, Aguégués and Ayiguinnou in Benin and finally Elmina in Ghana.
In all these regions, the main activity of women is the processing and marketing of fishery products.
In Senegal, women partly fund in advance the means of production, organise themselves in economic interest group and in federations to ensure the sustainability of their activities in the fishing environment.
In Cameroon and Benin, the relationships between women and men are often those of partnership and dependence. In the region of Koko in Nigeria, women are involved in fishery production. In the Gambia, women wish to be trained in order to be better involved in production and increase their incomes.
The surveys carried out in those eight countries reveal that all the fisherfolk communities face similar difficulties. The problems women face come from the lack of credit, the absence of storage infrastructures and their dependence vis-à-vis men for fish supply.
Studies also reveal that women spend more than 50% of their incomes on food. Children care and savings come second and third respectively. In addition, there are ecology, hygiene and sometimes health problems caused by smoking, as well as the lack of training in accountancy and management for women.
OPPORTUNITIES AND PERSPECTIVESS
Development opportunities for the fishing sector are evidenced by the interest of the international community to promote woman and especially woman in rural area.
Considering these advantages and insufficiencies and sometimes the potentialities existing in the eight countries investigated, the working group recommended the following:
- strengthen, in Ghana, the Gambia and Côte d'Ivoire women's organisation in fishing communities.
- evaluate production costs and the incomes generated by women's activities in the fishing communities of Nigeria, Benin and Guinea.
- assess the nutrition, hygiene, and health aspects of women and children in the fishing communities of Cameroon and Senegal.