Gender discrimination is perpetuated in women's limited access to credit, storage facilities and training
Fisheries are essential to the economic well-being of millions of rural people in the developing world. Capture fisheries and aquaculture provide direct employment for some 200 million people, the vast majority of whom work in the traditional, small-scale sector, which accounts for about 70% of fisheries production.
Fish and other aquatic species are also vital to food security. They provide almost 30% of the animal protein consumed in Asia and the Pacific, and more than 20% in low-income food-deficit countries.
FAO's strategy for fisheries development seeks to enhance productivity in the small-scale sector - and its contribution to food security and livelihoods - in the face of growing competition from industrial capture fisheries and large-scale aquaculture.
Gender dimensions of fisheries and aquaculture
Capturing fish in coastal and deep-sea waters is almost always a male domain, and carries with it high occupational health and safety risks. Women in fishing households do perform preparatory work, such as mending nets, although their contribution is often "informal" and rarely remunerated.
Women's most prominent role - in small-scale and industrial fisheries - is in post-harvest, processing and marketing. In West Africa, as much as 80% of seafood is marketed by women. In fish processing factories surveyed in India, 60% of workers were young women. In Vietnam, females make up 80% of the aquaculture workforce.
Gender roles and responsibilities are evolving. In parts of Cambodia and Thailand, women increasingly fish and own boats. In Bangladesh, women make up about 60% of fish farmers, and many are successful entrepreneurs. But much of women's contribution to fisheries is "invisible". Gender discrimination stems from the low value attached to women's work and is perpetuated in their limited access to credit, processing technology, storage facilities and training.
Without training and storage technology, many women traders are unable to keep fish fresh, and suffer considerable post-harvest losses. In West Africa, studies found that the poorest fishmongers in the processing and sales chain had access to only low quality fish and no access at all to market information - or ice.
Programmes for the mechanization of small-scale fisheries production risk displacing women from traditional sources of livelihoods. In India, the motorization of fishing vessels in one area led to bigger catches and the replacement of women fishmongers by male merchants. Studies show that when improved fish preservation and processing facilities are made available, men engaged in capturing fish begin to compete with women for access.
Gender discrimination follows women into the industrial processing sector. Women from fishing communities in India who became wage earners in the seafood export industry were found to be paid less than men, and were away from their homes for longer periods, making it more difficult for them to fulfill their domestic roles.
Opportunities offered by aquaculture also need to be assessed from a gender perspective. If a woman knows she may lose a fish pond at the death of her husband, she may not invest in the enterprise. The introduction of cage culture may deprive women of water used for drinking, washing dishes or soaking cassava. If aquaculture reduces water levels in wells, women may have to look for other, more distant sources.
FAO's targets 2008-2013
To mainstream gender equity in its programmes for sustainable management of fisheries and aquaculture, FAO has set itself the following targets to 2013:
Use women's empowerment as an indicator in assessing the contribution of small-scale aquaculture to sustainable rural development.
Incorporate gender concerns in information and other tools for aquaculture development, and increase women's participation in training in management, seed production and entrepreneurship.
Fisheries research and management
Improve the ratio of men and women trained or participating in capacity building in fisheries research and management.
Include gender as a thematic area in FAO's Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010.