General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean - GFCM

New study sheds light on women's roles, challenges and opportunities in Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries


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Women work just under a third of all fishing-related jobs in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. These are the data revealed by Women in fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region: roles, challenges and opportunities, a new study released today by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division. Yet, persisting biases mean that these figures likely still underestimate the true contributions of women to the economies of coastal fishing communities. The publication aims to bring the issue of gender equity in fisheries to the forefront of key discussions and offer policymakers a framework from which to build. The full integration of women's knowledge and experience into key decisions promises to improve their lives, as well as those of their families and community members.

Counting women in

©FAO/Amine Landoulsi

Data on women's contributions to fisheries are limited worldwide, as women often perform behind-the-scenes tasks to support family fishing enterprises – for example, fixing nets, cleaning fish or bookkeeping – which can be difficult to capture in official statistics. Furthermore, when statistics do cover activities along the full value chain, they are rarely reported separately by gender.

“If you don't have evidence, you don't know that the problem is there. If you are not counted, you are invisible," said a Mediterranean gender expert interviewed anonymously for this study.

Women's voices and experience cannot be lost – they must be integrated into fisheries management to achieve the sustainability of marine ecosystems and improve the standard of living in coastal communities. “To find solutions for the problems in the sector we need men and men need women, because we have different knowledge and practices that complement each other," stated a Black Sea fisheries policy expert.

©GFCM/Dani Monllor

Mixed-methods approach

The publication illuminates this data-poor subject through a mixed quantitative–qualitative approach. First-ever comprehensive estimates of women's contributions to fisheries across the whole Mediterranean and Black Sea region are complemented by qualitative analyses based on key informant interviews conducted with people from five different countries representing a diversity of fisheries contexts in the GFCM area of application. These conversations with fishers, fisheries managers, researchers and gender experts – those individuals with the most experience and highest stake in this issue – brought forward various themes that became the basis for a set of actions recommended to the GFCM and other decision-makers in the region.

©GFCM/Ainhoa Goma

The study's recommended actions require varying degrees of commitment from the countries and financial resources, and chief among them is the need for gender-disaggregated data collection all the way along the fisheries value chain. They represent necessary steps towards improving the working conditions of women in fisheries, as well as the overall sustainability and social and economic prosperity of fishing communities.

By the numbers

Up-to-date employment figures are broken down by gender according to GFCM subregion and value chain stage, and they reveal that women's jobs in Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries are overwhelmingly concentrated in the post-harvest stage (which includes work to repair nets and clean boats, sort and clean the catch, and process and market fish).

©UN Women

Women account for 38 percent of regional employment in the post-harvest stage, compared to 16 percent and 10 percent in the pre-harvest and harvest sector stages, respectively. Women’s employment is greater in the industrial fishing segment than in small-scale fisheries, though this figure likely underestimates women’s employment in the small-scale sector, especially in non-vessel-based jobs, given the lack of systematized data collection on this type of employment.

The role of the GFCM

The GFCM is pursuing efforts to address biases against women in Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries, including by supporting the creation and recognition of women's organizations and facilitating women's access to equipment and social protection programmes.

©GFCM/Intissare Aamri

The publication showcases the potential of another recommended action: promoting gender-sensitive projects and trainings by identifying key female stakeholders for participation in meetings and courses and creating an environment where women are encouraged to engage and express themselves. To select interviewees for the study, the authors relied on a network of cooperatives, research institutes, government administrations and other organizations that the GFCM has built up over years of committed action, including by contacting fishers and fisher organizations that had previously engaged with the GFCM in events such as sessions of the Small-Scale Fishers’ Forum.

"It is taking time for the people, our families, to understand the nature of our work and the risks and difficulties we face. Awareness needs to be raised. We are very passionate about our work, we are interested in continuing to progress and achieve stability, and in our right to exist in the sector,” concluded a Mediterranean female fisher interviewed in the study.

Hear from GFCM experts and partners

Euronews: Anna Carlson, GFCM Fishery Officer (Livelihoods), talks about the invisible workers in the fishing industry: “Even if we tend to think of fisheries as a male dominated sector, you find women in all facets of the fishing sector.”

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