Most of the Pacific’s population is coastal, and therefore our people are highly reliant on inshore fisheries for their food and livelihood needs. What most people don’t realise or appreciate is that women make up a large percentage of those involved in formal and informal fisheries sector. In many cases, women are the primary protein and/or income supporter for their families.
Despite this, women are often excluded from governance and decision-making, and are not afforded the same opportunities as others, to raise their issues and concerns, and be part of the solutions for sustainable fisheries management. The same can also be said for youth, the elderly, and those living with disabilities.
Currently, we are seeing unprecedented regional and global commitments towards addressing gender inequality in coastal fisheries. For example, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication in 2015, to provide principles and guidance to countries on addressing small-scale fisheries. Two years later FAO released specific guidelinesTowards gender-equitable small-scale fisheries governance and development. There guidelines draw on numerous human rights conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to promote social development and improve governance in developing country fisheries, particularly of vulnerable and marginalized fishing groups.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of gender in fisheries management in the Pacific is hindered by the fact that these issues are often addressed by separate ministries and are poorly integrated or mainstreamed into sectors such as fisheries. Without the knowledge, tools or enabling conditions for integration, fisheries managers and practitioners will continue to struggle to ensure fisheries management approaches are holistic, inclusive of gender and all stakeholder groups, and are uniquely tailored to the Pacific.
There is also a great divide between “guidelines” and “practice” on the ground. To address this, a handbook on Pacific Gender Equity and Social Inclusion in Coastal Fisheries and Aquaculture was launched by the Pacific Community (SPC) in April this year. The handbook was developed by 30 people from 20 different organisations including the SPC and Wildlife Conservation Society, and is reflective of the importance of this work in the Pacific. The handbook provides practical guidance for Pacific Island government staff and practitioners working in fisheries and aquaculture.
The modules are structured around the tasks such as the planning and implementation of projects and programmes, including social analysis, monitoring and evaluation, and policy development. It also focuses on the responsibilities of Pacific Island governments to help promote sustainable development outcomes for people who rely on coastal fisheries for their livelihoods. Later this year another four modules will be developed on community engagement, coastal fisheries management, sustainable livelihoods, and oceanic fisheries.
But why is gender and social inclusion important in the fisheries sector?
Gender equality is central to sustainable fisheries management, and ultimately to improve livelihoods and food security, especially for the most vulnerable. It is important to understand gender equality is not about promoting women over men, or promoting practices that are disrespectful to men or to our Pacific Island cultures. It is about recognizing the different and complimentary roles that men and women play in fisheries, and how these roles define who has the power, who has the influence, and who ultimately is making decisions about how fisheries resources are used or allocated.
Put another way, sustainable fisheries in the Pacific will be hard to achieve, if we only engage or support the aspirations of half the population. Gender equity and social inclusion, if done correctly, should mean everyone wins! This is what many practitioners in the Pacific are now terming “a people-centric approach”, where everyone counts, and no one is left behind.
A copy of the handbook can be freely downloaded from: https://coastfish.spc.int/en/component/content/article/494