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Women Face Glass Ceiling in Fisheries Sector

Sustainability People

GLOBAL - A new report from the FAO shows that while women are estimated to make up nearly half of all people in the fisheries sector, their work often goes unrecognised and underpaid.

Women's access to opportunities and resources remains limited and their representation in positions of leadership trails far behind other industries, is another of the key findings of FAO's new review of women’s participation in the industry.

Capture fisheries, aquaculture and related post-capture activities support the livelihoods of over 120 million people, many of whom work in the traditional, small-scale sector.

Fish are also an important source of nutrition across the world and provides more than 20 per cent of animal protein in low-income food-deficit countries.

Increasing gender equality in the fisheries sector is important for food security – both at a household level, where women contribute essential food and income to their families, and at the global level, where the seafood industry faces the challenge of sustainably increasing production to feed a growing world population.

Production in the sector will need to rise by 20 to 30 million tonnes a year to meet these growing needs, according to FAO.

The globalisation of markets, stagnating catches from the world’s oceans, and climate change are among the factors putting extra pressure on the livelihoods of women in the fisheries sector.

In many cases, this adds to existing limits women entrepreneurs face due to established gender roles and a lack of access to resources like processing technology and storage facilities, according to the report, which traces women’s participation across the industry – from catch, to professional conferences to corporate board rooms.

Invisible women

While men continue to dominate capture fisheries, particularly offshore and industrial fishing, women across all regions are often relegated to processing, local sale and support roles, including cleaning boats and bringing fish to market, the report says.

These jobs are typically lower paid – in some cases unpaid – and less recognised for their contribution to the economy, employment and food security.

Future growth in the fisheries industry is expected to come from fish farming, while FAO is supporting governments and the private sector to keep capture fisheries stable and sustainable.

Yet, women who want to enter into fish production in some developing countries still face a lack of ownership rights that prevents them from owning a boat or land needed for fishing and fish farming.

Limited access to loans, in addition, often bars women from starting or upgrading their own businesses and adding value to their products to better compete in an increasingly globalised and mechanised industry.

Widespread gaps in sex-disaggregated data for the fisheries and aquaculture sector however are hindering efforts to address these gender issues, says FAO's study.

A new network for women in the industry

The problem of gender equality in the fisheries sector is not limited to small-scale fisheries in developing countries. It is also reflected in their relative absence in the board rooms, executive positions and fisheries conferences.

Out of the world’s 100 top seafood companies, only one company is currently run by a woman as CEO, according to the report, compared with 8 per cent of top positions held by women in the Fortune 100 USA companies.

“Right now, the higher up you look in the industry, the fewer women you see,” said Audun Lem, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Economics Division.

This, in turn, is keeping the industry back from rising to the food security challenge that lies ahead, he said.

“The industry will not rise to the challenge of scaling up production sustainably if it can’t attract the best people. And it can’t afford to exclude 50 per cent of people,” added Mr Lem.

To bring more women into higher management and research positions, FAO is working with corporations, seafood associations and universities to create a new network for women in the seafood industry.

The network will aim to give visibility to women in leadership positions and attract more female professionals to the sector.

The new network will be the first mechanism of its kind to target women’s roles in research and leadership positions in the industry and will augment other FAO initiatives that support women in small-scale fisheries at the community level.