Quantcast

Want to Protect the Oceans? Empower Women

Scientists are beginning to tally just how much food women are bringing home from the ocean. Oceana / Instagram

By Amy McDermott

Picture someone fishing, and a woman probably doesn't come to mind. Men are the face of fisheries work, even though women are its backbone in much of the world.

Half of seafood workers are female. Women net fish, spear octopus, dig clams, dive for abalone and pack and process seafood, yet are consistently denied a voice in fisheries management.


That's more than unfair. Excluding women overlooks half the workforce, and all the fish and shellfish they pull out of the water. Ignoring such a sizable chunk of fishing sets communities up to overexploit their resources, according to a 2006 study from the University of British Columbia. It's a recipe for overfishing and ocean depletion.

In the Tuvalu Islands, for example, a government initiative to restore edible sea snails failed because it only consulted men. Women also harvest the snails, and continued collecting them as usual, unknowingly trouncing the restoration effort.

Female fishers have deep knowledge of the seafoods they catch and the rhythms of the beaches where they work, often passed down matriarchal lines. They have strong incentives to manage natural resources sustainably, experts say, but first they need a seat at the table.

This scene in Mozambique is familiar in small-scale fisheries around the world, where women walk the shallows with nets or poles, catching fish and mollusks. OCEANA / Ana de la Torriente

Pull Up a Chair

A glut of factors conspire to silence women in fisheries. Overt sexism is part of the problem, but sometimes exclusion is subtler. It can come down to definitions of fishing.

Around the world, men and women often catch seafood in gender-specific ways. Men tend to work in deeper water with specialized fishing gears, while women walk the shallows catching fish and shellfish at low tide, according to a 2013 study. Traditionally, men's work was considered fishing, the study said, while women were marginalized as collectors or gatherers.

Reasons for fishing also split along gendered lines. Women often work to feed their families, while men focus on lucrative species to sell, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

In societies where women manage the home and children, they may not have time to come to male-organized meetings, even if they are technically allowed, according to a study by economist Bina Agarwal at the University of Manchester, England. Social norms can also keep women quiet, in deference to men, if they do attend meetings.

In southwest Madagascar, for example, women walk the reef flats at low tide, collecting octopus with spears or rebar, while men dive for larger octopus and more valuable species in deeper water. Eighty-six percent of women harvest octopus, compared to 31 percent of men. Yet men, especially elders, dominate decision-making for the octopus fishery in village meetings, according to a 2013 study by the UK-based marine conservation group Blue Ventures.

"While some women do attend these meetings," authors Kame Westerman and Sophie Benbow of Blue Ventures wrote, "most do not have the time, desire, or support of their husbands and families."

Domestic demands pull women into fishing, and ironically, also lock them out of decision-making.

Those same household responsibilities also make women good stewards of their environment, Agarwal wrote, because they depend on natural resources day-in and day-out. In the rural forests of Gujarat, India, for example, women collect firewood daily for household chores and cooking. Men cut timber more sporadically. They can wait longer for felled trees to grow back.

It's women, villagers told Agarwal in 1995, who can't afford a depleted environment.

Preparing fish in Fiji, where women often catch dinner Amy McDermott

Lifting All Voices

Fisheries management is better when women are included. At the most basic level, that's because women are half the population. No decision reflects a community's reality without them.

Empowering projects are underway around the world.

In the Pacific Islands, Fiji's Ministry of Fisheries hosted a national forum last year to recognize and empower female fishers. A second meeting convened this May, where some women said they now raise concerns in village meetings.

In Sri Lanka, a project empowering women to restore badly-damaged mangrove habitats aims to bolster fisheries fringing the island. More than 7,000 women across 1,500 poor coastal villages trained to plant and tend mangrove saplings, in return for small loans at low interest to start their own businesses. The women keep an eye out for illegal clearing, which they report as part of the program. Empowering women as stewards of the mangroves aims to restore the forests, which provide critical nursery habitat for the island's subsistence fisheries, but have been largely cut down for development.

Efforts like these chip away at inequity, though progress toward fairness is slow. Women remain largely voiceless in fisheries in much of the world. Think how the oceans might change, what potential, if women were free to unleash theirs.

Collecting shells on Bantayan Island, the Philippines. Empowering women in fisheries management, experts say, is one way to safeguard abundant oceans. Candeze Mongaya

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mizina / iStock / Getty Images

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Oats are widely regarded as one of the healthiest grains you can eat, as they're packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Read More Show Less
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City. Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Sriram Madhusoodanan of Corporate Accountability speaking on conflict of interest demand of the People's Demands at a defining action launching the Demands at COP24. Corporate Accountability

By Patti Lynn

2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."

Read More Show Less
The head of England's Environment Agency has urged people to stop watering their lawns as a climate-induced water shortage looms. Pexels

England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Jessica Corbett

A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A flock of parrots in Telegraph Hill, San Francisco. ~dgies / Flickr

By Madison Dapcevich

Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.

Read More Show Less
Fire burns in the North Santiam State Recreational Area on March 19. Oregon Department of Forestry

An early-season wildfire near Lyons, Oregon burned 60 acres and forced dozens of homes to evacuate Tuesday evening, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) said, as KTVZ reported.

The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Hardeman is the plaintiff in the first U.S. federal trial claiming that Roundup causes cancer. NOAH BERGER / AFP / Getty Images

A second U.S. jury has ruled that Roundup causes cancer.

The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The decision comes less than a year after a jury awarded $289 million to Bay-area groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson over similar claims. The amount was later reduced to $78 million.

"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."

Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.

"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.