By: Sangeeta Mangubhai and Alyssa Thomas
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to take a step back and reflect on women and the contribution they make to all levels of society.
And nowhere is this clearer than if we took a closer look at Fiji’s fisheries sector. All we need to do is walk out to our shorelines to see women out collecting and harvesting to feed or provide an income for their family. If we go to our local markets, we can see large groups of women who have travelled up from their villages to sell their produce to us “city-dwellers”. And if we take a moment in our busy lives to sit down and listen to our mothers, our aunts, our grandmothers, they will share their rich knowledge about the marine life on our doorstep. Basically, it is a free biology lesson!
Those who have grown up in Fiji inherently know that women play a critical and vital role in our fisheries. No one is likely to deny this fact. However, as a country we do not give women the due recognition they deserve. For example, women in the fisheries sector generally are not given the same opportunities for training and capacity building as men. Although they are heavily invested in both subsistence and commercial fisheries, women are very poorly represented in decisions that are made in fisheries planning and management.
In late 2017, a number of organisations came together; determined to elevate and improve the recognition of the role women play in the fisheries sector. Together these partners − Ministry of Fisheries (MoF), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) network, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji (WiFN-Fiji), the University of the South Pacific (USP) and Conservation International (CI) – will visit nine provinces in Fiji to sit down with the women and document the diversity of fisheries women are engaged in, their contributions to their families and to our broader society in terms of livelihoods (or local economy) and food security. We are taking the time to listen to their issues, their needs.
To-date over 650 women have been surveyed across five provinces, 21 districts and 51 villages. In addition, WCS is partnering up with UN Women and their “Markets for Change” program to meet with and survey women selling seafood at markets to learn more about that side of their involvement in fisheries. An important part of this work is making sure there are “safe spaces” for these women when they travel up to municipal markets to sell their seafood. We want to learn more about the barriers they face in accessing and selling seafood at the market and what support they need.
Each and every one of us needs to do our part to make sure that when we talk about our fisheries, and make decisions about those same fisheries, that both men and women are fairly represented. We cannot have one or the other – their roles are complementary and essential to our society. On International Women’s Day, we take a moment and thank these women for all they do for Fiji. And let’s make sure that we not forget them for the remaining 364 days of the year!