“If we only think of fishing as men in boats pulling nets out of the water, we’re missing half the story. When we only tell half the story we’re in danger of underestimating how many animals are being caught, what types of animals are being caught, and why types of habitats are important for fishing. Not only that, we’re missing how families feed themselves, how they pay for school or health care, or how they share with their neighbors. When we miss half the story we are more likely to make fishing and conservation management decisions that don’t work.”

—- Dr. Danika Kleiber

“Engaging women in conservation and development doesn’t mean excluding men, it means not excluding anyone.”

          —-New Course (gender-based conservation and development organization)

Editor’s note: Over the past few months, MEAM has been digging into the incredibly fascinating literature on how gender interacts with ocean conservation and management. What we found are a lot of compelling arguments that understanding and addressing gender dynamics is essential for developing effective ocean governance and fostering the sustainable use of ocean resources. Here’s a synthesis of what we learned, with a focus on recent research and guidance.[1]

Why incorporating gender perspectives into ocean conservation and management isn’t just the right thing to do for gender equity – it’s the right thing to do for ocean conservation and management

  • One of the primary reasons that it is critical to consider gender in ocean conservation and management is that, in most societies, men and women use coastal and ocean spaces very differently
  • A typical pattern (in many developing countries as well as developed countries) is that men “fish” coastal and offshore areas for species to be sold at market while women extract diverse marine resources (crabs, shellfish, octopus, other invertebrates, seaweed, etc.) from nearshore areas (“gathering”, “gleaning”, “farming”) for household consumption.

    • An example of this pattern comes from a recent study that used interviews, diaries, and seascape transects to examine the role of gender in coastal resource use and management in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Researchers found a highly gendered division of labor with men using the whole seascape (coastal forest, mangroves, seagrass beds, corals, and deep sea) for their fishing and other activities, and women remaining in coastal and nearshore areas (coastal forest, mangroves, seagrass beds) for their gleaning and seaweed farming activities. Women remain close to the home so that they can continue their childcare and other household responsibilities, and because they lack boat transport, swimming skills, and fishing gear.
    • Of course, the generalizations above do not always hold true because there are as many different scenarios for marine resource use as there are households, communities, and societies. In a number of countries such as Benin, Cambodia, Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tanzania, and Thailand, women do actually fish from their own boats. And in other countries, such as Uganda, women do not ordinarily fish from their own boats, but they own boats and hire men to crew them.
    • Fortunately for diversity – and unfortunately for ease of marine resource management – gender often needs to be examined at a site-specific level to be relevant. In some areas of Mozambique, women have minimal involvement in fisheries, while in other areas of the nation, women are the primary fish traders because so many men are employed in South African mines.  

More women → Better management?

A dramatic example of this type of dynamic can be seen at the Burgos Birds and Fish Sanctuary MPA in the Philippines where women voluntarily patrol the MPA, often accompanied by their children, to ensure food security for their families and future generations.

But has anyone really, really proved that incorporating gender perspectives into ocean conservation and management is critical to effective outcomes?

Also, gender analysis isn’t just about understanding women

How climate change and globalization are changing gender roles

A few other ways in which gender interacts with ocean conservation and management

What should practitioners do next? Recommendations from the literature

Additional successful examples of and resources for mainstreaming gender in coastal and marine management can be found here, here, here, and here. Teaming up with sociologists and anthropologists working an area can help conservation and management practitioners better understand and account for relevant gender issues.

[1] Gender refers to the social roles associated with a person’s biological sex (i.e., male or female) as well as a person’s self-identification of their gender (i.e., gender identity, which is not limited to male and female). For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the first use of gender – the diverse social roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes – associated with men and women.

[2] Some European countries (France and, to a lesser degree, Spain, Portugal, and Finland) are now attempting to recognize this “invisible” work by providing formal recognition and legal status for “collaborative spouses” (EU Directive 86/613). Collaborative spouse status gives women access to social benefits such as maternity leave coverage, social security, old age pensions, training, etc. as well as the opportunity to join historically male fishers’ organizations and access professional training.

Photo credits:

#1 – Traditional harvester of mangrove oysters, Sine Saloum region, woman of Soucouta village, Senegal. Julien Saison. Used under CC BY-SA 4.0

#2 – Women removing the shell from mangrove mudshells in Malaita, Solomon Islands. Wade Fairley, 2012. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

#3 – Women Processing Fish, Indonesia. Adam Cohn, 2016. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

#4 – Woman setting up a fish net, Bangladesh. WorldFish, 2006. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

#5 – A local women sells fish at the Bor Fish Market in Joglei, 2017. UNMISS. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

#6 – Fishermen. David Denicolò, 2016. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

#7 – An OCTO employee, Raye Evrard, and fellow scientists aboard a NOAA research vessel. Used by permission of Raye Evrard. 

#8 – Women of Seychelles lead efforts towards healthy oceans. UN Women/Ryan Brown, 2017. Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.