Building Gender Equality for Women in Seafood

Created on Sunday, 07 March 2021
Women in seafood
Credit: Mikel Allica –

Today, as we honor International Women’s Day, we recognize that economies, communities, and the environment all depend on gender equality. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge to highlight “the importance of challenging biases and misconceptions in the interest and support of creating a more inclusive and gender-equal world.” According to the United Nations (UN), gender equality means that the different behavior, aspirations, and needs of women and men are considered, valued, and favored equally. In celebration of International Women’s Day, FishWise has joined forces with SAGE (Seafood and Gender Equality) to encourage the seafood community to #ChooseToChallenge “and call out gender bias and inequality,” and uplift the millions of women hidden behind the nourishing seafood enjoyed in communities around the world.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, approximately 50% of people working in global seafood production are women; however, women’s contributions to the sector remain largely unacknowledged and their voices in decision making and management about the resources are seldom heard nor valued. Within the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Global Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calling for “urgent call for action by all countriesdeveloped and developingin a global partnership,” Goal 14, Life Below Water, is a key framework that guides many of the marine conservation organizations like FishWise. Goal 5, Gender Equality, is a cross-cutting theme of the SDGs and is considered an enabler and an accelerator of the other goals. However, as the authors of this recent ScienceDirect report, “Gender equality is diluted in commitments made to small-scale fisheries,” tell us, “Policy instruments, such as the SDGs, predominantly consider gender as an accelerant to instrumental goals, rather than of inherent value” and “we must recognize that gender equality is a mainstream principle of good environmental governance.” In fact, gender equality is a fundamental human right.

More than 20 years ago, the seafood community approached sustainability through the environmental lens of fisheries and fish farms globally. We quickly recognized that we could no longer solely address environmental well-being without incorporating the needs of the people and the communities within what we came to recognize as integrated systems. RISE, the Roadmap for Improving Seafood Ethics is a FishWise project created to help seafood companies address social responsibility in their supply chains. The FishWise-led program, Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability (SALT), intentionally integrates gender considerations into their work around the globe to raise the visibility of women’s roles in seafood traceability efforts. “SALT puts this priority into action by featuring women from around the world on traceability seminars with all-female experts from the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, and the U.S., ” said Jenny Barker, chief of party for SALT. Further integrating gender-positive strategies and incorporating the vast knowledge of women into sustainability initiatives has proven to lead to improved environmental outcomes. Advancing women’s empowerment and building gender equality is the next step in the evolution of the sustainable seafood movement and solving some of the most critical challenges facing our ocean and the communities that depend on this critical protein source.

SAGESAGE was founded in 2020 to spur the evolution of the sustainable seafood movement, encourage the uptake of gender-positive strategies in global seafood production, and build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive seafood industry. SAGE leads with the question, “What if we can solve some of the greatest challenges facing our ocean, like climate change, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, social injustice, and environmental degradation, which disproportionately affect women, by supporting gender equality efforts on the ground?” SAGE and its colleagues believe that we can, and the great news is that we are well on our way to developing tools and gathering insight to evolve the sustainable seafood movement and build a more gender-inclusive industry. 

An important step in this evolution is to quantify women’s contributions to the sector. Sarah Harper, as part of her doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries released a new study, Valuing invisible catches: estimating the global contribution by women to small-scale marine capture fisheries production, which quantifies women’s economic contributions to the sector. She notes that “Women’s fishing activities around the world amount to an estimated 3 million tonnes of marine fish and other seafood per year,” contributing significantly to food and livelihood security in all regions of the world, and a calculated value of “$5.6 billion per year or the equivalent of 12% of the landed value of all small-scale fisheries catches globally.” Sarah shared with us, “These findings are significant as many of these catches, often overlooked in official datasets, support the food and nutritional requirements of some of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society. By developing a dataset that is inclusive of all fishing activities, we can develop more meaningful policies that respond to several of the SDGs, in one go!”

An exciting recent development is the Asian Seafood Improvement Collaborative’s (ASIC) Social and Gender Standard, the latest tool to “address the complex social and gender challenges pervasive in the seafood sector.” It is applicable for “seafood operations of different sizes and structures, with the specific needs of small-scale and large-scale fisheries and aquaculture operations being addressed.” Gender equality principles are woven throughout the standard. “With this tool, we are hopeful that women will have an equal chance to participate in being at the forefront of driving improvements in fisheries and farming. It is about time we pay tribute to the unsung heroes of the seafood industry by ensuring they exercise their rights and get to have equal opportunities like other male-workers of the industry,” stated Rosanna Conteras, ASIC Chair and Executive Director of Socsksargen Federation of Fishing & Allied Industries, Inc.

Also in support of this work, guiding frameworks around building gender-inclusive Fishery Improvement Projects are in development or already available. The Global Marine Commodities for Sustainable Fisheries (GMC) issued the publication, Basic Guidelines for a Gender-Responsive Fishery Improvement Project, which includes “practical actions to incorporate gender considerations in a FIP.” The Blue Action Fund developed the Gender-responsive Guidance for Coastal Conservation and Sustainable Fisheries Projects, which aims to “provide a practical how-to for designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating gender-responsive projects in marine and coastal resource management.”

To #ChooseToChallenge and call out inequality this International Women’s Day, and every day, means that we uplift and illuminate the women behind our seafood; we incorporate gender-positive strategies in the projects we develop, support, and fund; and we recognize the immeasurable contributions and achievements of the millions of women behind the seafood we source, sell, and eat. Together, we choose a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable seafood sector and movement.

Co-written by:

Lana Brandt, FishWise Julie Kuchepatov, SAGE Founder

About SAGE: The Seafood and Gender Equality has a mission to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive seafood industry and sustainable seafood movement. To achieve the mission, SAGE uplifts, amplifies, and integrates the diverse voices of women in global seafood production through education, advocacy, and communication.

About Julie Kuchepatov: Julie is a proven thought leader in two global movements: sustainable seafood and fair trade. She has spent her career working directly with a variety of stakeholders in the seafood industry and the sustainable seafood movement to address some of the most pressing environmental and social challenges in global seafood production. As the Founding Director of SAGE (Seafood and Gender Equality), she is building a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive seafood industry and sustainable seafood movement.