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Closing the gender gap can help save our seafood

Sea of Women: A WWF Special

Together with WWF, we’re putting women back into the stories of oceans, in the context of the richest marine environment in the world: the Coral Triangle. In the first out of the three stories of the ‘Sea of Women’ series, WWF emphasizes the crucial role of women in the fisheries sector and how they contribute to a more sustainable fishery in the Philippines.

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04 September 2019 | Coral Triangle, Philippines

This Ocean Witness story is created by WWF, read the original version here.

Fish don't swim onto plates

“Women are always performing invisible labour. People don’t see women because they aren’t going out to sea, they’re just stuck in the factory,” said Joann Binondo, Manager of WWF-Philippines Sustainable Tuna Partnership.

Despite their critical involvement, the role of women in the fisheries sector is poorly understood, often downplayed as an extension of household labour, or simply unaccounted for.

“When we ask women what they do while their husbands are out at sea, they answer in a very self-deprecating way. “Wala, they say, we just stay at home,” Joann added.

In the fisheries sector, women tend to mirror social perceptions and see little value in the work they do and, in turn, in themselves.

But this could not be further from the truth. According to the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation), one in two seafood workers is a woman. While only 14 per cent of fishers or fish farmers are women, they represent a majority of the global labour force in the processing segments of the industry. As essential contributors to this important food industry, women are critical agents for change.

“Pre- and post- production are just as important as the harvest stage. Women keep this industry running,” asserted Raisa Pandan, who also works on the Sustainable Tuna Partnership.

Nestled within the Coral Triangle – the centre of our planet’s marine biodiversity – the Philippines is the world’s third largest producer of tuna, providing over 94,000 tonnes in 2018 alone. While most of the fishers bringing in the catch are men, women provide essential labour throughout the entire supply chain.

“Fish don’t just swim onto our plates. Without the work of women, the catch would not make it to the marketplace. And we may see a collapse of community livelihoods that are dependent on this whole process,"
Raisa added.

South of the Philippines’ tuna-rich seas, the largest area of mangrove forests in the world are found along Indonesia’s 95,000 km coastline, covering over 3 million hectares. And deep in the Bintuni Bay of West Papua lies Indonesia’s largest and arguably most lush area of continuous mangrove forests.

Here, mud is gold. Healthy mangroves contribute valuable nutrients to the marine ecosystem, without which the nearby seagrass and reef habitats would fail. Mangroves are also where mud crabs are found in abundance and Ferdinanda Karto, better known as Mama Nanda by her village, is a crab collector from the region’s Manibuy clan.

Against the odds of tradition, which mostly favours the opinions of men over women, Mama Nanda has been asserting her leadership in the village fishery discussions. She insists that every fisherman should only collect crabs that are above 200 grams in weight.

Why 200 grams? We asked Mama Nanda.

"If we take crabs that are below 200 grams, they will not have a chance to grow bigger. In the next few years or so, all the crabs will run out. It will be like snatching food away from our own children and grandchildren. Then what will they do?",

Mama Nanda explained with a sigh, perhaps exasperated from always asserting herself in village discussions, or maybe she is laden with worries for her own children.

Mama Nanda works with her husband Marani and often go out to sea together to look for crabs. They regularly purchase from 15 mud crab fishermen who are always reminded to collect crabs wisely. As collectors, they can refuse to purchase crabs that are too small in size or that are pregnant with eggs.

When challenged, she cites regulations by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, which helps to raise awareness among the fisherfolk too.

“We don’t use poison. Fish and crabs will die if we use chemicals, and that means fisherfolk like us need to work harder, and sail farther to get the fish. That’s not good for us. This is why we have to protect our fish resources,” added Mama Nanda, who is also an active champion of the village’s community-based fisheries management project, supported by WWF-Indonesia and the USAID Sustainable Ecosystems Advanced (SEA) project.

The small actions of Mama Nanda and other mamas (an endearing and respectful nickname for women elders) on the coast are important for the largest fishery assets in Bintuni Bay, and can have a major influence on sustaining traditional community-based fisheries in Indonesia.

In the Philippines, WWF is working to approach sustainable tuna fisheries through a gender lens perspective. Beginning with studying the role of women in the tuna industry, the Sustainable Tuna Partnership now plans to empower fisherfolk to start social enterprises, with a focus on gender inclusion.

“You’re not getting the whole story if you’re only looking at the fishermen. That’s the danger. Our fisheries, and everyone involved with them, would be better off if we put women back into the story,” said Raisa.

We couldn’t agree more with Raisa.

 

Footnote: Cover image – © Jürgen Freund / WWF

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Sea of Women: I

Philippines

Together with WWF, we're putting women back into the stories of oceans, in the context of the richest marine environment in the world: the Coral Triangle. In the first out of the three stories of the 'Sea of Women' series, WWF emphasizes the crucial role of women in the fisheries sector and how they contribute to a more sustainable fishery in the Philippines.