Women are a mainstay of fisheries in West Africa. But they get a raw deal
Across West Africa, the artisanal fishing sector is a crucial source of livelihoods and food security. For example, in Nigeria, artisanal fishing represents 80% of fish consumed and supports the livelihoods of about 24 million people.
Both men and women work in the sector, although the workforce – across the region – is divided by gender. Men dominate fishing and production while women dominate post-harvest treatment, such as dressing, sorting, salting and smoking fish. Women too do the most sales and marketing. Women thus play a crucial role in artisanal fishing.
We have conducted research on the governance of marine resources in West Africa for the past six years. This included field research in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Our research has revealed that poor governance of fisheries compromises the livelihoods of fishermen.
Research elsewhere shows that women in particular get a raw deal. Their contributions to the sector are vastly underpaid, undervalued and largely invisible. This affects them in many ways – for example, they have less access to capital and other resources.
Because women do not earn enough money and are limited in their roles in the fishery, they do not have purchasing power buy enough fish to earn a living for long periods of time. They don’t have either access processing and storage facilities required to prevent loss of fish through spoilage.
We are now carrying out research that explores these vulnerabilities. The countries we are looking at are Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and São Tomé & Principe. In this ongoing research, we examine to what extent COVID-19 has exacerbated the particular challenges women face.
Gender bias at the institutional level – like fisheries ministries, management agencies and financial institutions – is a major challenge for women in the fisheries sector. Fisheries policy development and management neglects women’s (often informal) contributions. Their contributions to fishing are treated as an extension of their daily lives and responsibilities, which makes them invisible in the blue economy.
This institutional invisibility reduces access to capital, thus limiting their ability to develop or diversify their livelihoods. The expansion of fishery livelihoods and diversification among women are further complicated by the fact that they must balance productive and reproductive roles, and many use the majority of their income to meet household expenses.
Loss of fish after harvest deterioration is another durable challenge for women transformers. They typically lack of access adequate cold storage and preservation equipment, such as smoking wood and ice to keep, both of which must be purchased and are subject to limited supply.
Another challenge for women is the depletion of fish stocks. Half of the fish species in the waters off West Africa are overexploited. This reduces the fish caught and limit access that women must fish for processing and sale. Competition for access to fish is increasing and as a result there are reports of women trading sexual favors to ensure a regular supply of fish.
Implications and next steps
The challenges facing women in West African fisheries have dire implications.
Institutional invisibility means they are marginalized. They are often excluded from politics or financial aid.
Post-harvest losses of fish due to deterioration and depletion of fish stocks threaten the economic and food security of communities. women in fishing and their families.
Reduced access to fish increases competition for this precious resource, with dangerous consequences. Globally, rates of HIV / AIDS infection in fishing communities range from 4 and 14 times higher than national averages, with transactional sex the link does not work in the fishing sector contributing to this high prevalence.
Through our work, we have found that women in the fisheries sector have coping mechanisms in the form of women’s cooperatives. Women’s cooperatives at national and regional levels provide “safety nets” for women in the fisheries sector, through financial support, advocacy and fundraising. In Côte d’Ivoire, women’s cooperatives, such as The Union of Cooperative Societies of Women in Fishing and Assimilated Côte d’Ivoire, provide support by regulating informal lending relationships on behalf of women who are otherwise exploited by loan sharks.
But there is still a long way to go, especially as COVID-19 restrictions make it harder for women to access, store and sell fish stocks – something we are seeing in our research in Classes.
Steps policymakers should take include better cold storage for preserving fish and processing infrastructure – such as room ovens and freezers – to extend the shelf life of landed fish.
In addition, West African governments should consider establishing and supporting financial organizations – such as credit unions and cooperatives to provide credit at affordable rates – in order to alleviate the burden of financial risks that women face. faced along the fisheries value chain.