By Kate Bevitt, Communications Specialist at WorldFish. This blogpost was originally developed as part of WorldFish's The Fish Tank blog

Hearing and empowering women in a changing world


Equitable ocean governance

Oceans are important to everyone, yet access to ocean resources is seldom shared equitably. Many of the benefits are accumulated by a few, while most harms from development are born by the most vulnerable.

In 2020, the High-Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy (known as the Ocean Panel), consisting of 14 serving world leaders, commissioned a blue paper to examine the role of equity in securing a sustainable ocean economy.

Gender equality was a key theme in the Towards ocean equity blue paper, given the invisible inequities many women face in small-scale fisheries.

“Despite their contributions, women are little recognized in the sector and often marginalized in the management of marine resources. This is due to gender-blind policies, and a focus on formal and paid fishing activities or the production segment of fisheries value chains,” said co-author Danika Kleiber, formerly a research fellow with WorldFish and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, and now a social scientist with the NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.

“In several countries, women face barriers to profitable segments of supply chains and/or access to fishing grounds, boats, fishing gear, financial capital, credit, education, and alternative livelihoods. Women and minority groups also face access barriers to governing institutions and are not accounted for in fisheries management,” said Kleiber.

Based on the latest science and cutting-edge thinking, the paper identifies 12 opportunities for action, including key areas to improve gender equality.

“When governments and agencies engage in development activities, they must recognize the rights and needs of women, along with other marginalized groups, and invest in capacity building, education, and training programs,” said co-author Afrina Choudhury, a research fellow at WorldFish.

“There needs to be a shift away from ‘accommodative’ approaches toward gender-transformative approaches to encourage men and women to address harmful barriers and catalyze fair development outcomes.”

“Governance processes at all scales should be developed to incorporate local voices and visions—focusing on marginalized groups such as women—into plans for the ocean economy,” said Afrina, who also presented in a webinar about the paper’s findings.

The paper, one of 16 blue papers and special reports, will inform a new ocean report and the Ocean Panel’s action agenda.

Click here to watch the event recording.

Gender integration, research quality, and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has become a global calamity, with many countries adopting extraordinary measures to curb its spread, such as restrictions on movement and social interactions.

These restrictions have created challenges for research and development organizations collecting data and conducting research on how the pandemic has affected diverse women and men.

“Pandemic pressures present risks to research teams’ ability to design effectively,” said Jayne Curnow, research program manager for social sciences, ACIAR, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and co-author on the Safeguarding gender integration in research during the COVID-19 pandemic blogpost.

“For instance, research teams are relying more on virtual data collection, face time pressures leading to disciplinary silos and technical bias, and can be biased toward ‘households’ as the unit of analysis, obscuring differences between females and males.”

“Given the gendered implications of COVID-19, it has never been more important to attend to the quality of science by fully addressing the gendered dimensions of research,” said Curnow.

Safeguarding gender integration is key to effective, inclusive, and ethical research. Photo by Mona El Azzazy, WorldFish.

In early 2020, complementing the blogpost on safeguarding gender integration, WorldFish produced a research guide highlighting key strategies and tips for effective, inclusive, and ethical research during COVID-19 social distancing.

Ten strategies for research quality in distance research during COVID-19 and future food system shocks are based on four key elements: relevance, legitimacy, scientific credibility, and effectiveness. These reflect and grow from the pillars of the CGIAR frame of reference for the quality of research for development.

“The guide consolidates good practices into guiding principles and strategies researchers can use to engage with gendered and intersectional impacts and vulnerabilities, design studies that ‘do no harm,’ and inform COVID-19 responses that keep the wellbeing of women, girls, and marginalized groups at their center,” said Cynthia McDougall, gender research leader at WorldFish.

“These strategies are particularly relevant to research on the effects and innovations in response to COVID-19, but are also broadly applicable to any research-for-development work during these conditions.”

“Effectively integrating these strategies into research for development will inform policy and practice that do no harm and enable smooth and inclusive recoveries—especially for people most at risk,” she said.

Gender transformative approaches

A woman performs a drama on improving gender relations in Mukakani fishing camp, Mongu district, Western Province, Zambia. Photo by Olek Kaminski.

In Zambia, millions of women and men trade, process, and sell fish from small-scale fisheries. Yet, many of these people, particularly in low-income areas, face constraints that limit how they equitably engage in and benefit from the sector.

These include technical constraints, such as the use of poor methods when drying fish that result in post-harvest losses and waste, and social constraints, such as gendered power dynamics that restrict women’s involvement in fishery value chains and affect women’s decision-making capacities.

“Despite this, most extension and value chain development programs focus largely on technical constraints, while the ‘business as usual’ approach to gender is limited and may not contribute to substantive or lasting shifts in gender imbalances,” said Steve Cole, senior scientist, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, and a former gender scientist with WorldFish.

To address a knowledge gap on ways to alleviate gender constraints, researchers with WorldFish undertook a study to test two approaches: an accommodative and a transformative approach.

“The accommodative approach involved a more common ‘practical needs’ set of strategies to ensure women’s participation, while the transformative approach also incorporated a locally-inspired drama skit reflecting harmful norms and power relations, combined with facilitated discussions among women and men,” said Cole.

The results show that using a transformative approach led to significant changes in gender-equal attitudes and women’s empowerment outcomes. Figure taken from the infographic ‘Research reduces post-harvest fish losses.’

The study took place in fishing camps in the Barotse Floodplain and was done in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries, University of Zambia, and the Zambia Center for Communication Programmes.

Gender accommodative versus transformative approaches: a comparative assessment within a post-harvest fish loss reduction intervention was published in Gender, Technology, and Development in March 2020.

“The results show that the use of a transformative approach led to significant changes in gender-equal attitudes and women’s empowerment outcomes compared to only using an accommodative approach,” said Cole.

“The findings are relevant for development programs working in fisheries, who may want to use transformative approaches to help enable women and men to overcome the social and technical barriers that constrain their lives and livelihoods.”



Check out these additional stories and resources to learn more about the importance of women and their contributions to small-scale fisheries across the globe!


This article is part of the SSF Highlights series of articles published regularly to the SSF Hub.  To read previous SSF Highlights, follow this link

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