Founding members of the Voices from the Shore Theatre Collective
L to R: Maria Pena, Sheena Griffith, Michelle Barrow, Sylvia White, Margaret Harding and Denise Noel-DeBique

April 2024

Story by Maria Pena, Michelle Barrow, Patrick McConney and Bertha Simmons

There is an urgent need to pay more attention to climate justice, blue justice and social justice in small-scale fisheries (SSF) given the increasing rates of change in both social and ecological systems globally as a result of climate and other factors, especially in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) such as Barbados. Catalysed by the SSF Guidelines, new images of human rights and justice are taking shape in Caribbean fisheries. Fisherfolk in Barbados, perceiving themselves as marginalized, are concerned about their invisibility in blue economy, climate change and national social protection initiatives and strategies. Their low capacity to respond to and resist injustices makes them anxious about the future of the fishing industry, their fisheries livelihoods and the well-being of their households.

Motivated and empowered fisherfolk can instigate and influence change. Empowering fisherfolk for justice advocacy requires innovative and novel approaches. An approach to empowerment that the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) has recently been exploring with the Regenerate Barbados Social Justice Working Group (a national environmental network) is the application of Popular Theatre to help transform SSF in Barbados. Also known as Forum Theatre or Participatory Theatre, this participatory action research engages individuals and communities to highlight social issues and many types of injustices to promote transformation. Popular Theatre integrates entertainment -- singing, dancing, storytelling, poetry, roleplaying, games and other cultural forms -- with the examination of issues and attitudes, knowledge sharing and ultimately initiating action for positive social change. It has been used to address issues within the Caribbean including gender and decent work, women's health, intimate partner violence, HIV and AIDS, and community-building. However, the application of Popular Theatre to SSF has been underutilized. It could be valuable for the promotion of social, blue and climate justice for fisherfolk. This is the first time it is being applied in the Barbados fishing industry.

Since March 2022, three women small-scale fish processors – Sheena Griffith, Margaret Harding and Sylvia White - have devoted personal time to developing their skills in Popular Theatre in sessions facilitated by a Theatre for Development specialist and coordinated by CERMES. The women fisherfolk were introduced to a number of techniques - games for groups, drawing, storytelling, roleplay, singing, poetry etc. – to sharpen their facilitation skills for leading Popular Theatre sessions. They are now able to train other women (and men) in this approach for agency in positive social change and transformation in the industry. The techniques stimulate individuals and groups to express themselves about the issues they face, and the actions needed to address them. And what a success it has been!

In the two years of capacity building these women fisherfolk have highlighted many issues that women and men in fisheries are coping with in relation to social justice, climate justice and blue justice. Through a CERMES project on Amplifying Climate Justice for Fisherfolk in the Barbados Blue Economy (Just BE Fisherfolk), funded by Open Societies Foundation (OSF), the group is looking to further build fisherfolk capacity for proactive climate justice. They are empowering themselves and others within their communities as advocates and influencers of climate change adaptation within Barbados blue economy initiatives.

The group is known as Voices from the Shore Theatre Collective, a name developed by the women along with a logo for easy visual identification. The group has developed poems (e.g. Fisherwoman’s Lament, Authority Lost) and role play videos. These creative outputs bring attention to fisherfolk livelihoods, challenges and injustices faced. Some have emphasized the hard work of women fisherfolk, the health impacts of their livelihood and the double work of women (paid and unpaid work). Filmed role play has highlighted a range of social, emotional, economic and governance issues that fisherfolk must deal with daily. These include inappropriate social protection for fisherfolk in Barbados; occupational hazards including workplace injury, loss of life and crimes at sea; rising fuel prices affecting costs of fishing and fish; and environmental phenomena, particularly Sargassum influxes, that have reduced flyingfish catches and the income earning ability of small-scale processors.

Three members of Voices from the Shore Theatre Collective preparing to record, Who Feels It Knows It, as a promotional output for World Day of Social Justice 2024

The most recent poem developed by Sheena Griffith (the group’s star poet!) and performed by the group, Who Feels It Knows It, was released on World Day of Social Justice and has brought attention to social injustices in the fishing industry that fisherfolk must respond to and resist. Fisherfolk combat stigmatization and low socio-economic status stereotyping as illiterate, uneducated and crude. Fisherfolk are impacted by blue economy “progress” as fish markets are closed to make way for tourism development with no attention to replacement facilities where fisherfolk can attract customers. Fisherfolk feel unheard. Tokenistic involvement of fisherfolk in fishing industry and blue economy decision-making disrespects them and ignores their local knowledge. The decide, announce and defend approach taken by state actors is counterproductive to blue economy development and transformation of the fishing industry. Power imbalances within and external to the industry prevent data and information being communicated to fisherfolk. Small-scale fishers feel they are being phased out by moves towards privatisation and larger processors; small-scale fisherfolk believe state actors are “pushing out the small man (and woman)”. These are a sample of perceived injustices identified for action through the use of Popular Theatre to find solutions. As issues are explained, fisherfolk will begin to feel empowered to take action to pursue the necessary fixes and claim justice.

These women small-scale processors are keen to expand and hone their skills in this tool to perform for or with audiences including their peers, government officials, donors, academia, journalists, the general public etc. to advocate for small-scale fisherfolk rights. Already the group is building its critical mass, growing in size to include other women fisherfolk and others interested in gender in fisheries. The Just BE Fisherfolk project provides the opportunity for further capacity building and development of this group to create a foundation for justice advocacy. 

Some of the members of Voices from the Shore Theatre Collective chatting with fisherfolk about climate justice at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex (a Just BE Fisherfolk project activity)

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