Study sheds light on women’s roles, challenges, opportunities in Mediterranean fisheries

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Women work just under a third of all fishing-related jobs in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. These are the data revealed by women in fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region: roles, challenges and opportunities, a new study released by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in collaboration with the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division.

Yet, persisting biases mean that these figures likely still underestimate the true contributions of women to the economies of coastal fishing communities. The publication aims to bring the issue of gender equity in fisheries to the forefront of key discussions and offer policymakers a framework from which to build. The full integration of women’s knowledge and experience into key decisions promises to improve their lives, as well as those of their families and community members.

Data on women’s contributions to fisheries are limited worldwide, as women often perform behind-the-scenes tasks to support family fishing enterprises — for example, fixing nets, cleaning fish or bookkeeping — which can be difficult to capture in official statistics. Furthermore, when statistics do cover activities along the full value chain, they are rarely reported separately by gender.

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“If you don’t have evidence, you don’t know that the problem is there. If you are not counted, you are invisible,” said a Mediterranean gender expert interviewed anonymously for this study. Women’s voices and experiences cannot be lost — they must be integrated into fisheries management to achieve the sustainability of marine ecosystems and improve the standard of living in coastal communities.

“To find solutions for the problems in the sector we need men and men need women because we have different knowledge and practices that complement each other,” stated a Black Sea fisheries policy expert. The publication illuminates this data-poor subject through a mixed quantitative-qualitative approach.

First-ever comprehensive estimates of women’s contributions to fisheries across the whole Mediterranean and Black Sea region are complemented by qualitative analyses based on key informant interviews conducted with people from five different countries representing a diversity of fisheries contexts in the GFCM area of application.

These conversations with fishers, fisheries managers, researchers and gender experts — those individuals with the most experience and highest stake in this issue — brought forward various themes that became the basis for a set of actions recommended to the GFCM and other decision-makers in the region.

The study’s recommended actions require varying degrees of commitment from the countries and financial resources, and chief among them is the need for gender-disaggregated data collection all the way along the fisheries value chain. They represent necessary steps towards improving the working conditions of women in fisheries, as well as the overall sustainability and social and economic prosperity of fishing communities.

“It is taking time for the people, our families, to understand the nature of our work and the risks and difficulties we face. Awareness needs to be raised. We are very passionate about our work, we are interested in continuing to progress and achieve stability, and in our right to exist in the sector,” concluded a Mediterranean female fisher interviewed in the study.