Towards gender equality in fisheries management and the Blue Economy – a view from the Philippines

By Belinda Bramley, NLA International Associate

The world is waking up to key issues around gender inequality in fisheries, the seafood industry and the wider Blue Economy. The ambitious Seafood and Gender Equality (SAGE) initiative launched in October 2020 with a mission to “uplift, amplify, and integrate diverse voices in global seafood production” and the aim of achieving gender equality in at least 75% of global seafood production by 2030.

In March, Dona Bertarelli, Special Adviser for the Blue Economy at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), wrote that, “Growing a sustainable and resilient Blue Economy by fully including women’s potential, will benefit society and the economy, and in turn, advance all 17 SDGs.”

Finally, a recent study on the topic focused on small-scale fisheries management in the Pacific led to a challenge to make sure that gender inclusion in fisheries becomes the norm, and progresses towards a cross-cutting theme – akin to climate change – to be interwoven “into every single thing that we do”.

NLA International’s own explorations certainly support these views. In late March, our Verumar programme and the Philippine Government’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) co-hosted an event in celebration of women’s month in the Philippines, to discuss good practices, gaps, challenges, and commitments in pursuing gender equality in fisheries management.

The Philippines ranks 16th out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, scoring higher than many developed countries including the United States. Whilst there is virtually no gap in terms of education and health, the gap in economic participation, remuneration and advancement is 20% and in political representation is 58%. To address these inequalities the Government of the Philippines devotes at least 5% of its resources annually to protecting, fulfilling and promoting the rights of women via the Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act No. 9710) adopted in 2009.

Integrated but unequal

Alfredo Lazarte, a gender specialist with the PATH Foundation Philippines, presented the findings of a gender survey conducted as part of the USAID Fish Right project. The study interviewed 666 individuals in 26 villages at three sites of conservation priority: the Calamianes Island Group, Southern Negros and the Visayan Sea. All three areas have coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds which support high levels of biodiversity and both municipal and commercial fisheries. The Philippines sits at the apex of the Coral Triangle, the world’s epicentre of marine biodiversity.

The project revealed that the roles of women and men are deeply integrated but unequal. Differences persist in workload, leadership roles and decision‐making, due to longstanding cultural norms and perceptions[i]. Although men were seen to have a stronger voice in fisheries management, women also wield significant influence through their roles within fish value chains and as managers of household finances.

Participants at the Verumar / DA-BFAR gender equality webinar in March 2021, which was viewed by an online audience of nearly 2,000.

A further finding from this study is that many of the coral reef and deep sea fishery resources which are traditionally controlled by men are perceived to be in poorer condition than the jointly-controlled nearshore ecosystems such as seagrass meadows and mangrove forests, which are perceived to be faring better. Men tended to control high-value species such as lobster, octopus and squid, whereas women had more control over the nearshore species and shallow-water habitats which serve as nursery grounds for deeper-water, high value species. Luz Bador, President of the National Rural Women’s Coalition, confirmed the key role played by women in community-based management of mangroves. Overall DA-BFAR is working towards an ecosystem approach to fisheries management and this holistic approach provides a good entry point for women to participate more broadly in stewarding aquatic resources.

Capacity and support

Ms Mildred Mercene-Buazon, DA-BFAR’s lead for the national gender focal point system, noted that many opportunities exist for women to benefit from capacity building and support services, including management training to participate effectively in Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils. DA-BFAR’s gender activities include measures to:

  • increase women’s active participation in the planning, design, implementation and evaluation of coastal resource management programmes;
  • support the appointment of women as fish wardens (Bantay Dagat);
  • fund the design of women-friendly nets and equipment; and
  • provide training in technology-focused projects.

The Verumar programme, which provides intelligence and capacity development to DA-BFAR in the use of space data for fisheries management in the Philippines, has provided training in remote sensing and related areas to 195 members of the DA-BFAR team to date, of whom 62 were women. Our own participant survey shows a highly positive response to the training provided. Respondents perceived that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has improved and female respondents felt that the skills they gained will support their future career development.

Influencing behaviour change

Webinar participants agreed that trusted partnerships, data-driven insights and monitoring and evaluation all play a key part in influencing behaviour change towards more equitable and effective natural resources management. Can fisheries management deliver better results with women empowered, our webinar moderator Lida Pet-Soede was keen to know? With the advent of space intelligence to support fisheries management, a comprehensive data-driven approach which addresses and evaluates the gender dimension can help answer this kind of question. We look forward to testing this hypothesis as the Verumar programme continues in the Philippines.

We extend our deepest thanks to Lida Pet-Soede of the Hatfield consultancy Indonesia office for expertly moderating this thought-provoking event and to all the webinar participants for generously sharing their insights. Our sincere gratitude also goes to our webinar co-hosts Commodore Eduardo B Gongona, PCG (ret,), Director of DA-BFAR and to Liz Cox, Head of International Relations at the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme, for their thoughtful contributions to this event and their ongoing support of Verumar.

[i] Torell, E., Castro, J., Lazarte, A., and Bilecki, D. (2021) Analysis of Gender Roles in Philippine Fishing Communities. J. Int. Dev., 33: 233– 255.