Women, Artisanal Fishing and Maritime Security in Africa Author: Maurice Beseng
Issue 2 of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations’ maritime security brie ng- ‘Women at Sea: Is sea-blindness gendered?’-, highlighted the lack of women in the maritime workforce in nearly all sectors of the maritime economy worldwide. A situation which is even more acute in Africa especially in the sheries sector. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, of the 12.3 million Africans involved in sheries and aquaculture, a
vast majority are in the artisanal sheries sector: with over 7.5 million ‘ shermen’, and about 2.3 million ‘women’. Meaning, catching sh in the coastal and marine waters in Africa is largely a male venture.
In 2014, sheries contributed nearly USD2million to the GDP of all African countries, with marine and artisanal sheries contributing more than half of this gure. Despite making up less than a quarter of the number of people involved in marine and artisanal shing, women are at the centre of the sectors’ activities. They are present at all stages of the marine and artisanal sheries value chain: from the pre- nancing and preparation of shing outings to the reception, processing and marketing of sh. Crucially, women’s contribution in sheries ensures that, the sector provides vital protein-22% of protein intake in sub-Saharan- especially for poor coastal communities (which can exceed 50% of their protein intake), a space for men and women to earn an income and foster social cohesion as well as generate tax revenues for the national economies. A role which is essential in ensuring food security and enhancing community stability.
Despite the aforementioned importance of women’s role in enhancing maritime security through their work in the marine and artisanal sheries sector in Africa, in of cial policy circles, this is not the case. In Africa’s marine
artisanal sheries sector for example, the term ‘ sherman’ as opposed to ‘ sherwoman’ is the dominant label you
will hear or read about those who operate in the sector. Even though gender roles and responsibilities in the African maritime artisanal sheries sector is evolving- were women are increasingly seen as shers, boat owners or entrepreneurs- women’s prominent role is in processing sh ( sh mongering, salting and smoking), mending of nets and in petty-trading. This largely peripheral role has often relegated women’s contribution to the background as the ‘invisible’ nature of their work excludes them from core- operational decision making in the sector. The observed marginalization of women in the marine artisanal sheries sector is mainly a re ection of existing gender inequalities that are rooted in traditional and cultural norms in many African countries. As these deeply rooted cultural beliefs prevent women from extensively exploring their potential in marine artisanal shing, most of cial statistics do not even count them as ‘ sherwomen’ or marine artisanal shing entrepreneurs.
The lack of visibility in women’s role in enhancing maritime security through their work in the marine artisanal sheries sector is clearly re ected in current pan-African policy initiatives that recognises the importance of sheries to maritime security and development. Initiatives such as Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS 2050), The Djibouti as well as Yaoundé Code of Conduct, the recently adopted Lomé Charter on maritime safety and security and the relevant regional maritime security initiatives for Eastern, Southern, Western and Central Africa, largely neglect to foreground women roles in sheries and involve their voices in the construction of a pan-Africa and regional maritime security architecture. For instance paragraph 51 of AIMS 2050 recognises the need to develop an integrated African
maritime human resource strategy for the provision of skills, highlighting the need to take into account a gender balance in the entire maritime value chain. However, the African Union’s Plan of Action to Operationalise AIMS 2050 is grossly devoid in details on how this is to be achieved.
Failure to consider women’s strategic role in marine artisanal sheries and to fully allow women to be involved in the opportunities available in the sector, risk perpetuating inequalities and deepening grievances linked to marine resource rights, access and control which can be a powerful catalyst for non-traditional threats to maritime security. Hence to ensure marine artisanal sheries becomes a sustainable avenue to enhance maritime security, there is urgent need for many African countries
to formalise the marine artisanal sheries sector. This will entail making women’s work ‘visible’ under appropriate legal policy frameworks. Such a move will ensure some degree of fairness in the allocation of resource and access rights to both men and women. Secondly, there is need for African countries to build a gender-responsive maritime security sector. This will entail creating gender-sensitive maritime security sector institutions as well as engendering the already existing regional maritime institutions, and promote the full and equal participation of women in these institutions and in maritime security governance.
To learn more about CTPSR’s research on maritime security, please contact the author at email@example.com