Understanding Gender Roles in Southeast Asia’s Fisheries Sector: Key Challenges and Recommendations for Gender Equitable Research

Women make up half of Southeast Asia's fisheries sector, often performing key processing and selling work that gets the seafood caught to local and international markets. Photo: USAID Oceans/Melinda Donnelly

As part of USAID Oceans’ critical research phase that would inform program approaches and intervention design, USAID Oceans, in collaboration with the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences, Sam Ratulangi University, Indonesia (UNSRAT) and the National Network on Women in Fisheries in the Philippines, Inc. (WinFish), conducted gender analysis research in the program’s learning sites in Bitung, Indonesia and General Santos City, Philippines. As part of the program’s strategy to integrate gender as a crosscutting effort in project initiatives including Catch Documentation Traceablity (CDT) and Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), research was conducted on the learning sites’ tuna fisheries value chains to determine gender differentials at each node of the value chain. The analyses heavily contributed to the program’s design and implementation of interventions to promote gender equity and empower women in the fisheries sector.

This article provides an overview of the research’s high-level findings, as well as the framework that was used in research design for those that would like to know more about how gender analyses can be structured to inform fisheries management and other development interventions.

Gender gaps and issues

While research has long established that both women and men are involved in tuna fisheries, the gender analyses highlighted a number of gender gaps and inequities. These gaps may limit actors in the supply chain, particularly by preventing women from achieving their full potential based on their gender identity. Gender gaps and issues were found in both learning sites. Key findings on the roles and power relations among women and men, as well as their opportunities and constraints include:

  • In Bitung, there is a perception amongst fisheries sector stakeholders that women’s skills are less desirable compared to men’s. In General Santos, women are an active part of the fisheries workforce, however there is an absence of gender-friendly facilities, policies, rules and procedures against sexual harassment in the workplace, including the absence of female staff in human resource teams, which may result in half of the workforce (in this case the women) feeling undervalued and perceived as less important.
  • Married women are likely to face family-work-personal life imbalance due to conflicts between their reproductive and productive roles as well as family responsibilities, which may prevent or reduce their participation in activities that empower them and opportunities to apply their skills. They desire to share the household burden with men.
  • In terms of access and control, women fish vendors face a lack of access to public transportation, which can make them vulnerable to hazardous conditions including sexual abuse. Women’s access to information, training, and capacity development is also more limited than men’s, particularly in traceability and fisheries management, which may hinder them in achieving their full potential.
  • Analysis of power relations and decision-making aspects found that few women are at the decision-making level in the fisheries industry. In workplaces where most of the workers are women, this creates a gender imbalance in policies and practices, which may results women having less power in the workplace and make them more vulnerable to abuses, especially sexual harassment.



Research concluded with the development of a set of recommendations that can be applied in the program learning sites, as well as in fisheries across the region.

Gender Champions: Identifying current and potential gender champions is recommended to encourage, empower, and create sustainable figures in the region’s fisheries. These champions can support gender equity advocacy efforts. At both sites, women and men from local and national government, and small and large scale operations in the private sector including traders, academe, and civil society were identified. Recognition of their efforts is important, as well as capacity building support for stronger gender responsive advocacy and for their gender-related works.

Policy: Local and national governments are encouraged to support the formation of women fisher groups and the development of women-friendly policies and procedures, particularly related to financing, marketing of products and business permits issuance, to empower women especially those who are interested in fisheries entrepreneurship.  Women-friendly and safe workplaces at fisheries sites should be created, as well as local ordinances to ensure women, youth, and all vulnerable groups feel safe in their communities and workplaces.  The enablers (policy makers) are recommended to support policies and regulations that protect the rights and welfare of women, creating an enabling environment for stakeholders to implement gender-responsive initiatives with an even playing field for both women and men in the workplace, and inclusion of gender in fisheries in the national and regional agenda. In addition, the private sector is encouraged to develop and adopt gender equitable employment policies and approaches to ensure equal access to opportunities, such that women are not excluded in from recruitment, promotion, managerial positions, salary increases, capacity building, and travel opportunities, among others.

Research: More research should be conducted on gender in fisheries to provide broader perspectives for planning and policy making, as well as translate results into practical materials that can applied by practitioners. Further research is recommended to examine how technology can be used to promote gender equality, gender relations within the household and in the work sphere, and document gender success stories in fisheries. Gender sensitive research methods should be implemented for to ensure inclusive, sex-disaggregated data. Researchers are also encouraged to provide technical assistance to local government units, national agencies, and private sector for capacity building activities. Fisheries databases should be developed/enhanced to include gendered sector data.

Interventions and actions: Capacity building and extension programs to empower women stakeholders in fisheries are recommended, along with recognition and incentivization of fisheries businesses and establishments where gender equity and women empowerment are being upheld. Information campaigns on gender and women’s rights, along with fisheries regulations and other relevant information, should be organized. Financial support for businesses by women, especially start-ups, is also recommended.

Development assistance: Agencies and organizations are encouraged to promote gender integration in fisheries, and prioritize assistance to organizations and projects with gender integration strategies in their fisheries initiatives.

Civil society organizations (CSOs): CSOs are encouraged to organize more women’s groups amongst fishing communities to empower women and recognize their successes, as well as represent women in policy making, projects, implementation, and monitoring. Mentorship could be offered to women and men through capacity building and skills training activities on non-fisheries skills to provide a wider option during off or closed fishing seasons. Monitoring the compliance of stakeholders to gender policies and labor laws and regulations is a multi-agency/organization responsibility.


Research Methodology and Framework

USAID Oceans and its research partners employed a gender-responsive value chain analysis (GRVCA) framework (Mayoux and Mackie, 2008), overlaid with the USAID’s gender dimension framework. Analyses focused on the following, specific areas:

  • Access to and control of assets, information & opportunities;
  • Knowledge, beliefs and perceptions on fisheries and related activities;
  • Practices and participation in the nodes, communities and households;
  • Time and space to determine what women and men do with their time and where;
  • Legal rights and status as fisheries stakeholders, and community members; and
  • Power and decision making in households, communities and fisheries workplace.

Gender-responsive Value Chain Analysis Framework adapted by WINFISH for the gender analysis in 2017

Information was sourced according to types of fisheries, their scales, and the value chain nodes. Data were collected through face to face surveys, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, and from secondary sources. An Open Data Kit (ODK) application was utilized by WinFish to conduct a paperless survey via tablets; UNSRAT employed paper-based questionnaires and Googleforms.

Sources of information for the GRVCA according to fisheries, scale, node and mode of data collection in Indonesia and Philippines conducted in 2017 by UNSRAT and WINFISH, respectively.


Development of Gendered Value Chain Maps

As part of the research process, gender-sensitive fisheries value chain maps were generated for each site. The examples below show the gender differentials in value chain activities of the municipal tuna fisheries in General Santos City and Bitung. The value chain maps highlight that while some activities in the value chain can be performed by both genders, some are still specific to men or women only. Gender mapping workshops were held among various fisheries stakeholders at both learning sites to develop and validate these findings. Such outcomes could be applied to provide a basis for enhancing productivity through allocation of economic resources to the more disadvantaged actors in the value chain.

Value chain map for municipal tuna fisheries in General Santos and Sarangani Bay area, Philippines (WinFish, 2017)

Value chain map of tuna fisheries in Bitung, Indonesia (UNSRAT, 2017)

The gendered value chain maps show that involvement and activities for women only are more limited across the value chain nodes, even for activities which could be executed by both genders. Men are more active as fishers at sea, while women are likely to undertake land-based activities, such as selling, trading and processing. The maps can be further modified to show the intensity of power relations, interactions, even the economic benefits gained.


More Information

More information on USAID Oceans’ gender research and the methodology used can be found in SEAFDEC’s Fish for the People publication: http://repository.seafdec.org/handle/20.500.12066/1377




Mayoux, L. & Mackie, G. (2008). A practical guide to mainstreaming gender in value chain development. International Labour Organization. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

UNSRAT. 2017. Gender Analysis in the Fisheries Sector; Bitung, Indonesia. Draft report submitted to the USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership. Sam Ratulangi University, Manado, Indonesia.

WINFISH. 2017. Gender Analysis in the Fisheries Sector: General Santos Area, Philippines. Draft report submitted to the USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership. National Network on Women in Fisheries in the Philippines, Inc., Iloilo City, Philippines.

Type: Feature Article, Project Update | Author: The Oceans and Fisheries Partnership | Date: 10 October, 2018 | Subject: Human Welfare | Country: Indonesia, Philippines, Regional