Women in Southeast Asia’s Fisheries Build Their Skills as Champions for Gender Equity
When we think of fishers we often think of “fishermen.” But in Southeast Asia, women make up nearly half of the fisheries industry, and in some cases also go out to sea to fish. However, due to cultural stereotypes, gender norms, and an overall lack of awareness, women’s roles in the industry often go unseen. Since the Oceans and Fisheries Partnership (USAID Oceans) began working in Southeast Asia in 2015, the program’s core objectives included increasing visibility of the roles both women and men play in the region’s fisheries, building women’s capacity to fully engage and be leaders in the industry, and advancing laws and regulations for gender equity.
In January 2020, USAID Oceans and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) co-organized a Regional Workshop on Gender Integration in Fisheries in Bangkok, Thailand. The three-day workshop covered topics such as gender sensitivity; gender research, analysis, and tools; action planning; and budgeting for gender-inclusive programs. USAID Oceans technical staff and partners—including SEAFDEC; the Food and Agriculture Organization; the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security Women Leaders’ Forum; and USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA)—shared their experiences and lessons learned from various gender integration activities implemented in the region. For example, in 2019, the National Network on Women in Fisheries in the Philippines, Inc. (WINFISH) reviewed existing gender and fisheries ordinances in General Santos City, Philippines, to inform recommendations to amend the city’s Gender and Development Code and Fisheries Code for more gender-responsive fisheries governance. These recommendations were submitted to the local government unit and have since gained support from two City Councilors who have committed to lobbying for their approval.
The workshop also included sessions to further develop training tools and guidance documents drafted by USAID Oceans and SEAFDEC to scale-up gender integration and promote gender-sensitive policies. Participants provided input on the draft training module “Gender for Leaders, Executives, and Decision Makers in Fisheries (Gender LEAD),” which when finalized, will be used to train SEAFDEC employees to communicate the importance of gender integration in the organization’s work to supervisors and high-level staff. Participants also provided input on a draft document to guide gender mainstreaming in the fisheries workplace on a regional scale.
The final day of the workshop was a site visit to a coastal fishing area in Samut Sakhon Province. Participants visited organizations that are on the front lines of addressing issues faced by women and men in the fisheries industry—particularly migrant workers—to better understand these issues and best practices to address them. The group met with staff from the Labour Protection Network (LPN), an NGO working “to improve the lives of women and men migrant labourers in Thailand by addressing the injustice brought on by discrimination and inequality.” In addition to promoting gender equity, LPN works to ensure human rights and fair labor practices for migrant workers in Thailand, including education and care for workers’ children. Workshop facilitator and USAID Oceans Gender Specialist, Dr. Arlene Satapornvanit, reinforced that “addressing issues affecting fishers and seafood industry workers requires a gender lens approach to develop effective policies, plans, and programs.”
In addition to Dr. Satapornvanit, the workshop was co-facilitated by a gender specialist from SEAFDEC and featured speakers from WINFISH, the Asian Institute of Technology, the Food and Agriculture Organization, USAID RDMA’s Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor, and USAID Oceans technical and gender staff. Participants were SEAFDEC Gender Focal Persons from regional offices along with members of the USAID Oceans Human Welfare and Gender Equity Technical Working Group and fellows from the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries Section/Asian Fisheries Society. The attendees, the majority of which were women, travelled from countries across the region to attend this training.
At the end of the workshop, participants reported that the knowledge and skills they gained would make them more active and effective as gender champions within their organizations and communities. When asked about her experience, Ms. Saivason Klinsukhon, Senior Information Officer and Gender Focal Person from SEAFDEC Secretariat stated, “The workshop is practical, informative, and very useful for those working on gender. The lesson learned from this workshop could support SEAFDEC’s efforts toward integrating gender in SEAFDEC programs and projects, which would eventually support integrating gender perspectives in fisheries in our member countries.”