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Two questions regarding the role and organization of women in relation to fisheries management ? (3 answers)

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Two questions suggested by community members provide us with some interesting starting points for discussion:

1) Despite donor requirements for gendered NRM approaches, women are frequently omitted from any substantive decision-making bodies related to fisheries in Africa. This begs the question: what impact do/can women have on the effectiveness of local fisheries-related institutions and to what extent they can contribute to improved fisheries resilience in the face of climate change?

2) Women are commonly portrayed and targeted as group players. But there is some evidence that, in the context of fish traders, these groups don't really work very well. What evidence is there that traders work best in groups, and to what extent are such groups formed as expression of existing gender norms versus donor stereotypes regarding women in Africa?

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Dec 12, 2008
Regarding question 1, this is a tough nut to crack. Perhaps taking a broader view of livelihoods that go beyond fishing would be useful because women certainly make contributions in other areas that might be easier to acknowledge with leadership roles. Also, dialogue with local people, in sex segregated groups, taking up this topic would probably be very useful. Especially if the development/outsider/researcher folks spend some time to connect with people in the community so that they might open up to some degree.

We need to keep in mind that bringing women to the table, via a WID approach, overlooked men, which caused new problems. It also tended to be rooted in stereotypical notions about women's "natural" roles. New approaches that recognize the value and usefulness of working with both women and men, because they are both important in the total livelihood picture, via, e.g., a GAD (gender and development) approach may assist in moving the idea of representation for women forward. I tried to make the case in 1996 in Malawi, and it went nowhere. The other concern I have is that in the new approach, women are returning to invisibility, so care must be taken to avoid this outcome. Then we are back to square one. This is tricky territory. We need more study.
Tracy Dobson, Michigan State University.
-- Updated Mar 30, 2011 --

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    Dec 12, 2008
    In response to Question 1, I would just like to make a coupel of points about the role of women in the fisheries sector in Malawi. After a slow start in the 1990s, donor-funded projects did eventually recogize the need to involve women traders in the Beach Village Committees that were created on Lake Malombe. The step engendered considerable debate about how such female representation should be required through bye-laws etc. My own experience does not relate directly to the management of the fishery but does, I think, demonstrate that there are linkages within fishing communities that demonstrate that women's groups can have a strong influence on fishers and fishing practices. First (and again on Lake Malombe), we noted back in 1999 that there was strong pressure exerted by natural resource management committes (often dominated by female members) on providing access to forest timber for boat construction. The NRM groups actively blocked boat-builders access to forest resources that were seen to be being depleted by demand for dugouts and plank-boats.

    A study in 2001 examined the incidence and impact of HIV/AIDS among fishing communities around Lake Chilwa. At major fish landing sites, female sex-workers had established operations that appear to have contributed significantly to the prevalance of HIV/AIDS in the local communities.

    I relaize I haven't addressed your questions but I figured I would make these observation for general information and comment.
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    Dec 12, 2008
    Regarding question 1, this is a tough nut to crack. Perhaps taking a broader view of livelihoods that go beyond fishing would be useful because women certainly make contributions in other areas that might be easier to acknowledge with leadership roles. Also, dialogue with local people, in sex segregated groups, taking up this topic would probably be very useful. Especially if the development/outsider/researcher folks spend some time to connect with people in the community so that they might open up to some degree.

    We need to keep in mind that bringing women to the table, via a WID approach, overlooked men, which caused new problems. It also tended to be rooted in stereotypical notions about women's "natural" roles. New approaches that recognize the value and usefulness of working with both women and men, because they are both important in the total livelihood picture, via, e.g., a GAD (gender and development) approach may assist in moving the idea of representation for women forward. I tried to make the case in 1996 in Malawi, and it went nowhere. The other concern I have is that in the new approach, women are returning to invisibility, so care must be taken to avoid this outcome. Then we are back to square one. This is tricky territory. We need more study.
    Tracy Dobson, Michigan State University.
    -- Updated Mar 30, 2011 --
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      Dec 14, 2008
      I would agree with Tracy's comment and suggest that part of the problem with some past gender initiatives is that they tried to impose women into contexts where they didn't have a significant role to play - such as BVCs if BVCs are primarily established in order to enforce fishing regulations. Additionally, I would say that a large challenge to co-management in Malawi continues to be that BVCs are seen as trying to impose fisheries regulations; and that they do not contribute (beyond potial long-term goals of sustainability) to local livelihood development.

      Therefore, I would to pose the question of whether BVCs wouldn’t be more successful if their purview was broadened to address a range of fishing community development issues (rather than being narrowly targeted at fisheries management) - i.e. - BVCs as engines for fisheries resilience rather than fisheries management. 

      Case studies from Northern Lake Malawi offer some suggestions for how broadening the BVC role and incorporating women's livelihood activities might contribute to fisheries mgt:

      - While most fisherfolk (both women and men) claim that women can't enforce fishing regulations due to the possible dangers involved, Malawian fishing community women do argue that they could help to organize or regulate fish traders (most of whom are women) not to purchase juvenile fish.
      - In at least 2 communities in the North, women have been elected or appointed to Beach Village Committees (BVCs) – where they mediate in conflicts between traders, and regulate fish trade to ensure that local trader’s access to fish is not threatened by outside traders who can outbid local traders in times of scarcity.
      - In one community, women's experience in collective farming and revolving credit schemes have also been highly useful for the development of a cooperative whose membership is successfully diversifying livelihoods away from an over-dependence on fishing.

      The simple hypothesis is that if BVCs are seen as representing tangible benefits to a community, they will be better able to convince fishers not to catch juvenile fish, observe closed seasons, etc.

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Date CreatedWednesday, December 10, 2008 11:36 AM
Date ModifiedWednesday, December 10, 2008 11:36 AM
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