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Women Fishers in the Pacific

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

In the Pacific islands traditional fishing activities are normally segregated, with men’s fishing activities focusing on deep-sea areas and women’s activities confined to shallower, inshore areas. Women, however, generally support men’s fishing activities through preparing and repairing fishing equipment, cooking food and taking part in required rituals. Recently, women have started to participate in more traditionally male-dominated activities like offshore fishing in Tonga, Marianas and Fiji. Such increased women’s workload, resulting from the expanded fishing activity, is a removal from distinct traditional gender roles. Women’s fishing activities are generally referred to as gleaning and collecting on reef flats. This definition does not accurately portray the immense knowledge and skills that women’s fishing activities entail. Nor does it reflect the importance of women’s fishing activities, especially to the total household production. Women are also the major informal traders throughout the region, dominating municipal markets and other roadside and street outlets. If the `self-employed’ category is used as an indicator of informal sector activity, then almost a quarter of Pacific women are engaged in informal trade. In Fiji, women operate from homes, roadside stalls and on the streets, selling a diverse range of foodstuff. This significant informal participation reinforces women’s undervalued roles because the formal sector is usually rated higher than the informal.Women also possess an extensive knowledge of traditional post-harvest activities, which is not recognised enough. This is because current fisheries development emphasises production, with the post-harvest sector being given low priority. As a result, women’s dominant participation in post-harvest and processing activities is regarded as secondary in fisheries development. It has been argued that post-harvest activities performed by the women of Vanuatu contribute very significantly to the nutritional and income levels of households. Modern fisheries development therefore needs to blend traditional processing knowledge with modern strategies.In spite of Pacific women’s increased participation in the market economy, they are generally regarded as basically involved in subsistence fishing, with minimal defined participation in commercial fishing activities. Commercial fishing, in this context, does not regard essential post-harvest activities as active commercial participation. Neither is women’s domestic work viewed as necessary for the success of men’s commercial fishing activities.Moreover, women’s fishing activities are not seen as economically productive. The failure to recognise the mixed subsistence nature of the village fishery results in an under-valuation of their participation.Apart from this, the involvement of women in fisheries is usually not well documented. For example female participation in the fisheries sector in 1993 for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga were recorded as only 13-17 per cent of the total workforce. This low statistical measure of women’s economic participation is due to the subsistence sector not being enumerated. The obvious indifference to women’s fishing activities and the non--recognition of their work in the subsistence sector prompted the description of them as "invisible fisherfolk".The current industry-oriented fisheries development leaves women’s small-scale commercial and subsistence activities unmonitored and undeveloped. Wherever women have been incorporated into the industrial sector, this has been in gender-related types of employment, such as fish processing. Among the major constraints faced by women, are included the lack of access to technology and the absence of fisheries extension assistance.This trend is not surprising, considering that it is only during the past decade that women’s contribution to fisheries has begun to be recognised. Recent literature has begun to record the substantial involvement of women in processing and marketing, especially in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Women are largely responsible for post-harvest activities in all the different sectors of the fishing industry. This is increasingly so with the establishment of tuna canneries in Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Western Samoa.

Palabras claves

mujer, pesca

, Océano Pacífico


The activities of women fishworkers in the Pacific Islands, remain, as elsewhere, largely invisible, especially to policy makers. Women are involved in harvesting and post-harvesting activities, of both a subsistence and commercial nature. Their work in harvesting requires considerable amount of skill and knowledge. They use a variety of gear and methods. However, typically, harvesting is considered the domain of men. Similarly, women’s dominant participation in post-harvest and processing activities is regarded as secondary in fisheries development. As a consequence, women have been largely disadvantaged in institutionalised fisheries development in the Pacific region. They have had little access to technology, credit and other supportive services. Policy makers need to shed their internalised gender stereotypes, and to recognise that women, as much as men, are an integral part of the fisheries in the Pacific.


Artículos y dossiers

VUNISEA, Aliti, Up against several barriers in. Samudra Report, 1996/07, 15

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