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Fishing in the Sea of Women’s Concerns

The Beijing Conference

(Pêcher dans l’océan de soucis des femmes La Conférence de Pékin)

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

The NGO Forum on Women, held parallel to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, from 30 August to 8 September 1995 in Huiarou, China, drew nearly 30,000 participants, mostly women.

More than 3,000 activities were scheduled, covering presentations and discussions of various women’s issues from as diverse fields as the economy and the environment to spirituality and sexual orientation. There were also rich cultural programmes as well as a general morning assembly focusing on different major global women’s issues which were to be further negotiated at the official UN Conference.

Clearly, fisheries was not one of the major issues originally proposed for the Forum. Yet, six different groups had scheduled activities in this area. Furthermore, there were plenty of other workshops which would be of interest for women in fisheries, such as presentations on small-scale credit systems and discussions on gender bias in access to natural resources.

The most active group in the fisheries field was the Women’s Economic Network of Newfoundland, which held two workshops and staged a cultural event of songs and poetry. The workshops were called ` Women’s Role in Fisheries in Newfoundland’ and `Women Healing Oceans’. In the first of these, the women narrated personal experiences of how the fisheries crisis had affected their lives. In the second, they highlighted how a new respect for the life of the sea had to take over and needed to be developed, if there were to be a future for their communities. Also held was a workshop entitled `Women in Fishing : Food Producers of Today and Tomorrow’ on behalf of the women’s group in the ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers).

A workshop titled `The Worldwide Crisis in Fisheries and its Impact on Women and the Community’ was arranged by a network of Canadian women, the Nova Scotia Women’s Fishnet. The Women and Fisheries Network from Fiji held a workshop on `Women in Fisheries Development with Special Reference to South Pacific Islands’. One of their objectives was to develop small-scale aquaculture and subsistence harvesting of marine resources for local needs.

The Forum provided an opportunity for several networks of women in fisheries to get together. Women concerned about sustainable fisheries and their livelihoods found themselves in the same network, whether they were primary producers, wives of fishermen or academics from women’s or fisheries research groups. Perhaps this is the women’s way of organising. The environmental context and the importance of fish production for local consumption and needs were common concerns. This may well be one conclusion that could be drawn from this international gathering.

Until this Fourth World Conference on Women, women’s role in fisheries has been invisible in international documents on women’s politics. As at other UN conferences, preparatory committees had been already negotiating the final document to be adopted at the conference. Clearly, it was not the activities at the Forum that made fisheries enter the UN’s agenda for women. This issue was highlighted at the preparatory committee in New York in March 1995. The past invisibility of the importance of fisheries as a women’s issue has not been deliberate, but rather due to the lack of promoters for the issue. When Norway proposed that it be included along with agriculture, it was adopted without any resistance.

In the official UN Conference’s Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women’s role and needs in the fisheries sector now find mention as part of the strategic objectives. The chapters on poverty, environment and colonies recommend that the needs and efforts of women be addressed.

The entry of fisherwomen into the arena of international women’s politics is now a fact. It is up to us to contribute to and make use of this arena in the future.


femme, pêche, épuisement des ressources halieutiques



The NGO Forum on Women at Beijing provided an important space for women concerned with fishery issues to come together and to identify common concerns. It also helped put the concerns of women in the fishery sector on to the international agenda. The women who got together were able to articulate a different perspective for fishery development and management. They reiterated the need to develop a new respect for the life of the sea in order to ensure a future for their communities, and the need to move away from irresponsible technologies that depleted fish stocks. Also important to them was the need to maintain the culture of coastal fishing communities and to ensure that fisheries contribute first and foremost to local consumption and needs. Obviously their vision of fishery development differs considerably from the vision of the fishery as a source of profit and capital accumulation, a world-view that has contributed to the devastation of the oceans and its life forms.


Articles et dossiers

MUNK MADSEN, Eva, In the sea of women's concerns in. Samudra Report, 1996/03, 14

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