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Women in Mexico : Coping with Degradation

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

El Bellote, situated on the edge of the Mecoacan Lagoon, is in the humid tropics of Tabasco State in Mexico. The main fishery of oysters, along with the other species caught in the coastal strip, used to be sufficient to provide the basic food and subsistence needs of the local population. Things changed, however, with the arrival of `development’. During the 1960s, petroleum- `black gold’- became the force driving national development. The daily export of oil from Puerto de Dos Bocas in Tabasco was 437,000 barrels. The construction of infrastructure transformed the environment, damaging marine fauna and flora. Frequent oil spillage and accidents caused fish production to fall. In 1992, in Mecoacan, oyster mortality reached 70 to 80 per cent of the total production. Such incidents were common along the entire coastline of the country.The decline in the quality and quantity of fish catch, coupled with the increase in the number of producers and the fierce competition over resources, affected the livelihood and income of coastal fishers in significant ways. The deterioration in the quality of life in fishing families affected the entire community and changed, in many ways, the relationship between men and women.Women of fishing families developed multiple survival strategies to cope with the fall in production and income from fisheries. Many women, for the first time, began to go fishing with their husbands, brothers or fathers. More women began to work as traders, filleters in salting and drying, in packing and de-shelling. It also became more common for women to enter the job market as cooks, workers in fish and shellfish restaurants and as housemaids, or the `non-formal’ economy as door-to-door saleswomen, for instance. However, women’s economic roles did not, in any way, diminish their traditional roles and responsibilities within the household. The additional roles taken on by the women affected their family life in several ways. Since fishers usually left for fishing at nights while women worked during the day, there was little or no opportunity for family life. Women marketing fish did so soon after their men landed the fish, given the perishable nature of the commodity. In such situations women were often obliged to leave their children alone, or in charge of an elder daughter. The consequences on the family were not only economic and physical, but also emotional and psychological. Environmental degradation also affected quality of life in other ways. Due to air and water pollution, for instance, some health problems, such as respiratory infections, cholera and malnutrition became worse and new diseases appeared. These growing health problems affected women more, not only become they were often the victims, but also as they were traditionally the ones responsible for the sick. The debate on environmental problems rarely considered the impact on different segments of the population. The government took little action to deal with the situation, given that coastal fisheries were low on the list of government priorities. In the case of women, the marginalisation was far worse, due to the traditionally subordinate role bestowed on them by society. Women were given little space within mainstream fishermen’s organisations and unions to voice their problems and views.

Key words

fishing, pollution, woman, fishermen’s organization, environment, depletion of fishing resources

, Mexico, Tabasco State


Pollution, destruction of sensitive coastal habitats, and unrestrained urbanisation, all in the name of `development’, have severely affected coastal regions of Mexico and have destroyed the livelihood base of many coastal communities. For fishing communities this has entailed several changes as women have stepped in, bringing in income in cash or kind, to keep the family and community going. Environmental degradation has affected, in specific and unique ways, the men and women of fishing communities. There is, however, little recognition of this and few efforts have been made to understand, or to deal with issues specific to women. What is urgently required is a space within unions and fishworkers organisations for women to articulate their concerns. There can be no sustainable fisheries without the active participation of women.


Articles and files

SALAZAR, Hilda, No women, no sustainable fisheries in. Samudra Report, 1995/04, 12

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