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Acknowledging the contribution of women in Africa’s fishing sectors
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Acknowledging the contribution of women in Africa’s fishing sectors

Women dominate African fishing sector

Speaking at the Institute of Security Studies webinar last week on bringing women into the maritime sectors, Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood emphasised the need to include women in the decision-making processes associated with developing the continent’s Blue Economy and especially the fishing sectors.

“Women make a major contribution to the fisheries sectors in Africa,” she said highlighting that they contribute at least 250,000 tons to the total catch in Africa. “This is more than the fisheries production of countries such as the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and several others,” she added.

According to Yarwood (pictured left), men depend on women to finance the fish trade itself as well as the financing of equipment.

“At the same time women dominate the fishing processing sector,” she said adding that in inland fishing 69 percent of fish processing is undertaken by women. Fish trade is also primarily driven by women with 80 percent of the fish trade in West Africa being undertaken by women. In the Congo this figure is between 80 and 90 percent, while in Gambia it is 80 percent and in Nigeria about 70 percent.

“This therefore means that without women, this sector would basically be crippled, and food security would be threatened,” she noted.

Despite this massive contribution, Yarwood’s research shows that women continue to be undermined. “They are not seen or heard and therefore their contributions to the sector are severely undermined and threatened,” she explains.

Women face a lack of infrastructure at fish landing sites in remote areas as well as increasing pressure to barter their bodies for access to fish resources that are being depleted by overfishing as well as pollution.

The lack of cold storage and sanitary facilities in remote inland waters results in women not being able to store their catch that is not immediately sold. In addition, Yarwood notes an increasing pervasiveness of women being pressured to have sex with fishermen in exchange for a guaranteed supply of fish. “In Kenya this is very prevalent and is known as Jaboya,” says Yarwood adding that it is now becoming a more common practice in West Africa too.

“My research found that in Nigeria some women are having to either engage in prostitution or sell sex to make money to guarantee supplies due to reduced catches. This pressure undermines a women’s ability to contribute,” she added.

Yarwood emphasises the need for governments and organisations to include women in the decision-making processes associated with new developments and projects in fisheries and sub-sectors.

“Women are important to the Blue Economy and should therefore be actively engaging in decision making processes. They need to be a part of the conversation and their needs need to be tabled within all the negotiations,” she concluded.

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