Consider the fisherwoman
Consider a Filipino fisher: The image that comes to mind is a tireless man with a wide net and a small boat. And in this already marginalized sector, there are critical members of the production force that remain invisible. These are the women in fisheries.
Biodiversity loss and climate emergencies affect men and women differently. In the fisheries sector, however, the differential impacts are often not clearly understood. Hence the International Women’s Day 2020 campaign theme, #EachforEqual, resonates with our aspiration to make women more visible in the fisheries sector.
Rosemarie Aguirre is a 52-year-old highly skilled crab meat picker in the small municipality of Ajuy, in the province of Iloilo. She married at 18 to a fisher who doubles as a carpenter to make ends meet. They have seven children, two of whom are already professionals.
For the past 25 years, Rosemarie has juggled being a mother, a wife, and a crab meat picker. She wakes up at 4 a.m. to prepare food for the family. After that, she goes to the crab meat processing station and works 12 hours on average depending on the season. “This is where the work is. It helps provide food for my big family and sends my children to school. There is not a lot of other work around,” she said. Despite their labor, their combined income is not enough to cover the family’s basic needs. They used to own a boat but they sold it when the husband got sick. Sometimes, she also goes fishing with her husband when she’s off from work.
Other women at the facility look up to Rosemarie and share her aspiration — to have a better life. These women come from all parts of the Visayas region and they do not see their families often; coworkers are their family away from home. So it helps that Rosemarie is treated well and has developed close ties with coworkers who enhance her self-worth. The camaraderie of the women has kept her going.
Women like Rosemarie command enormous value in the fisheries sector and play a vital role in its healthy function. Apart from occasional fishing and seafood processing, women engage in net mending, fish sorting, vending, and shell collection. The seafood caught by women is more likely to be consumed by their families.
Outside of work, women are also expected to manage household finances. Many resort to taking loans, sometimes using informal money lenders to fund fishing activities and general household needs.
Yet even as women’s roles are deeply integrated in fisheries, their contributions remain unrecognized, especially when it comes to leadership and decision-making. As value chain actors and wives who are responsible for household finances, women play a critical role in sustainable fisheries management.
The PATH Foundation Philippines Inc. (PFPI), through the USAID Fish Right Program, believes that understanding gender relations is critical to making women visible in fisheries as coequal partners of fishermen in the different stages of the value chain. To support this advocacy, PFPI has undertaken key initiatives such as constituency-building through peer education, male engagement, and entrepreneurship.
We must uphold the role of Rosemarie and other fisherwomen by listening to, understanding, appreciating, and learning from their stories; and empowering them to challenge biases and stereotypes, access benefits, and celebrate achievements toward a healthy fishery sector that can sustain the life and well-being of their communities.
Rosemarie’s story is not just hers, it is ours, too. Let us not forget the needs and aspirations of women in fisheries and collectively create a gender-enabled world.
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Dr. Joan Castro is the executive vice president of PATH Foundation Philippines Inc., which is pioneering innovative approaches toward population, health, and environment initiatives.
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