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Gender disparities in the fisheries value chain in BD

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The fisheries sector holds significant importance in the economic advancement of Bangladesh, contributing substantially to the reduction of rural poverty and inequality. The contribution of the fisheries sector to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) GDP is about 3.57 per cent. The expansion of fisheries production in Bangladesh can be attributed to the provision of financial, technological, and infrastructural support to fishing communities by various stakeholders, including the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), donor agencies, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). More than 19 million people in Bangladesh are engaged in the fisheries sector. Even though a large segment of the population is involved in fisheries, most of them working in the fisheries sector live in poverty, with a meagre income, little or no schooling, and an inadequate resource base. Similar to many other developing nations, fishing communities in Bangladesh frequently struggle to achieve optimal levels of production in their fisheries-related endeavours. The inadequate production is attributed primarily to factors such as unplanned urbanisation, salinity issues, insufficient financial backing, and gender disparities. Moreover, these marginalised fishing communities regularly face a multitude of risks, including financial, production, legal, marketing, and climatic risks, which impede their ability to effectively engage in fisheries-related activities.

Undoubtedly, women's role in the fisheries sector is unequivocal. Research indicates that women fisherfolk in Bangladesh are heavily involved in various fisheries-related activities including preparation for fishing (e.g., boat dying, cleaning, repairing, etc.); fishing operation (e.g., bait collection, catching fish, etc.), and post-harvest activities (e.g., fish salting, icing, drying, retailing fish in local markets, etc.). Despite their extensive contributions, women's involvement in the fisheries sector often goes unrecognised. Although similar patterns are observed in other developing nations, Bangladesh exhibits a notable gender disparity within its fisheries value chain system. Within the context of rural society's patriarchal norms, women fisherfolk frequently face social and economic marginalisation. Researchers have highlighted that women engaged in fisheries activities across Asian and African countries, such as Kenya, Malaysia, Malawi, Indonesia, and the Philippines experience lower compensation compared to their male counterparts and possess limited decision-making authority in fisheries-related matters. Regrettably, these disparities persist within Bangladesh's fisheries value chain system. The prevailing gender disparities within the fisheries value chain system act as impediments to the empowerment process of marginalised women fisherfolk.

In the context of male-dominated societies in Asia and Africa, there exists a prevalent perception that fishing is exclusively men's domain, relegating women to ancillary roles in their fishing endeavours. A study conducted in Bangladesh by researchers highlights this attitude within rural communities, encapsulated by the sentiment that "Men cannot give birth, and women neither do fishing." This perception stems largely from the belief that fishing demands advanced skills in modern fisheries technologies and entails significant financial investment, aspects that women typically lack access to. However, it is an undeniable reality that in countries like Bangladesh and India, a substantial proportion of women actively engage in post-harvest activities within the fisheries sector, notably in fish processing and marketing.

Social pressures confine women from direct involvement in fishing activities, as this domain is predominantly perceived as belonging to men. Additionally, cultural norms often dictate that women prioritise care giving responsibilities within the household, particularly for children and elderly family members. This focus on care giving acts as a significant barrier to women fully engaging in fisheries-related activities, consequently leading to diminished fisheries production and income. Researchers have observed disparities between fishermen and women fisherfolk in Bangladesh concerning access to credit, training, and transportation facilities, primarily attributed to stereotypical gender perceptions. These perceptions serve as significant obstacles for women seeking to participate in fisheries activities. Moreover, women fisherfolk in Bangladesh typically face challenges such as low educational attainment, limited social networks, restricted income, and minimal physical assets, all of which exacerbate the difficulty of their tasks compared to their male counterparts. Similar challenges are noted in African countries like Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania, where women fisherfolk encounter obstacles in accessing credit and training opportunities compared to men. Cultural and religious norms, coupled with limited decision-making capacity and low participation in fisheries management systems, further hinder women fisherfolk in Bangladesh from achieving higher production and income levels through their fishing activities. Moreover, it is not uncommon in Bangladesh for the modest income earned by women fisherfolk to be appropriated by their husbands or other male family members. Gender discrimination against fisherfolk not only diminishes their income and employment prospects but also elevates the risk of violence against them. Furthermore, gender disparities impede women fisherfolk's ability to allocate time and financial resources to family welfare, particularly regarding children's education and nutritional needs.

Urgent measures are imperative to address prevailing gender disparities within the fisheries value chain system. This necessitates the establishment of effective partnerships among governmental bodies, NGOs, donors, and other stakeholders within rural communities. Critical steps must be taken to assess the credit needs of economically disadvantaged women fisherfolk and provide them with sufficient microcredit. This will enhance their capacity to invest in income-generating activities related to fisheries, ultimately leading to higher income levels. Strict enforcement of existing laws and regulations is essential to safeguard women's rights, particularly in terms of accessing natural resources such as agricultural lands or ponds. Allocating government-owned khas land (reserved land) or ponds to marginalised women engaged in fisheries activities, either through lease or other arrangements, could serve as a viable strategy for their economic empowerment. Furthermore, efforts should be directed towards ensuring that women fisherfolk receive equitable wages compared to their male counterparts for similar types of work performed. This emphasis on wage parity is crucial for promoting gender equality within the fisheries sector. Some researchers suggest that regular interaction with extension workers can significantly enhance opportunities, particularly for economically disadvantaged rural women, to access credit and training facilities. Therefore, it is imperative to establish NGO branch offices and Fishery Extension Offices (FEOs) in close proximity to villages, enabling prompt and efficient delivery of door-to-door fisheries extension services to women fisherfolk. It is worth noting that proximity to rural infrastructural facilities such as markets, banks, and landing stages can facilitate women fisherfolk's access to fisheries-related information and support diversification of their fisheries activities, thereby increasing their profit margins from fish and fisheries products sales. Introducing fisheries insurance policies could also greatly benefit women fisherfolk by enhancing their capacity to mitigate risks and uncertainties associated with fisheries-related activities. Lastly, raising awareness among rural fishing communities about the adverse effects of gender disparity is crucial. This can be achieved through extensive campaigns via mass media platforms to promote gender equality within the fisheries sector.

Dr Kazi Tanvir Mahmud is Associate Professor, and Shejuti Haque is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Southeast University, Dhaka. [email protected]; [email protected]

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