Financial security needed for women in fisheries in West Africa


  • Many West Africans depend on the artisanal fishing sector for their livelihoods and food security.
  • In this sector, men dominate fishing and production while women dominate post-harvest processing, in addition to sales and marketing.
  • Research suggests that women do not earn enough money and are limited in their roles in fishing; a position made more vulnerable by COVID-19.
  • Going forward, more policies should be introduced to protect women from financial risks in the industry, write two experts.

Across West Africa, artisanal fishing sector is a crucial source of livelihoods and food security. For example, in Nigeria, artisanal fishing represents 80% fish consumed and supports the livelihoods of on 24 million people.

Both men and women work in the sector, although the workforce – across the region – is divided by gender. Men dominate fishing and production while women dominate post-harvest treatment, such as dressing, sorting, salting and smoking fish. Women too do the most sales and marketing. Women thus play a crucial role in artisanal fishing.

We have conducted research on marine resource governance in West Africa for the past six years. This included field research in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Our research has revealed that poor fisheries governance undermines the livelihoods of fishers.

To research somewhere else shows that women in particular are abused. Their contributions to the sector are vastly underpaid, undervalued and vastly invisible. This affects them in many ways – for example, they have less access to capital and other resources.

Because women do not earn enough money and are limited in their roles in fishing, they do not have the purchasing power buy enough fish to earn a living for long periods of time. They also don’t have access processing and storage facilities required to prevent spoilage losses.

In times of economic or social upheaval such as an epidemic (Ebola) or pandemic (COVID-19[FEMALE)[FEMININE) their position is even more vulnerable.

We realize now to research that explores these vulnerabilities. The countries we are looking at are Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and São Tomé & Principe. In this ongoing research, we examine the extent to which COVID-19 has compounded the particular challenges women face.

Gender bias at the institutional level – such as fisheries ministries, management agencies and financial institutions – is a significant challenge for women in the fisheries sector. Fisheries Policy Development and Management overlooks the (often informal) contributions of women. Their contributions to fishing are treated as an extension of their daily lives and responsibilities, making them invisible in the blue economy.

This institutional invisibility reduces the access to capital, thereby limiting their ability to develop or diversify their livelihoods. The expansion of fisheries livelihoods and the diversification of women are further complicated by the fact that they must balance production and reproduction rolesand many use the majority of their income to meet household expenses.

Loss of fish after capture deterioration is another enduring challenge for women processors. They usually have lack of access to adequate cold storage and conservation equipment, such as wood for smoking and ice for storagewhich must be purchased and are in limited supply.

The depletion of fish stocks poses another challenge for women. Half of the fish species in the waters off West Africa are overfished. This reduces the fish caught and limits access that women must fish for processing and sale. Competition for access to fish is intensifying and as a result, women are reported to be exchanging sexual favors ensure a regular supply of fish.

Implications and next steps

The challenges facing women in West African fisheries have dire implications.

Institutional invisibility means they are marginalized. They are often excluded from reception policy or financial aid.

Post-harvest fish losses due to the deterioration and depletion of fish stocks threaten the economic and food security of women in fishing and their families.

Reduced access to fish increases competition for this precious resource, with dangerous consequences. Globally, HIV/AIDS infection rates in fishing communities range between 4 and 14 times higher than the national averages, with transactional sex in the fishing sector contributing to this high prevalence.

Through our work, we have seen that women in fisheries have coping mechanisms in the form of women’s cooperatives. Women’s cooperatives at national and regional levels provide important “safety nets” for women in fisheries, through financial support, advocacy and fundraising. In Côte d’Ivoire, women’s cooperatives, such as The Union of Cooperative Societies of Fishermen and Assimilated Women of Côte d’Ivoireprovide support by regulating informal loan relationships on behalf of women that are otherwise exploited by loan sharks.

But more needs to be done, especially as COVID-19 restrictions make it harder for women to access, store and sell fish stocks – something we’re seeing through our ongoing research. .

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress in closing gender gaps at the national level. To turn this information into concrete actions and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public-private collaboration.

These accelerators were convened in ten countries from three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Panama in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All National Accelerators, as well as Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a larger ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, which facilitates the exchange of ideas and knowledge. experiences via the Forum platform.

In 2019, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch an accelerator to close the gender gap. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women make up just over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the labor force are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to rise to managerial positions.

In these countries, CEOs and Ministers work together over a three-year period on policies that help to further reduce the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare, and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention, and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries, you can join the local member base.

If you are a company or government in a country where we do not currently have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator, you can contact us to explore the possibilities of creating one.

Actions that policy makers should take include improving cold storage for fish preservation and processing infrastructure – such as ovens and freezing chambers – to extend the shelf life of landed fish.

In addition, West African governments should consider establishing and supporting financial organizations – such as credit unions and cooperatives to provide credit at affordable rates – to ease the burden of financial risks that women face. faced throughout the fisheries value chain.


Sarah J. Greer