The gender issue

Tackling big issues such as Common Fisheries Policy reform, illegal fishing, sustainability and certification, the seventh annual North Atlantic Seafood Forum, held in Oslo, Norway, earlier this month, offered some hard-hitting sessions.

So hard hitting, in fact, that of the 64 speaking slots only four were allotted to women, including Norwegian Fisheries Minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen (pictured), who opened the proceedings.

To be expected, one might think, at a conference in an industry that’s perceived to be dominated by men, particularly on the front line and in the top tier of management. However, women were well represented amongst delegates, and the reality is that half of all post-harvest workers are women — a fact cited by Árni Mathiesen, assistant director general for the Food and Agriculture Organization’s fisheries and aquaculture department, in his opening speech.

One delegate, seafood market expert Marie Christine Monfort, was so outraged by the lack of women speakers that she teamed up with Inger Larsson, Findus Nordic sustainability director, to hijack the stage at the start of the second day of the event.

“Marie Christine from France and myself from Sweden came to the same conclusion about women’s representation at this conference, which we would like to share with you on this International Women’s Day,” said Inger.

“Norway is a model country when it comes to sex equality, where women have gained equal status with men and access to leading positions in business and public affairs. But what do we see at this forum?  Less than 6 percent of the speakers are female,” said Monfort.

“To redress this, we have a solution for the organizers, which is to completely switch the balance at the 2013 forum,” she added, to a large round of applause.

Monfort, a member of a feminist group in France that campaigns for greater representation of women throughout society, explained that the situation was “absolutely choking,” not only to the women present but also to many of the men, who sought her out to agree with her sentiments.

“I questioned the organizers, and they told me they did not know any women to invite, so I am setting up a LinkedIn group for women in the seafood industry and I encourage everyone to sign up,” said Monfort. “The organizers have since been in touch to express their appreciation that the inequality was brought to their attention and to promise big changes next year.”

Larsson said she believed that women had a responsibility to make things happen and was pleased to give her voice to the cause. “When we have equality in society, it leads to better results for all sectors and helps to move things forward,” she explained.  

Two major publications recently encouraged greater recognition of women in the seafood industry and society as a whole. The first, by the UN secretary general’s high-level panel on global sustainability, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing,” contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development and low-carbon prosperity into practice and ensure it is incorporated into economic policy as quickly as possible. Five of these deal specifically with furthering women’s rights.

The second, an FAO draft report by Jennie Dey de Pryck on “Good practice policies to eliminate gender inequalities in fisheries value chains,” highlights key gender inequalities in fisheries value chains that lead to marked under-performance by women and propose some good practice policies that can lead to sustainable increases in production, processing and marketing of high-quality fish and reduce malnutrition among the poor. It focuses on developing countries, but draws parallels with the situation in industrialized nations and points out that women represent about half of the 200 million people worldwide working in fisheries.

“Despite their crucial contributions to the fisheries industry and to household livelihoods and nutrition,” she wrote, “these women are often invisible to policy makers who have traditionally assumed — mistakenly — that fisheries are a male domain.”


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