Women highlight their roles in industry through film competition

Published on
October 9, 2018

In 2017, WSI, the International Association for Women in the Seafood Industry, launched a competition to encourage women to video their experiences in the workplace and tell their stories. The aim was to increase awareness about their role in the industry and to recognize the value they bring to it. 

According to WSI Founder and President Marie Christine Monfort, encouraging women to star in their own films was an uphill struggle at first, but gradually, the entries began to trickle in. Monfort said she was so impressed with the quality of the films – and the growing enthusiasm of women for a voice – that WSI decided to run the competition again this year, with a EUR 1,000 (USD 1,162) prize for the winner and EUR 500 (USD 581) for second and third place.

The resulting 15, four-minute films, which are available on the WSI website, give a powerful and fascinating insight into a variety of women’s roles and their thoughts and feelings about the world of fishing, fish farming, processing, retailing, and marketing. 

“We were delighted with the breadth of the entries, which went some way towards showing the variety of work that women are doing within the seafood industry,” Monfort told SeafoodSource. “A lot of effort is being put into tackling illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing around the world, but we see WSI’s mission as tackling IIU – invisible, ignored, and unrepresented women.”

Monfort explained that one in every two seafood workers is a woman, yet women are over-represented in the lowest-paid and lowest-valued positions, with very few in leadership positions. 

“Women are essential contributors to this important food industry, but they remain invisible, including to policymakers,” Monfort said.

The winning film portrays the lives of the women who undertake the vital work of mending fishing nets in the port of Vigo, in Spain. Often working outside in all weathers, the women feel that they are undervalued and unrecognized for their efforts. 

“I think nobody is aware of how important our work is for the fishing sector, because everyone here looks at the fishing, the skipper, the boat, a good engine, a good engineer. Nobody looks at us here. We are totally invisible,” said a worker named Beatriz, who has been mending nets for 33 years, in the film.

Beatriz’s simple wish for herself and her fellow workers is for acknowledgement of their value to industry and the health hazards they face in their work. 

Second prize went to a film from a cooperative of women fishers in Santa Cruz, California, describing how they set up a clam-farming operation, and how they found it difficult to enter a field traditionally dominated by men. In their efforts to gain a better understanding of the environment and ecological sustainability of their area, they have become the first women to seed black clams in the Sea of Cortez and are keen to play their part in ecotourism. 

Two films tied for third place. One is about two women fishing from Petty Harbour in Newfoundland, who proactively encourage others to take on fishing roles.  For generations, local women have helped out in family fishing businesses and many have gone to sea with their husbands, but it was the men who held the fishing knowledge. The difference today is that young women are being empowered to join food and commercial fisheries and to gain the knowledge to run their own operations.

The other runner-up follows the story of Ratna, the wife of a fishermen from Visakhapatnam on the Bay of Bengal in India.  Struggling to survive on her husband’s earnings, she teamed up with five other local women to request grant assistance from the local government to set up a “fish nutri cart.” The cart has enabled the women to add value to the catch by selling hot seafood meals and provides a good income for them all on a job-share basis. The venture has been so successful that the women have just applied for a grant to purchase a second cart. Their families now have enough to eat and their children are able to go to school. 

Fenella Porter, senior gender advisor at Oxfam UK and a member of the international judging panel for the competition, did not hesitate to get involved in the initiative. 

“The competition is an excellent way to communicate about the real issues that are faced by women in the seafood industry, without getting too buried in theoretical text. It is effective and informative, and an enjoyable way to get this kind of insight. The voices of these women are authentic and clear, and must be heard,” she said. 

The winning films will now feature at the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries conference in Bangkok, Thailand later this month, at the first women in fisheries international symposium in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in November, and during the international film festival of fisherfolks from the world, in Lorient, France, in March 2019.

“WSI will be running the competition again in 2019 and I encourage all seafood companies and organizations to get involved and to help facilitate women to make their own films,” Monfort said.

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