At its March meeting in Cambodia, the 23rd NACA Governing Council endorsed a proposal to add Gender Issues in Aquaculture as a cross-cutting theme for the NACA Work Plan. This means that gender issues will now be incorporated as a regular component of all the thematic work programmes.
The Gender Issues theme will be developed under the mentorship of Dr Meryl Williams, former Director General of the WorldFish Center and Chair of the Organising Committee of the Asian Fisheries Society 3rd Global Symposium on Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries, held in April 2011, Shanghai. NACA would like to thank Dr Williams for developing the proposal and for agreeing to provide mentorship to the organisation in this regard. The proposal prepared by Dr Williams follows below. – Ed.
The purpose of this briefing note is to recommend that the work program of the Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia (NACA) commits to incorporating gender dimensions. It argues that considering women and men within a gender framework fits well with the Vision of NACA, that many NACA member states and key agencies in the Network are beginning to pay greater attention to women and gender and thus NACA has the requirement to address gender in its work programme and operations, and the opportunity to lead and work with member governments to address gender in the burgeoning aquaculture sector.
Aquaculture developed from a base in fisheries and agriculture and both these sectors have been erroneously identified as arenas mainly for men. In them, women’s roles and contributions have been downplayed and overlooked and are not accounted for in statistics, development programs and even inside the organisations that serve them. Researchers and activists have tried to overcome these oversights but to little avail, and despite the international policy leadership in the broader society from instruments such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Despite waxing and waning interest in women and gender in aquaculture, including 5 Asian Fisheries Society symposia on women/gender and aquaculture/fisheries over the last 15 years and an active website (http://genderaquafish.org/), aquaculture and fisheries institutes and national and international policies have remained at best disinterested, and at worst resistant to taking action. Conversely, major women’s agencies such as UN Women pay little attention to women in sectors such as aquaculture, agriculture and fisheries as they focus on cross-cutting social issues such as reproductive rights and domestic violence. Therefore, sectors such as aquaculture will need to forge their own gender programs, tailored to their own needs. And this means that international agencies such as NACA must take a lead.
In 2011, FAO, which had previously paid little attention to the gender dimensions of its technical areas, made the gender gap in agricultural production the theme of its whole 2010-2011 State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report. This report also addressed aquaculture and fisheries, although not in depth. The SOFA 'gender gap' report has been galvanising, and its main conclusions are already highly cited. Briefly, FAO concluded that:
We could expect a similar yield gap to be occurring in aquaculture, though we do not have data to support this conclusion. In addition, social equity principles should mandate that women deserve attention in any sector and should have equal opportunity.
Activists and feminists will often argue that taking a 'gender approach' is inappropriate when the most severe gender problems are experienced by women who therefore should be the sole focus of empowerment and assistance efforts. However, gender experts point out that gender equity as an objective is founded on the concept that women and men’s roles, including gender hierarchies and power relations, are formed by society. To change the power structures to create gender equity requires working within society. To take a women-only approach does not address the power structures and institutional constraints. In a gendered approach, women would be the focus for practical development interventions. "Gender" is more a conceptual lens. Thus, women and gender are part of the same systematic approach.
The NACA Vision is:
NACA is an intergovernmental organisation that promotes rural development through sustainable aquaculture. NACA seeks to improve rural income, increase food production and foreign exchange earnings and to diversify farm production. The ultimate beneficiaries of NACA activities are farmers and rural communities. The core activities of NACA are:
Given this Vision, several reasons immediately indicate the imperatives for NACA to include gender in its program, as follows.
1. Intergovernmental nature of NACA: NACA has an imperative as an intergovernmental organization to consider gender in aquaculture. Most if not all the member governments would be signatories to CEDAW and many would also have national legislation and policies on women/gender. Positive actions to ensure that women are included in NACA programs would help the member governments meet their obligations through helping make aquaculture a more equal sector. Few member governments, Cambodia being the main exception, have gender policies in the fish sectors.
2. Sustainable rural aquaculture: Women are vital in generating rural income directly through their productive activities on farm or in the supply chain, or indirectly through their so-called reproductive activities. Reproductive activities mean not just producing and bringing up children but also the support services to the family and community. Women with better skills, knowledge and training make better contributions to food production and foreign exchange earnings and are often the backbone of diversified farm production activities. Thus, women, whose roles and contributions can be similar to those of men, but may also be different, need to be fully included in order for the main tenets of NACA’s vision to be achieved.
3. Core activities: Gender is a critical dimension to be understood and taken into consideration in capacity building through education and training; collaborative research and development through networking among centers and people; development of information and communication networks and policy guidelines and support to policies and institutional capacities. Even in aquatic animal health and disease management and genetics and biodiversity, women may play important roles and need training in disease recognition and management on the farm and in helping maintain and improve breed.
In short, gender is a dimension in nearly every part of the NACA Vision.
In addition, as a Network, NACA has the opportunity to show leadership to its members and help them share and coordinate their own work on women/gender in aquaculture. This opportunity for leadership could stand NACA in good stead regionally and in global and intra-regional initiatives because women/gender needs this leadership after receiving scant attention compared to fisheries, which is also only lightly served.
Finally, in its work program, NACA should be taking a lead in implementing Recommendation 5 from the 2010 Phuket Consensus of the Global Conference on Aquaculture:
"Support gender sensitive policies and implement programmes that facilitate economic, social and political empowerment of women through their active participation in aquaculture development, in line with the globally accepted principles of gender equality and women’s empowerment."
NACA has already made a start by including materials on women in aquaculture in some of its publications, especially in stories in “Aquaculture??? magazine, in some of the chapters in "Success Stories in Asian Aquaculture" and in Expert Panel Review 6.3 of Farming the Waters for People and Food, the Proceedings of the Global Conference on Aquaculture 2010 ("Sustaining aquaculture by developing human capacity and enhancing opportunities for women"). Annex 1 summarises the gender issues and opportunities from that chapter which contains many useful ideas.
NACA could embark on a development pathway for including gender in its programs by addressing four elements as steps, all done in collaboration with member government and with the help of experts as necessary. However, the short term aim would be to achieve good ownership among the membership, agencies and staff of the NACA Secretariat.
First, develop a set of specific objectives for its gender work. Second, develop a rationale that describes to its member governments and Network agencies why gender is important to incorporate. They all need a narrative to support their own moves toward greater gender awareness and inclusion in their programs. Third, consider the four following elements:
These elements involve changes in the way NACA does its own work, in the types and substance of projects NACA does, in how it engages with partners and how it influences others. As women are already quite active in many fields of aquaculture, and more women are joining the ranks of technical experts, then the sort of shift envisaged will not be as radical and dramatic as it may appear.
However, gender and social science experts will be needed to help on the technical side of the transformation. NACA will likely need to consider its own long term staff complement to incorporate more women staffers, and to include good social scientists. Many agencies presently are making the mistake of using 'rebadged' but untrained biologists and economists to do gender work. These people rarely have the deep knowledge of social science and grasp of gender concepts needed to bring the sectoral gender work forward. To add a further constraint, such gender and social science experts are in great demand. Many agencies are tending to pick up newly graduated experts and give them strong internal support to help them succeed in working with much more senior colleagues. This could also be an option for NACA, who could also take advantage of the nearby presence in Bangkok of a strong gender department at AIT, including faculty who have worked on aquaculture in the region.