Raw deal for women in the fisheries sector

12 Apr 2024
Raw deal for women in the fisheries sector

Opinion: Saurabh Bandyopadhyay and Laxmi Joshi.

Despite making significant contributions and accounting for a large share of the workforce, women’s concerns and interests are frequently disregarded.

India is second only to China in fish production. In 2022-23, India produced around 18 million tonnes, accounting for 8 per cent of global production. About 32 per cent of this came from marine sources, and 68 per cent from inland sources. The fisheries sector contributes 1.09 per cent to India’s GVA, and over 6.7 per cent to agriculture GVA.

Water bodies are an important source of inland fishery. Per the Census of Water Bodies by the Ministry of Jal Shakti (Census conducted during 2018-19 and reported in 2023), here are 2.4 million water bodies in the country, of which 97.1 per cent are in rural areas and 2.9 per cent in urban. The distribution of water bodies is as follows: 59.5 per cent are ponds; 15.7 per cent, tanks; 12.1 per cent, reservoirs; 9.3 per cent, water conservation schemes/percolation tanks/check dams; 0.9 per cent, lakes; 2.5 per cent, others.

Inland fisheries provide employment and livelihood support to over 28 million people in India, of which women are an integral part, helping with pre- and post-harvest work — peeling, seafood processing, community care, etc. An NCAER study observed that women’s concerns and interests are frequently disregarded.

For instance, women workers in the fish mandi of Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh complain about not having separate toilet facilities despite shouldering equal responsibilities in the entire marketing activities. There are still significant gaps in our understanding of gender relations in the fisheries sector.

Work overlooked

In India, women make up 72 per cent of the fisheries workforce (FAO, 2016), with 57 per cent engaged in seed collection, 73.6 per cent in marketing, and 75.7 per cent in curing and processing (CMFRI, 2010). Despite their significant contributions, women’s work is often overlooked. Processing industries often employ women, but rigid working hours, household responsibilities, and distance from the workplace make it difficult for them to attend work on time, leading to stress and even injuries.

The Central Institute for Women in Agriculture (CIWA) has calculated the Gender Work Participation Disparity Index in fisheries, which varies from State to State. In Nagaland, Manipur, and Himachal Pradesh it is < 0.15, whereas in Punjab, Haryana, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha, it is between 0.34 and 0.59 (CIWA, 2015).

Ownership of land and other productive resources is primarily male-dominated; in developed countries, women hold 20 per cent of land, and in underdeveloped countries, it is only 2 per cent. Due to several collateral factors or male dominance, women do not have access to financial facilities or marketing agreements. Women’s engagement in agriculture and related fields has been restricted by technological improvements that have primarily benefited men.

In 97 countries, just 5 per cent of agricultural extension services are received by female farmers, indicating that women’s access to these services is restricted. Women are left behind at home when males migrate elsewhere in search of employment, which results in excess workload and less prospects for income generation. In fisheries, women are under-represented on official decision-making platforms, which makes sustained reforms challenging. Sensitivity to gender issues, women-supportive marketing infrastructure, gender-responsive research, gender main-streaming of course curriculums, and gender-disaggregated data collection are crucial for sustainable transformation of the fishery sector.

The writers are Senior Fellow and Fellow, respectively, at NCAER

Published in: The Hindu Business Line, 12 Apr 2024