2017 what a year! Women in many countries have made their voices heard on matters related to both the private and economic sphere. Sexual misconduct and unequal pay were two of the main protests expressed loud and clear by individuals in many countries. What happened in the seafood environment?
We want to share with you what we have observed from our watch post as the president of the International Association for Women in the Seafood Industry (WSI). Most of our observations are accessible in the WSI WATCH 2017 published last week .
Even though some progress, the seafood industry is still qualified by their own staff as “male dominated”. Men and women occupy distinct roles all along the seafood value chain. And regardless of country, location or level of industry development, female workers are consistently over- represented in low- skill, low-paid, low valued positions and remain mostly absent in the higher echelons of the value chain. Whether in the developed or the developing worlds, where contexts vary significantly, similar norms and stereotypes deeply rooted in this industry, make the distribution of power and profit between the two sexes uneven.
Whereas among the latter women “dominate” in numbers. They represent 70% of all aquaculture workers, 85% to 90% of the seafood processing worldwide , and 50% of the total of seafood workers. This blatant power asymmetry allows for all sorts of wrongdoings and discriminations. Pregnancy continues to be penalized with dismissal, and parental leave continues to be seen as a mainly women/mother issue. Whether in fish or shrimp-processing plants, both local and the more vulnerable migrant employees are victims of sexual misconducts. And this in developed, as well as developing countries. Unequal pay is another trait, not specific to but however common to the seafood sector. For example, in France, according to official statistics female seafood wholesalers earn 16% less than their male counterparts – based on the same job and equivalent working time. As for female fishmongers it is 18% less  . In Bangladesh the wage gap is estimated at 18% at shrimp farming, from 17% to 40% at shrimp processing.
“Gender on the agenda of the seafood industry” survey
Last autumn WSI launched a specific on-line questionnaire on how men and women of the industry perceived professional and gender (in)equality, including their appreciations of the role of women. Preliminary results  of this global survey -that collects 700 responses- confirm that all segments of the seafood industry from fishing to fish farming, processing, trading and managing are perceived as unequal working environment for and by women. Two thirds (68%) of all female respondents report that gender inequality and discriminations based on gender exist in their company. By contrast men do not have the same perception, with 38% acknowledging some sort of discriminatory situation when 55% of them consider that there are no problems. This result is verified across the five continents. Many respondents also declared that this question is not a priority for their industry, falling far behind economic matters, sanitary constraints or even environmental sustainability.
Acknowledgement is the first step of resolution
We at WSI are convinced that acknowledgement of the gender-based disparity is the first step to resolution. Over the past 20 years the ecological dimension of sustainability has become a real concern to many seafood stakeholders including private corporate. The status of IUU, overfishing activities have moved from commonplace to unacceptable. Time has arrived to address the social dimension of sustainability, of which gender equality. Together with the International Pole & Line Foundation WSI will hold a workshop during the Seaweb Seafood Summit in Barcelona in June 2018. Seafood stakeholders will meet to discuss gender disparities issues, because gender equality is an irrevocable element of seafood sustainability.
1 Accessible for free here: WSI Reports
2 Kruijssen, F., Aquaculture (2018), Gender and aquaculture value chains: A review of key issues and implications for research
3 Official data Dares France
4 Comprehensive results will be ready in English by the end of March and in French and Spanish by the end of April.
Marie Christine Monfort
WSI Co-founder and president