Gender equality and women’s empowerment are globally recognized priorities, yet gendered inequalities and barriers remain prevalent. People of all genders make critical contributions throughout fish agri-food systems. Yet, women – and especially women who are from marginalized socio-economic groups – generally have less voice in decision making and face more severe constraints than men in accessing information, financial and technical services, innovations, and markets. Even when women do have access to physical or financial assets, control over these assets may be in favor of men.

Underlying barriers, such as constraining norms around gendered division of labor and who is seen as a leader and innovator, mean that women tend to be disproportionally represented in unpaid and lower-return roles, face additional barriers to opportunities and do not benefit equally with men from being part of fish agri-food systems.

Fish agri-food systems are intersected by different levels of social and gender inequalities and inequities. At the micro-level, women have less ownership and control of assets that generate income (land, ponds, fish, technology) and bear a greater share of unpaid work. At the macro-level, they are disproportionately involved in low-return employment and less profitable nodes of value chains, receive an inequitable share of benefits and have unequal power in governance. 

Through its Gender Strategy, FISH examined gendered patterns and barriers in fish agri-food systems and identified strategies to address inequities. FISH identified four impact pathways that connect to gender and social justice themes of voice and choice, women’s economic empowerment, gender equality, equity and human rights, and food systems transformation. They recognize intersecting forms of marginalization and power dynamics, take a multi-scale approach, and engage the knowledge and agency of women and men in generating insights and ways forward.

Pathway 1: The resilience of fish agri-food systems relies on gender-inclusive and gender-responsive innovations. Gender equity considerations must be integrated into every stage of innovation development, dissemination and uptake. This involves moving beyond male-focused innovation processes to include explicit assessments of women’s needs and engaging women as innovators. For example, a climate-smart aquaculture study in Bangladesh engaged women as fish farmers and co-researchers, rather than as “wives of fish farmers” or “research subjects.”

Pathway 2: Inclusive livelihoods and wealth generation in fish agri-food systems help ensure women’s economic empowerment. Inclusive livelihoods and wealth generation, including women’s economic empowerment, require building of enablers, including supportive familial relations and women’s education, strategies to avoid further loss of assets such as social protection, investments in women’s social networks, and equitably engaging women in decision-making at all scales.

Pathway 3: Inclusive governance is the foundation of equitable and resilient fish agri-food systems. FISH conducted case studies in Bangladesh and Indonesia that illustrate that women’s entry and control of their own income in fish value chains is necessary, but not sufficient, to achieve women’s economic empowerment. Structural enablers are also required, including spousal and family support, education, ownership of productive resources, and social networks as they relate to market access. Information communication technologies can allow women to work, train and receive payments from home, offering a way around gendered mobility constraints to economic empowerment.

Pathway 4: Gender transformative approaches (GTA) are necessary to overcome invisible barriers to gender equality. FISH was a pioneer in GTA and its research complemented and went beyond business-as-usual gender accommodative approaches. Rather than seeking short-term solutions, FISH critically examined and engaged with factors underlying unequal gender dynamics, in particular gender norms and associated practices that constrain gender equality. In doing so, FISH identified investments in policy and practice and influence changes in institutions to those that engages both women and men, creating opportunities for contextually appropriate and locally informed, lasting shifts towards gender equality.

Download the brief “Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in fish agri-food systems: Four pathways” here.