Go to content
Photos: iStock and Johannes Jansson, norden.org

Discussion and conclusion

Gender equality is an important societal issue, and at an overarching level, the same numerous and important opportunities and needs to strive for gender equality in any sector of society, also applies to fisheries and aquaculture.
Women are deeply involved and numerous in all stages and processes in the fishing sector and aquaculture, and have been so for a long time, even if they are not at the front as leaders. It is unfortunate that they play an invisible role in and across value chains in fisheries and aquaculture.
Both genders, women and men, have a stake in maritime resource extraction, the blue economy and development. Thus, decisions that are made affect them alike. Even if they are not directly affected, such decisions may affect their daughters. Policy making and implementation of framework through a gender responsive approach where all women and girls have equal opportunity and capacity to contribute at all levels of action in the decision-making process is much likelier to sustain welfare.
The lack of gender equality in the fishing industry is a challenge when it comes to safeguarding local communities along the coast. The fisheries and aquaculture sector contributes to jobs and is a significant economic contributor to the coastal North. The future of coastal societies depends on equal opportunities for women and men. The share of female fishers has increased in the past years, but women who wish to enter the fishing industry still encounter cultural and structural obstacles.
For resource-based industries, decision-making tends to happen in corporate arenas, in formalised meeting and negotiating forums between the authorities (government and public administration) and interested parties from civil society (industry, organi­sations etc.). These are often closed arenas with limited access and representation. Legitimate access is granted to “concerned parties”, i.e. stakeholders, who are narrowly defined. Industry representatives, bureaucrats and (technical) experts tend to be included in closed circles of decision making and policy making.

While a substantial proportion of the companies involved in the sector are smaller and family-based where decision-making practices may be simpler – the more complex nature of corporate decision-making processes shows that networks of buddies or families generate a male-dominated executive landscape among the big players in the maritime industry, with few exceptions.
However, we cannot ignore the fact that educational merits have brought important social mobility, with more women in research related to the maritime field, startups, technological innovation and food-based innovation as a result of development work. In many ways, therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that women working in research and development are driving innovation in the maritime sector and deserve to be acknowledged accordingly.
In some fields of education, we have seen a rise in female student attainment and graduation. That holds out promise for an improved balance in the gender ratio among the diverse groups of people involved in the maritime sector. However, we have also observed high dropout rates in the case of vocational training and secondary education related to the marine occupation, especially among females. Promotional and empowering efforts need to be considered and put into action in the school system, especially in relation to vocational training to make these occupations more attractive to women.
How far have we come since the first recommendations were made in the years immediately after the millennium, based on studies showing a lack of gender equality in the maritime sector? The short answer is that the recommendations made then might just as well have been issued today. Firstly, it was recommended that schemes be put in place to eliminate persistent negative images, stereotypes, attitudes and prejudices against women – through changes in socialisation patterns, media advertising and formal and non-formal education (Sloan et al., 2004, p.10). Another central recommendation was that countries should develop gender-sensitive databases, information systems and participatory, action-focused research and policy analyses, with the collaboration of academic institutions and local female researchers, focusing on women’s knowledge and experience in the field of management and conservation of natural resources for inclusion in the databases and information systems for sustainable development (ibid, p.10). That recommendation is still as pertinent as it was two decades ago. It also serves as a reminder that equality issues have to be constantly raised in order to put pressure on decision-makers and constantly make them aware of the importance of gender inclusion.
Gender equality and sustainability are interwoven. Men and women need to be inclusive in the work towards more sustainable practices in fisheries and aquaculture, recognizing their equal rights and access to natural resources. It is important to guard values of democracy in the Nordic Region, and political choices common for Nordic countries that gender equality should be supported to make society better and more just. Promoting sustainability, including biodiversity, in ocean governance and securing gender equality with meaningful and informed participation and leadership has to be contemporary and future objective for the Nordic Region.