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Status of knowledge internationally and in the Nordic Region

All over the world, women participate in all segments of the seafood industry, including fishing, farming, trading and selling, monitoring and administration. However, the widespread lack of consideration for their role and work in the seafood industry is, in many respects, disadvantageous to them and ultimately bars them from participating fully and equitably in the industry (Monfort, 2015). Observation of fishing communities internationally and the whole fish supply chain reveals that women and even children make enormous, often unpaid contributions to fish supply by providing fishing support services such as net making and bookkeeping, as well as by processing and marketing fish. Since fisheries management and its costs and benefits affect the whole fish supply chain, management measures thus need to account for gender (Williams, 2010).
Women are responsible for many pre-harvest and post-harvest activities but remain mostly invisible in the fishing narrative, especially since they hold little decision-making power in fishery organisations due to the lack of gender equality. Securing sustainable seafood relies heavily on people in the seafood supply chain, the majority of whom are women (WWF, 2019). Scientific evidence has unequivocally shown how collaboration between conservation actors of all genders, cultures, ages and values contributes to both sustainable development and better environmental protection. Effective policies must address the diversity of gender roles and identities, as well as the underlying drivers of inequality, in order to harmonise how we evolve the sustainable use of marine resources (WWF, 2019).
The first Europe-focused study addressing the participation of women in the industry dates back to 2002 (MacAlister Elliott and Partners, 2001). In that year the issue of its periodical publication “Fishing in Europe” was titled: “Women in fisheries: an unnoticed role”. The editorial starts with the strong statement: The European Commission acknowledges women’s role in fisheries. Despite their presence at all levels and in all areas of the sector, the role of women in European fisheries has until recently remained largely unnoticed.” European institutions, including the Commission and the Parliament, now strongly encourage national governments to be more “gender sensitive” in their policies. One effective means of persuasion, namely the inclusion of gender issues as selection criteria in the allocation of subsidies, was introduced in 2014 and is intended to help transform fisheries and fishery communities (Monfort, 2015).
The first Arctic Council Conference on Gender Equality and Women in the Arctic titled “Taking Wing” was held in 2002. The focus was on roles of both indigenous and non-indigenous women in resource-based sectors and natural resource management in the Arctic in the effort to promote sustainable development (Sloan et.al, 2004). That meeting spurred a Norwegian-led initiative during Norway’s presidency of the Arctic Council on women‘s access to decision-making in the work of the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group 2002-2004. It followed up on the UN Rio Declaration, Principle 10: Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens at the relevant level, and Principle 20: Women have a vital role in environmental management and development, as well as Principle 22: Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices (Sloan et al. 2004).
A follow-up study more widely focusing on women and natural resources in the rural North concluded that a common feature is that women tend to have higher levels of education than men and may also find it harder to find challenging work in the communities they wish to reside in. Raising the awareness of the highly male-dominated, resource-based industries that they may be missing out on potential well-qualified local employees may serve to increase the number of local residents (men and women) employed by such industries (Sloan et al., 2005). The authors of the circumpolar study found that adopting measures to encourage local residents to seek qualifications enabling them to work in such positions seemed at the time to be a possibility that was given little consideration. The management of natural resources, including living resources, is a task well suited to Arctic residents, both women and men. Proximity to the resources and an understanding of the local conditions, based on knowledge handed down over generations – when combined with understanding based on training and access to positions of power – can yield a resource management system that is sustainable in the sense that stakeholders are actively involved. The authors’ main recommendations encompassed the following: a) Decision makers, administrators and companies engaged in natural resource-based industries in the North should act in accordance with their own stated aims of achieving gender equality and step up their efforts to achieve gender equality. b) That includes evaluating stated policies and legal measures, taking into account how recruitment practices, company cultures, local culture and educational strategies combine to affect such efforts. c) Comparable statistics broken down by gender should be compiled, reflecting employment, decision making and effects on local communities. Those statistics should be comprehensive and reflect developments over time. Such a statistical base would also serve to emphasise the contributions that Arctic residents, both women and men, make to the economy (Sloan et.al., 2005).
The Icelandic Chairmanship of the Arctic Council has launched a range of studies devoted to gender equality in the Arctic (GEA I, II, III & IV). The latest publication includes a special subchapter on gender and environment, and a special section on arctic marine resources (Smiezek & Prior 2021, in Oddsdóttir & Ágústsson, 2021). It concludes that scholarship on the relationship between gender and ocean governance remains scarce. Despite the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) being one of the most comprehensive international conventions, it does little to address gender inequality, the vulnerability and marginalisation of women at sea and women‘s role in promoting sustainability in ocean governance (Lijnzaad, 2019 in Oddsdóttir & Ágústsson, 2021). It is also the case that women’s voices are rarely heard in the governance of ocean resources (Goettsch-Wanli, 2019 in Oddsdóttir & Ágústsson, 2021). Research on women in Arctic fisheries shows that promotion of women’s contribution to activities across hierarchies at sea is largely lacking (Frangoudes & Gerrard, 2018). Echoed by many scholars and publications, the lack of gender-disaggregated data in fisheries is “the single biggest void in the literature, which limits our understanding of women‘s actual participation in fisheries” (Sloan et al., 2004; Arctic Human Development Report, 2004; Henriksen & Nyrud, 2021).
According to recent report from the IUCN-CEM Fisheries Expert Group, the importance of gender equality is well-recognized in the fishery policy sector, but not necessarily implemented in practice. Indeed, practically one cannot show full and equitable participation of women and girls in all aspects of fisheries, but acknowledgement of their many roles in fisheries overall has improved. Some barriers to full gender equality are operational, as some roles in fisheries and fishing vessels have not been designed to be equally welcoming to men and women and are changing very slowly. There are also still aspects of gender differentiation embedded in some cultures, and these must be addressed above the scale of individual fisheries (Charles et al., 2023).
Nordic countries are generally perceived as “gender-equal”, but there are still gender issues in many areas of society, with marine-based industries being an especially concerning area. A range of sources allow us to conclude that there is a need to focus on gender issues in blue economies – going beyond the traditional focus on fisheries to explore gender issues in other marine sectors such as aquaculture, offshore energy, shipping, marine tourism and offshore mineral extraction among others.
Previous research on gender issues in marine contexts, particularly focusing on fisheries and sometimes aquaculture, is lacking in general. Most research to date has been conducted in Norway and Iceland. Other countries have largely omitted gender perspectives. Women need to be included in governments` efforts to boost economic activities at sea.
The areas of Nordic countries where the economy largely depends on extraction of natural resources and the blue bioeconomy are the Coastal Nordic Arctic and insular areas of the Nordic Region. There is thus a need to compare how Nordic/Arctic countries have addressed gender issues in blue economies in relevant policies.