By Lemlem Aregu and Surendran Rajaratnam
Despite the fact that Myanmar is one of the world’s top 10 fish-producing nations, women are often afforded less access to productive assets and training than their male counterparts. Increasingly, government and development agencies are taking action to close this gender gap as part of efforts to support and drive growth in the sector.
Women are critical actors in Myanmar’s fish production—they make and mend fishing nets; feed and catch fish from ponds; and process, cook and sell fish.
However, women are not equally compensated with men. For example, wage rates for temporary workers in fish farms are USD 4 per day for men and USD 3 per day for women.
Women also have less access to and control over resources such as land, compared to men. For example, the lease certificate for fishing is issued to households only in the husbands’ name; there is no joint certification system for husband and wife. This limits women’s ability to contribute equally to decisions on whether to engage in or expand their family’s capture fisheries or aquaculture business.
In addition, women have primary responsibility for household cleaning and caregiving, which impacts on their mobility and time available for work.
As gender and fisheries studies by WorldFish and others show, this inequality in resources and decision making is partly rooted in social and gender norms and relations that consider men to be the ‘heads of their households’. As such, male farmers and fishers tend to receive most of the information, inputs and training on improved fisheries and aquaculture production systems.
Together, these factors have a negative impact on women’s economic empowerment as well as on the broader fisheries sector. If women are not afforded equal access to information, inputs and training in a way that fits with their existing home responsibilities, then the effective and sustainable development of the sector is hindered.
As well as being necessary to achieve the country’s international commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment (the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5), closing this gap is also fundamental to Myanmar’s commitments to and goals of reducing poverty and hunger (SDG 1 and 2).
Gender integration in Myanmar fisheries sector
Recognizing the significant impacts of overcoming gender inequality, WorldFish has been working in partnership with the Myanmar Department of Fisheries (DoF) and others since 2015 to promote small-scale aquaculture in ways that reach both women and men. This is part of the LIFT-funded MYCulture and IFAD-funded MYNutrition projects under the CGIAR Research Program on Fish.
As part of this work, in March 2017, WorldFish together with DoF, the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) and the Gender Equality Network (GEN) held a half-day ‘Mainstreaming Gender in Myanmar Fisheries Sector’ workshop on International Women’s Day. Attended by 30 participants from DoF, WorldFish, LIFT, GEN, Wageningen University, Rakhine Fisheries Partnership (RFP), Pyoepin and Danida, the workshop aimed to raise awareness on the need to close the gender gap.
“Although there is a political will from DoF to consider gender in the fisheries sector, how gender needs to be considered across the sector is not well understood,” said DoF Yangon Regional Fishery Officer U Tun Win Myint in the opening address.
During the workshop, participants agreed on priority areas for action. This included development of gender-sensitive policies and guidelines at the state level, which can be initiated through reviewing existing laws and policies pertaining to fisheries. A needs assessment for training was also agreed as a promising way to raise awareness within DoF and build their capacity in gender mainstreaming to create change in both belief and practice.
Seeing these ideas come to fruition will not be a quick process, but there are already promising signs of action.
At a subsequent Myanmar Fishery Partnership (MFP) meeting on 13 March 2017, attended by the DoF Director General and the Director General of WorldFish, policymakers met in Naypyidaw to discuss the overall DoF fisheries policy and other management aspects. Building on the ideas generated and the overall outcomes of the mainstreaming gender workshop, the meeting participants agreed to address gender-related issues in the overall fisheries policy—for the first-time ever—to ensure that women equally benefit from the sector. They also agreed that further mechanisms to achieve gender equality need to be in place, for example the allocation of budget at different levels within the DoF and having gender focal people as part of the gender mainstreaming process.
In parallel, WorldFish continues to work in Myanmar with DoF and other partners to build staff capacity and develop gender-inclusive and transformative interventions that increase women’s participation in and benefits from its research and development interventions.
With 70 percent of Myanmar’s 51 million people engaged in agriculture, including fisheries, enhancing the equality and equity of women’s opportunities, engagement and benefits from fisheries and aquaculture will have significant impacts on food security and poverty reduction.