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'Fish Queens' in Africa

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A woman cleans a fish while carrying her child on her back in Ghana. © Andrea Borgarello / World Bank​​Intriguing, I thought when I first heard the phrase. In Ghana’s small-scale fisheries, the 'Fish Mommy' or 'Fish Queen' is the matriarch of the fish landings. She also doubles as the local authority on all post-harvest operations, exercising a great deal of control over the local market by setting the prevailing price of that day’s fresh catch every morning on the docks of coastal communities in Ghana.

The role requires a great deal of expertise. After examining the first three landings of the morning, she makes a judgment on the market price of that day. Her price is the standard at which fish is traded with discounts for lower-quality products.

In Africa, women are more influential in the postharvest sector than that of most developed country fisheries where both harvest and postharvest sectors tend to be dominated by men, according to a recent World Bank Report, Economic, environmental, and social evaluation of Africa's small-scale fisheries.

Interestingly, this extends to women in countries other than Ghana – our knowledge of Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Senegal, and Sierra Leone also show that women tend to dominate in the postharvest area. (Read a recent story on protecting African fisheries)

The study, using Fisheries Performance Indicators (FPIs), collected data regarding women in harvest and postharvest businesses. You’ll see that women in the case-study fisheries have balanced business influence with men, while in developed countries, the men tend to dominate the business sector. Another measure looks at women’s influence over marine resource management; owing to the dearth of women in positions of power on the community management associations or the national fisheries organizations, this score is low. Other measures clearly show that across all fisheries, women are more likely to be involved in the postharvest sector.

There are a few exceptions to this delineation of gender roles. In the Kenyan fisheries, women were slightly more likely to be involved in harvesting; in Malawi, there were a larger than average number of men involved in processing.

The importance of gender in the fisheries sector is often neglected or overlooked. With the FPI measurement, it will be easier for us to compare the roles of women in fisheries across countries and identify areas for intervention.



Jingjie Chu

Natural Resource Economist

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