IUCN Director General’s statement on World Oceans Day 2019

Exploring gender dimensions of humankind’s relationship with the ocean


Humanity’s historical bond with the ocean brings to mind fishermen and seafarers. Yet, as highlighted by today’s Oceans Day theme, women are the often unseen protagonists of our relationship with the ocean – and must be included in efforts to protect the rapidly declining marine ecosystems and the livelihoods they sustain.

women in Zanzibar collecting fish from the ocean

Emergencies such as overfishing, plastic pollution, declining oxygen levels and rising acidity due to climate change are not only increasingly putting marine, but our life at risk. These risks have a gender dimension.

Take, for instance, the fisheries sector. Women account for 90% of global fisheries processing roles and 15% of the global harvesting workforce. In Asia, 60% of seafood is marketed by women, and in Western Africa, as much as 80%. Most fishers at sea are men but gleaning is often predominantly carried out by women. This means that many women directly rely on healthy and productive ecosystems for their livelihoods.

Fortunately, integrating a gender-responsive approach into nature-based solutions is currently gaining global momentum with significant results toward empowering women and enhancing gender equality.

Women are often underrepresented in management decision forums that are responsible for securing the future of fisheries. Fifteen per cent of fisheries ministries are led by women. In a study of 71 major seafood companies, only one CEO position (or 1%) was held by a woman. Women are also underrepresented in the science supporting the decisions. Special networks have been created to encourage young women to pursue marine science. In recent years, the number of women involved in marine science has significantly increased

Conversely, closing the gap in women’s representation presents a significant opportunity to engage women in marine science and as ocean and coastal stewards.

Despite the challenges, this day is also about celebration. Let us celebrate decisions delivering results and leading us on the path of ocean sustainability. I would like to extend special gratitude to our Members and partners working to close the gender gap, from local coastal communities around the world to policy makers. Together we can join forces to strengthen women's voices, resource tenure, and use available tools to integrate gender considerations into conservation projects.

This should not be a box-ticking exercise, but one that appreciates and harnesses the capacities of both men and women. Only by doing so can we seize the chance of protecting the ocean and the vital resources it provides us with.

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