As a community-centred organisation supporting human rights–based conservation, Blue Ventures is committed to advancing gender equality in all of our work. We are motivated by the belief that the enjoyment of rights and opportunities should not be determined or limited by a person’s gender.
We also know that natural resource management is most effective when the people who are affected by the rules can define and modify them. Women are intimately involved in coastal fisheries throughout the tropics – whether gleaning octopus or selling fish in local markets, yet often their voices are absent from conservation discussions.
The participation of women in local management associations can enhance governance by encouraging norms of collaboration, compliance, conflict resolution and accountability. When women have access to reproductive health choices and income-generating opportunities, their families and communities also benefit.
Our approach to promoting gender equality is multifaceted and locally led. It is constantly evolving in response to our understanding of how gender norms can mediate men and women’s participation in community activities and marine conservation.
We recognise that gender equality is about more than just empowering women. In addition to initiatives aiming to build their agency, we also seek to engage men in discussions about gender norms and work within local structures to increase female representation in decision-making.
Our community health and livelihood programmes specifically target women, offering them a range of family planning options and increasing their economic autonomy. These initiatives help to build women’s agency, providing a firm foundation to support progress towards gender equality.
We work with partners to improve access to family planning services for coastal communities in Madagascar, Mozambique, Comoros and Indonesia. Women who use contraception report experiencing better physical and mental health, and appreciate being able to choose the number and timing of their births. They are also able to work more and earn more. Our aquaculture initiative offers women the opportunity to cultivate seaweed and sea cucumbers: over half of all farmers are female.
We also support women in Belize to produce lionfish jewellery, boosting market demand for this invasive species while increasing women’s economic autonomy.
Before designing and implementing management measures, communities often need to learn about their fisheries. We (or our partners) train local community members to collect basic fisheries data to inform decision-making.
The majority of data collectors are women, and where possible we support them to present the findings of their monitoring efforts back to their communities and other stakeholders. In this way, women’s voices are naturally brought to the fore in discussions about fisheries management.
Female data collectors in the Comoros and Timor-Leste are gaining new skills and greater confidence to be able to play a role in local marine management.
Meanwhile our work with community-based organisations in Indonesia is allowing us to trial a range of approaches to support female data collectors to have a voice in community management discussions.
In addition to initiatives aiming to build women’s agency, we also engage with men to encourage reflection about traditional gender norms. This is a new area of work for us, so we are very much guided by local staff and partners in our approach.
We are partnering with Marie Stopes in Timor-Leste to give men from local homestay associations the opportunity to discuss the roles they play within their households and communities.
We hope to expand our work in this area, seeing men as crucial allies in locally led efforts to advance gender equality.
We work to increase female representation in local marine conservation by supporting women-only discussions and collaboration, and encouraging women to get involved in natural resource management associations as elected representatives.
In some contexts, we find that women-only groups can provide supportive spaces for female fishers to talk about local marine conservation issues. In other contexts, we see women stepping into decision-making roles and taking their seat alongside men through community elections.
Following a learning exchange visit to Zanzibar, female fishers in the Comoros formed a women-only association and mobilised their villages to organise the first community-based temporary octopus fishery closure on the island of Anjouan.
In many of the contexts where we work, female representation in decision-making ensures that octopus reserve openings are timed so that everybody can benefit. For example, our partners in Tanzania ensure that reserve openings coincide with the lowest tides so that women are able to glean on reef-flats by foot and share in the increased catches.
After more than 15 years of community-based work in southwest Madagascar, women now constitute more than a third of elected community representatives in the local management committee responsible for governing the Velondriake marine protected area. This rivals most political structures in the west in terms of inclusivity, although the next challenge is creating more space for women’s voices during meetings, as male elders still dominate the proceedings.
As part of our commitment to mainstreaming gender considerations across our work, our gender working group brings together colleagues working across a wide variety of contexts to share learning and effective practices.
We are finding that our holistic, human rights–based approach to locally led marine conservation is already making strides towards advancing gender equality. There are also opportunities for us to do more in this area – from scoping and programme design through to monitoring and evaluation.
As we support partners to apply and adapt our models in new geographies, we are working to build in gender-sensitive or gender-transformative approaches from the start.