Why they must be counted: Significant contributions of Fijian women fishers to food security and livelihoods
Worldwide, small-scale fisheries (SSF) are an important source of food and livelihoods for rural communities and contribute substantially to national economies. Women play crucial roles in these fisheries, yet their contributions are largely invisible, often ignored and unrecognized. We conducted household and focus group surveys to examine the role of indigenous Fijian (iTaukei) women in SSF, documenting fishing practices and contributions to household food security and income. Our results reinforced several traditional views, such as iTaukei women preferentially fishing closer to their villages; but also challenged other assumptions with women fishing a wider range of habitats (from inland rivers to the open ocean) and species than previously described, and many using a boat and fishing with men. In addition to gleaning for invertebrates and seaweed, women also caught over 100 species of fish. Women fished primarily for subsistence, emphasizing their significant contribution to household food security. Although almost half of the women sold part of their catch to supplement household incomes, they also engaged in other income earning livelihoods, and therefore were not solely dependent on fisheries. Of concern was the high targeting of nursery areas for fish and invertebrate species by women fishers, and species with low spawning potential ratios. Given the level of engagement in, and contributions to fisheries, the inclusion of iTaukei women fishers in fisheries planning and management is critical for ensuring the sustainability of SSF in Fiji. Furthermore, empowering women for full participation in fisheries and lifting them out of poverty requires a re-consideration of traditional gender norms in rural communities, which are already shifting and evolving.