Promoting Gender Equity in Southeast Madagascar’s Lobster Fishery Through Female Marine Ambassadors
Lobster fishing is a vital source of income and food security to many remote coastal communities in southeast Madagascar. To protect this valuable resource, Project Oratsimba, with funding from the Darwin Initiative, is working with the communities of Sainte Luce, Elodrato and Itapera to promote and establish community-based lobster fishery management.
In many of the lobster fishing villages of southeast Madagascar, artisanal lobster fishing is a time-honored activity and is governed by traditional gender roles. The lobsters are usually caught with woven pots deployed from wooden, hollowed-out tree trunks, called pirogues. This activity is typically performed by men, who go out to sea every morning to check, collect and deploy their lobster pots. Women, in turn, collect the bait and weave the pots with which the lobsters are caught. Once the pirogues return with the day’s catch, women are also involved in collecting, weighing and selling the lobsters.
It is these combined and complementary efforts of both men and women that enable lobsters to be caught and sold. Despite this, it is generally the actual catching of lobster – the activity which generates the most direct household income – that is valued. In contrast, the essential role that women play in the lobster supply chain is often overlooked and underappreciated.
As a result of this, women are frequently excluded from decision-making regarding lobster fisheries management. As one female participant of Project Oratsimba from Elodrato told us: “men are involved in making decisions about the lobster fishery, whilst women are responsible for mat weaving. If we do go to meetings, men won’t let women stand up and talk even if they have ideas.”
Yet, many of the women in these communities want to become more engaged in fisheries decision-making. Another female project participant from a lobster fishing household in Elodrato told SEED that “women should be invited to participate; women should be able stand and talk in front of everyone. Women have different ideas than men.”
The growing body of work on gender equality and equity in fisheries management is coming to the same conclusion. FISH, a research program by CGIAR and Worldfish, argues that gender equity in fisheries management can bring many potential benefits to fishing households, including increases in fishing productivity, household income and nutrition security. Additionally, research suggests that when women are excluded from decision-making and fisheries institutions, their ideas are rarely taken into account, which has negative implications for both family subsistence and household income.
To enable women to become active participants in community-based lobster fishery management, Project Oratsimba is working with its target communities to promote gender equity. Training women from these communities to become Marine Ambassadors is a crucial aspect of this. After being trained in facilitation, public speaking, and community-based fishery management, the Marine Ambassadors will begin leading women-only trainings in their respective communities.
Malala is one of the Marine Ambassadors in Elodrato. She is excited to be an Ambassador and is looking forward to giving her own trainings because, as she told us, she wants to help sensitize the women in her village and enable them to become more involved in fishery management. She goes on to highlight why this is so important: “women should be involved in lobster fishery management because we are the ones that are most concerned with the sustainability of our household incomes.”
By giving women a platform to share their experiences with other women, as well as instilling them with the confidence, skills and knowledge to address their male counterparts at fisheries meetings, the Marine Ambassadors are expected to empower women to become active participants in fishery management. In this way, the management of the lobster fishery will reflect the diversity of perspectives in the local communities, leading to truly community-based fishery management.
Project Oratsimba is made possible thanks to funding from Defra’s Darwin Initiative.