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A new report by Nofima on gender equality in fisheries concludes that if the proportion of women in fisheries is to increase, culture and attitudes must change.

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Morgan Lillegård  

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The Storting has asked the Government to develop a strategy for better gender equality in fisheries. Commissioned by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, Nofima has prepared the ‘Better gender equality in fisheries’ report. It addresses gender equality in the catching sector of the fishing industry and will form the background material for Minister of Fisheries and Seafood Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen.

“Nofima’s report tells us something important about one of Norway’s largest industries. Namely, that fisheries will be missing out on skilled workers if we do not become better at including and recruiting more women. Everyone at all levels must make an effort to improve gender equality in the fishing industry. Nofima’s input will serve as an important contribution to a gender equality strategy in the fisheries”, says Ingebrigtsen.

The report states that there are three clear reasons that individually and collectively result in low participation of female fishermen:

  • A male-dominated and at times rough culture
  • Greater challenges for women than men in combining the profession with responsibility for children
  • Women’s own career choices

“Parts of the fisheries are characterised by too much of a tough male culture, and this is something that makes recruiting and retaining women difficult. This is one of my most important conclusions”, says researcher Edgar Henriksen, who has prepared the report together with colleague Thomas Nyrud.

The researchers have not found formal barriers that prevent women from becoming fishermen or fishing boat owners in the same way as men. This suggests that there have been, and are obstacles in the way of real gender equality. This is where Henriksen points to the culture that can be found among certain people.

“Some of the people we have interviewed say that they are well looked after while others have completely different experiences”, says Henriksen.

Basically, few women choose the fishing profession. Despite the fact that far more females currently choose Fishing and General Seamanship at upper secondary school compared to ten years ago, the proportion of girls is only 11.3 percent. Women join the profession later and remain for shorter periods. The proportion of female fishermen is 4.3% in the open fisheries, while it is below 2.5% in the closed fisheries.”

According to Henriksen, women primarily choose the public sector, administration and service professions when deciding on a career. They are concerned about how they can combine work with starting a family and having children. The fishing profession is characterised by a hunter-gatherer culture, and this will always be the case. Working hours are governed by the migration of fish in the sea, the tide tables and the weather. Henriksen is very specific in the report and writes: “Measures to recruit women may include compensating for the challenges women experience regarding pregnancy and giving birth.”

The report provides several suggestions regarding specific improvements.  The profession can be highlighted as an alternative for girls in upper secondary education, and it proposes that positive special treatment should be considered when allocating apprenticeship quotas. More women should be encouraged and educated so they are qualified to take over the family fishing business. An offer of leadership training should be considered in which one of the elements should be the management of stereotypical attitudes and ‘macho culture’. Financial support for running women’s networks and promoting good role models should also be considered, both in terms of fishing companies with female fishermen and women in the fishing industry.

The report also points to the absence of female perspectives in relevant public documents.

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