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Not Just for Boys! Women too stepping into Fishing Industry

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Chrifa Nimri arranges a net after returning from fishing at the seaport Sidi Bou Said, in Tunis. VOA
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“At the beginning of my fishing career, all the world told me that the trade was for men,” says Chrifa Nimri, “but now all my colleagues respect and call me captain.”

The 69-year-old Tunisian fisherwoman is one of a very small female minority in a very male-dominated profession – commercial fishing.

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Around the world, the dangerous work of hauling in the catch at sea is overwhelmingly performed by men. But if you expand the definition of fishing to include processers and marketers of seafood, workers in small-scale and artisanal fisheries, and collectors of clams and other shellfish, women account for a substantial part of the global industry.

No women on board

Sara Skamser has worked in or around commercial fishing for nearly her entire adult life. In her early 20s, she arrived on the Oregon coast and collected her first paychecks salmon fishing and crabbing in local waters. Then Skamser asked for jobs on bigger boats home-ported in Newport — better pay and bigger adventure and all. But, she recalls, none of those skippers would hire her.

“No. They said no.” She mimics them. “’Uh, I know you could do the job. Gosh, you’re probably stronger than me. Uhhh, but I don’t think my wife would like it.’ Or, ‘Uhhh. I would feel terrible if you got hurt on my boat.'”

Sara Skamser has worked on and around fishing boats most of her adult life.
Sara Skamser has worked on and around fishing boats most of her adult life. VOA

This was in the early 1980s. To this day in the Pacific Northwest, women hold fewer than 4 percent of the commercial fishery licenses issued by Oregon and Washington state. Elsewhere in the world, social norms helped to keep the gender disparity in place. For example, in Mexico, Peru, Senegal and Vietnam, which all have major marine fisheries, 4 percent or fewer of the workers on fishing boats are women.

Changes on shore

But pull back the lens a little bit and there’s evidence of change. Skamser provided one of many oral histories that formed the basis of a research project on the role of women in the northwestern U.S. commercial fishing industry. Grad student Sarah Calhoun and Professor Flaxen Conway of Oregon State University along with the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center researcher Suzanne Russell in Seattle analyzed the results, which were published in the journal Marine Policy.

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Conway, a sociologist, says they found women are playing a larger role on the regulatory and business side.

“I think if you look at the scientists, you look at the processing, you look at the marketing. … Once you broaden that out to fisheries in general, then I would absolutely say there are more women in science positions and management positions than there have been in my career, in my 27-year-long career.”

“We’re seeing an increase on the business side more so than ever before,” added social scientist Russell. “Women always worked the business side of things, but now with the complexity and all the reporting, trading and bycatch requirements, it’s pretty intense.”

Fishing boats and trawlers berthed at docks in Newport, Oregon. The commercial fishing fleets in Oregon and Washington state remain overwhelming male-dominated.
Fishing boats and trawlers berthed at docks in Newport, Oregon. The commercial fishing fleets in Oregon and Washington state remain overwhelming male-dominated. VOA

One of Conway’s takeaways was that the traditional, behind-the-scenes role of a fisherman’s wife has become an increasingly complex and critical job. “Whether it’s regulation, safety, marketing, research, it’s all caring for that fishing family business and making those products get to the table that we enjoy.”

An international look

A separate research team cast a wider net – examining women’s contributions to the fishing industry in Mexico, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Vietnam. Sarah Harper of the University of British Columbia led that study, whose results appeared in the latest edition of the journal Coastal Management.

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“In terms of going out on fishing boats, I think it is still predominantly male-dominated. But certainly when we look at some of the small scale fisheries, the collection of shellfish and fish from shore, women are much more involved and definitely underestimated and undercounted in this area.”

Subsistence fisherwomen, like these women from the Tiwa tribe in India, are often the foundation of food security in some of the world’s poorest communities.
Subsistence fisherwomen, like these women from the Tiwa tribe in India, are often the foundation of food security in some of the world’s poorest communities. VOA

Harper says subsistence fishing by women to feed their families is easily overlooked. So, she says, is who goes crabbing in Vietnam or fishing from boats in lagoons.

When harvest by women is overlooked, Harper says that makes it harder for governments to accurately gauge the pressure on a seafood resource and sustainably manage a fishery.

“When you’re looking at managing fisheries and potentially trying to rebuild fisheries and implement conservation measures, you really need to know who is fishing and where. If there are fisheries that only men are focused on in certain regions and we’re only focused on those, we’re not getting the whole picture.”

Harper says she is encouraged to see United Nations bodies take an interest in gender equality in fisheries and be more gender-inclusive when making policy and management recommendations.

Hooking new opportunities

Sara Skamser is still involved in the industry, but not on a fishing vessel. She makes her voice heard on several local advisory boards, and founded a successful fishing net and gear company called Foulweather Trawl with her husband in Oregon. She also deals with some of the fishermen who wouldn’t hire her decades ago.

Sara Skamser now runs the commercial fishing net shop Foulweather Trawl at the Port of Newport, Oregon
Sara Skamser now runs the commercial fishing net shop Foulweather Trawl at the Port of Newport, Oregon, VOA

“Bottom line of all of that is that I invoice those people now and occasionally there’s a large invoice. I just look at ’em. I give them the look. Like, ‘Uh, huh. Probably should’ve hired me. You would’ve gotten that for free,'” she says with a chuckle.

There are online forums dedicated to women in fishing and elevating their profile. One in particular on Facebook called “Chix Who Fish” celebrates victories such as getting a boot maker and a foul weather gear maker to add product lines tailored to the shapes of women’s bodies.

American “chicks” who fish have no use for gender-neutral titles by the way, according to Flaxen Conway. “They don’t want to be called a woman fisherman. They just want to be called a fisherman.” (VOA)

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Top Hollywood women unveiled a sexual harassment initiative

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Top Hollywood women unveiled a sexual harassment initiative
A combination photo shows some of the actresses who have made allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein. Listed in alphabetical order, top row from left, Asia Argento, Rosanna Arquette, Jessica Barth, Cara Delevingne, Romola Garai, Judith Godreche, Heather Graham, Angelina Jolie. VOA

USA, Jan 1, 2018: More than 300 top women in Hollywood — from Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence to Emma Thompson and Cate Blanchett — unveiled an initiative Monday to tackle pervasive sexual harassment in workplaces, calling special attention to their “sisters” in less than glamorous blue-collar jobs.

The initiative, dubbed Time’s Up, caps a year in which the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal touched off a deluge of allegations that brought down powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media, prompting companies, government agencies and even the U.S. federal court system to re-examine harassment policies.

But in an open letter printed in The New York Times, the new initiative lends the star power of its A-list members to the cause of women in less prominent fields, urging support and respect for farm workers and others whose humble positions leave them vulnerable and voiceless.

“We fervently urge the media covering the disclosures by people in Hollywood to spend equal time on the myriad experiences of individuals working in less glamorized and valorized trades,” the group says in its full-page ad.

“To every woman employed in agriculture who has had to fend off unwanted sexual advances from her boss, every housekeeper who has tried to escape an assaultive guest, every janitor trapped nightly in a building with a predatory supervisor, every waitress grabbed by a customer and expected to take it with a smile … we stand with you. We support you.”

$15 million goal

Last month, the head of Ford Motor Company apologized to employees at two factories in Chicago and promised changes, after a scathing expose by the Timesdetailed pervasive harassment and mistreatment of women at the plants dating back to the 1990s. It was one of the first major media investigations into sexual harassment in blue-collar workplaces.

Among the specific steps it announced, Time’s Up has established a legal defense fund that, in just 12 days, has raised $13.4 million toward a $15 million goal aimed at providing legal aid for women and men who were sexually harassed, assaulted or abused in the workplace.

It has vowed to push for legislation to strengthen laws on workplace harassment and discrimination.

The group insists that more women must be brought into positions of power and leadership, while every woman should have equal benefits, opportunities, pay and representation.

As for Hollywood, it wants “swift and effective change to make the entertainment industry a safe and equitable place for everyone.”

And it called on women to wear black at Sunday’s Golden Globes as a statement against gender and racial inequality, and to raise awareness about the group’s efforts.

‘Dear Sisters’ 

The open letter in the Times, which also appears in the Spanish-language La Opinion, opens with the words “Dear Sisters” in large, bold type, and closes with the words “in solidarity,” followed by the names of the 300 women.

Several of Weinstein’s accusers signed the open letter. They include Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, as well as Salma Hayek, whose lengthy account of mistreatment by Weinstein — “my monster,” she called him — was widely circulated on social media after appearing last month in The New York Times.

Weinstein has denied some of the allegations, including Hayek’s assertion that he pressured her to do a nude sex scene in one movie.

Other prominent women lending their names to the Time’s Up cause are actresses Natalie Portman, America Ferrera, Amy Schumer, Halle Berry, Julianne Moore, Keira Knightley, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Susan Sarandon, Uma Thurman and Viola Davis; producer Shonda Rhimes; Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley; feminist activist Gloria Steinem; lawyer and ex-Michelle Obama chief of staff Tina Tchen and Nike Foundation co-chair Maria Eitel. (VOA)