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Women in small-scale fisheries: tackling gender inequality for livelihoods and empowerment

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, March 31, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Small-scale fisheries play a major role in global fisheries production, with almost 90% of the world’s fishers working in the small-scale sector, characterised by locally made boats, using small amounts of capital and energy (Kolding et al., 2014). Around 70% of the global fish catch comes from small-scale fisheries, with a further 200-300 million people, many of whom are women, working in fisheries value chains (Kolding et al., 2014). Much of the small-scale fisheries sector is found in low- and middle-income countries, with women in fisheries largely gaining income from processing and trading fish. Literature on women and fisheries is consistent in reporting that the participation of women in fisheries is not well documented or recognised, with government policies failing to respond to the challenges faced by women in the sector (Kleiber et al., 2015).

The fisheries sector is largely characterised by gendered roles, with men far more likely to go out to fish than women, own a boat and gears and be involved in more commercial processing and trading. There are significant exceptions, with women undertaking fishing in nearshore areas or collecting shellfish in intertidal zones (Weeratunge et al. 2010). Women’s engagement in fishing is sometimes brought about by the migration of young men (Punch & Sugden, 2013). Gender norms and taboos, however, often prevent women from being involved in the practice of going out to fish, with taboos around the presence and behaviour of women stopping them from entering a boat and the water. Gendered norms and relations beyond the fisheries context, for example in relation to marriage and access to education, interact with these taboos and norms to constrain and shape how women engage with small-scale fisheries both in terms of their livelihoods and in participating in community-based management. There are then many factors that influence how women participate in the sector and the benefits they can access.

Gender inequality is therefore manifested in small-scale fisheries through lack of recognition of women’s roles in government policy, insecure access to fish, lack of access to credit and to services such as healthcare, and lack of voice in fisheries management. Securing access to buy fish can be very competitive, particularly when fish stocks are in decline and demand for fish is high. In some contexts, it has become an expectation that women will engage in a sexual relationship with a fisher to secure the right to buy fish from his boat. The practice of ‘fish-for-sex’ is associated with migrating fishers and with relatively high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in fishing communities (Nunan, 2010).

Whilst there is then some evidence on the nature and implications of gender inequality within small-scale fisheries, there is insufficient evidence on the detail of how women experience gender inequality and how they respond. The aim of this project is to generate detailed evidence on the lived experience of women in terms of how they experience constraints on their livelihoods and engagement in fisheries management and how they respond to these constraints in seeking to secure their livelihoods over time. It will use qualitative research to undertake data collection through ethnographic approaches to hear from women within a small-scale fisheries on how they cope, who they turn to and what strategies they use to improve their lives and those of their households.

The small-scale fishery within which data will be collected will be chosen by the successful PhD candidate in discussion with the supervisors.

The candidate must have a Masters’ degree in a relevant subject, of at least a high merit standard of a UK Masters’ or equivalent, and at least a high 2.1 Bachelors’ degree, or equivalent. The candidate should demonstrate a good understanding of literature on gender and development, and on gender/women and fisheries, and have the capacity and intention of contributing to relevant theory and literature. They must be willing to undertake fieldwork in a middle or low income country within rural fishing communities.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.
The award comprises:

Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).


Alonso-Población, E., Siar, S.V. 2018. Women’s Participation and Leadership in Fisherfolk Organizations and Collection Action in Fisheries: A review of evidence on enablers, drivers and barriers. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular No. 1159. Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization.
Kleiber, D., Harris, L.M., Vincent, A.C.J. 2015. Gender and small-scale fisheries: a case for counting women and beyond. Fish and Fisheries 16(4), 547-562.
Kolding, J., Béné, C., Bavinck, M. 2014. Small-scale fisheries - importance, vulnerability, and
deficient knowledge, in S. Garcia, J. Rice and A. Charles (eds) Governance for Marine Fisheries and Biodiversity Conservation. Interaction and coevolution. Wiley-Blackwell.
Nunan, F. (2010) Mobility and fisherfolk livelihoods on Lake Victoria: implications for vulnerability and risk. Geoforum 41, 776-785.
Punch, Samantha, & Sugden, Fraser. (2013). Work, education and out-migration among children and youth in upland asia: Changing patterns of labour and ecological knowledge in an era of globalisation. Local Environment, 18(3), 255-270.
Weeratunge, N., Snyder, K.A., Sze, C.P. 2010. Gleaner, fisher, trader, processor: understanding gendered employment in fisheries and aquaculture. Fish and Fisheries 11(4), 405-420.

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