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The Organizers – Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji
The Director Fisheries
Representatives from the Civil Society Organizations
Representatives of Academic Institutions
Community Fishers

A very good morning
It is my pleasure to be here with you this morning as we gather to kick-start the second Women in Fisheries Forum. On the outset, I wish to thank the Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji for inviting me to officiate at this very important event, especially as we will also launch the research findings of the ‘National Stock take of the Institutional and Enabling Mechanisms that Support Gender in Fisheries in Fiji”. I take this time to thank the Fiji Women’s Fund and DFAT for their contributions towards the research. Vinaka Vakalevu

The fisheries industry is one of Fiji’s key resource-based sectors. The private sector has been the lead player in the fishing industry, with government providing the regulatory and resource-management oversight and pursuing adherence to regional and international commitments. Government has also supported the industry in the diversification of export markets, trade facilitation, product research and development, conducive fiscal and tax environment and infrastructure. The challenge at hand is creating equal opportunities for men and women who are employed formally and informally in this industry. And certainly, an equitable environment is what needs to be created to empower and develop our women in fisheries for many clear reasons that are a hindrance to its sustainability.

I convey my warm congratulations to Mr. Lagi Toribau, the Consultant of the Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji for his valuable work towards the ‘National Stock take of the Institutional and Enabling Mechanisms that Support Gender in Fisheries in Fiji’. I am told that the need to conduct a national stock take of the institutional and enabling mechanisms that support gender in fisheries was a key recommendation from a report conducted in 2014 looking at the Status of Women in Fisheries in Fiji. The aim of the stock take has been to conduct a thorough institutional mapping of the fisheries sector across key stakeholders. In particular, conducting an inventory of sex disaggregated data that relates to women who directly live on, derive a livelihood and benefit from marine resources to those who are remotely based, including urban/rural dwellers who have a role to play in the management, the harvesting, selling and processing of marine resources in Fiji.

According to the Secretariat of Pacific Communities Women in Fisheries Bulletin, whereby findings from Ms. Aliti Vunisea’s (who is present with us today) report on the Role And Engagement of Women in Fisheries in Fiji were published, the lack of acknowledgement of women's fishing participation or of the significant contribution to the livelihoods of coastal people is due, in part, to the non-remuneration of their fishing activities. The lack of data and appropriate economic valuation of subsistence fisheries result in women's fishing activities not being included in most official statistics. Women's small-scale economic activities are also not seen as independent economic ventures, for in most cases, their marketing participation is viewed as part of their daily chores of meeting family needs. Also, although women contribute substantially to fisheries development and management of coastal communities, there is little data to substantiate their participation in fisheries and how it has empowered them or changed their social status.
Women in Fiji, and similarly in other Pacific Island countries, are increasingly moving away from traditionally defined areas of fisheries participation and are taking on commercial and post-harvest activities, and setting up small-scale businesses. We may not have adequate data to prove this at this point in time, but a common sight at any of the local municipal and road side markets are women engaging in seafood marketing activities, whereby, they sell their products to a wide range of consumers for domestic and commercial use. However, women fishers are still expected to fulfill their traditional duties and obligations, obviously because of the lack of recognition of their trade as a form of economic activity, while having to keep up with modern market economy demands. It is therefore safe to say, that the role of today’s women fishers has not evolved, but rather it has expanded….and sadly it is so for women in most other professions. Concerted efforts are required to change this in order to translate this under-recognized economic activity of our women into sustainable ventures for our economic development.
Ladies and gentleman, it is important to understand the gender dimensions of fisheries as women make enormous contributions to fisheries and aquaculture supply chains that are almost unrecognized; and for anyone that is invisible, their interests, their needs, their opportunities are not addressed. We can no longer afford to let our women fishers remain invisible and I am extremely happy that organizations like the Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji are taking great strides in making the women fishers visible in our nation and it is with keenness, that I render the support of my Ministry to further develop this area of work.

I am told that the Network has a Strategic Plan (2016-2020), aligned with a number of key national, regional and international policies. The plan prioritizes improving livelihoods and food security opportunities for women in fisheries via capacity building/training and mentoring; having the Network recognized as a research hub of information, and repository for issues relating to women in fisheries; advocating for improved policy and policy implementation for greater equality in all aspects of fisheries; and building a strong network and responsive organizational base that utilizes the diverse knowledge, skills and experiences of its members.
The Fijian Government has also been taking necessary steps in strengthening this area of work for the Fijian women. Firstly, our 5 year and 20 year National Development Plan promises that Government will provide equal opportunities for all, including the participation of women in education, leadership, and overall economic development, and will continue its strong efforts to eliminate violence against women. And we will do so by creating a gender-fair society that protects and promotes the rights of women, which will be realized through the implementation of the Women’s Plan of Action and the National Gender Policy over the next five years.

The National Gender Policy of Fiji sets out that public service must strengthen equitable access by men and women to the factors of agricultural production, paying particular attention to the gender differences in access to and repayment of credit, and taking into consideration the disadvantaged position of the most vulnerable women in rural areas. It further requires us to recognize for the purpose of resource allocation the special vulnerabilities of women in relation to natural disasters and climate change, which is a real threat to the fisheries sector, and develop partnerships with development agencies to ensure gender aware resource allocation.

The National Gender Policy also entails under its specific policies that the Fiji Public Service must introduce and promote a Gender Responsive Budgeting and Gender Audits be development practitioners to ensure optimum benefits to rural and urban women, and in doing so hold dialogues with the various Ministries including Fisheries.
It was pleasing to see that the Ministry of Fisheries in line with the requirements of the National Gender Policy has in place a component on Gender Equality and Women’s Development in its Annual Corporate Plan for 2018. The goal of the Ministry of Fisheries had initially been for the Women in Fisheries network-Fiji, in partnership with other agencies to establish a system of data collecting, information management and access to services on women in fisheries activities to effectively inform policies, programs and allocate resources towards women in fisheries and development. Their aim for 2018, has been to implement effective strategies and programs to improve support, awareness-raising, research and development and services towards women fishers in line with the proposed Fiji National Fisheries Policy. It is my hope to see such strategic commitments to remain consistent and translate into better opportunities for women in the fisheries industry.

To conclude, may I emphasize the need for collaborative efforts to continue till we achieve gender parity in the opportunities within the fisheries industry. Such informal economic activities are truly the backbone of our economy; and up to half of the industry being made up of women, it truly cannot limit their rights, recognition and access. We need to work together to provide solutions to the challenges faced by women to becoming rightful commercial operators in the fisheries industry in Fiji. We need to work together to let women fishers enjoy the same resources and recognition as their male counterparts. We need to work together to help policy makers and organizations working for the industry get relevant sex-disaggregated data to make informed decisions and polices. There is a lot to be done, let us keep striving.
With these words it is my pleasure to launch the ‘National Stock take of the Institutional and Enabling Mechanisms that Support Gender in Fisheries in Fiji” and declare the Women in Fisheries Forum 2018, open.

Thank you

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