Women play an important role in society, particularly within small-scale fishing communities where they are not only responsible for caring for their families but also contribute significantly to livelihood activities. However, impacts related to the recent COVID-19 pandemic as well as the realities of the current climate crisis, have increased the challenges faced by women in the small-scale fishing (SSF) sector, and have amplified existing socio-economic challenges including poverty, gender-based violence, and unemployment.

In 2022, KwaZulu-Natal was struck by devastating floods, resulting in displacement and loss of life for many. In March, the Masifundise team visited the coastal community of Umgababa in KwaZulu Natal and conducted a focus group to better understand the impact that the recent floods in the region have had on coastal communities. In particular, the impact on the women who are involved in SSF livelihood activities. The group shared that many families were displaced after the floods that eroded their homes. This displacement caused many challenges for women including not being able to go to sea due to distance, children could not attend schools as they were moved far from their schools. Additionally, travel costs became exorbitant due to being further away from main transport lines.

Thozi Mthiyane from Coastal Links KZN shared that some women in small-scale fishing communities found themselves financially dependent on their husbands. In some cases, this dependence makes them vulnerable to abuse, “women are the backbone of society as they nurture and take care of everyone’s needs. They are not given opportunities to lead, even women do not elect women. They opt for men.” said Mthiyane.

The group also shared how women in SSF communities often carry the burden of family responsibility, Mthiyane echoed these sentiments, “Women know what is needed at home. But they are abused and when advised to leave, they say they cannot leave their children.”

The challenges caused by the pandemic and floods have prevented women from conducting their livelihoods activities such as fishing and mussel harvesting and have left many of them to rely on social grants. Moving forward, the challenges experienced by women in the sector need to be recognised and prioritised. They need long-term solutions that will ensure that their right to work and right to food is protected.

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