By Nosipho Singiswa

Women are the corner stone of the society. They are the back bone of a family and the nurturer of relationships. They make food for the stomach, give food for thought and at times if not most, are the breadwinners.

The Small-Scale Fisheries Policy makes provision for gender rights and the inclusion of women in the sector. Standing as one of the five key elements of the Policy, women in the sector are recognised as playing a key role in the pre- and post-harvest activities and in some areas are the primary harvesters on intertidal resources.  The policy states that women under the policy should be:

  1. Empowered to exercise their rights to participate in the management of the marine resources; 2. Trained to participate in the marketing, tourism, aquaculture, and additional coastal economic opportunities; and 3. Equally represented on institutional structures.

Furthermore, the Constitution of South Africa entrenches the protection and promotion of rights of women and to include women in governance structures. Legislation such as the Choice on the Termination of Pregnancy Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act further alleviate the historical burden of women in South Africa.

As South Africa celebrates women in this month of August, the role of women in the small-scale fishing sector should not go unnoticed. With the constant struggles small-scale fishing communities face around the world, women contribute to the solutions that strengthen the sector.

The contribution of women in the SSF sector begins at 3am when the wives of the fishermen prepare food for him, then after he has gone begins to be the mother to her children and prepares for them too.

This woman comes from a long history of fisherfolk that fishing is embedded in her soul like a coral reef laying deep on the ocean floor. She is a fish cleaner and makes a lekker fish curry for supper. She is a good picker too, during the day, before the kids come back from school, she picks mussels and sometimes she would come back home with a sea snail so that the kids could snack before they dip their hands in that curry she made from yesterday’s catch.

This woman is a community worker. She goes up and down getting a community together to talk about their fishing rights. She contacts organisations, community leaders, municipalities and government departments to listen to her community’s needs. She provides hope and a way of life for her community, she is the voice of the voiceless and fisherfolk in her community confides in her.

She is the pillar of hope. She sits around tables and engages the government in issues facing the small-scale fisheries sector. She challenges policies and neoliberal endeavours and protects the rights of the fishers. She is the voice in high level meetings which fail to recognise the needs of the fishers, she raises her voice, uses her knowledge and empathy to assert the rights and bring back the dignity of small-scale fishers and communities.

So, as South Africa celebrates and honours women for their roles in the South African democracy, Masifundise and Coastal Links South Africa would like to wish all women in the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector a happy Women’s Month.


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