Honiara –The biggest fishing company in Solomon Islands, National Fisheries Development (NFD), is determined to promote gender equality in the local fishing industry, despite the challenges faced by women engaging in fisheries work.
NFD’s Managing Director, Mr Frank Wickham, gave the company’s support to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) when the agency announced the Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) initiative, a plan to focus on gender equality and social inclusion within the region’s tuna fisheries sector.
In September, FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen announced that the agency had initiated a gender policy in 2016, but would like to see improvements in promoting more women in the Pacific tuna fisheries. This was clearly integrated in the FFA’s 2020 five-year strategic plan.
This latest move by the Pacific’s biggest fishing organisation has received support from the NFD and its sister company SolTuna – both leaders in women’s employment rates in the Solomon Islands fishing industry.
“It’s a great move for us in the pacific region in recognising gender equality by promoting equal opportunity for men and women working in the fisheries sector. From catching fish through to canning and exporting of fish products, it’s good that we find possible ways to improve certain conditions to see more women working alongside men in the regional fishing industry,” Mr Wickham said.
NFD promoting gender equality at work
According to Mr Wickham, the NFD is continuing to promote the recruitment of more women for positions that have normally been afforded to men.
“At the moment, we now have female managers and heads of departments, and we have also tried to identify some other jobs that were normally occupied by men, such as security guards. We have also recruited female crews to work on our fishing vessels,” he said.
However, coming from a cultural background involving so much respect for both men and women in a shared environment at work, it is a real challenge for the female workers when it comes to fisheries work in Solomon Islands.
“It’s challenging in the sense that it is a small area inside the vessels that’s being shared with male colleagues. But we are still monitoring the approach and will see how things turn out in the future. We are also looking to recruit more women in trade work like carpentry or plumbing, and we will look into other areas as well. We have also recruited more young women who are interested in working on-board our fishing vessels, by sending some to work in the engine room and deckhand positions.”
Mr Wickham said some of them are coping well with the challenges faced at sea while others have decided to quit working on the vessels. However, NFD will be looking to recruit more women to work on the vessels, starting from smaller vessels and then moving on to the bigger ships.
With the understanding that fishing is a male dominated industry, Mr Wickham thinks it will take some time for their female staff to be familiar with the challenges that are attached to the job.
“There is also a need to caution male workers to support and respect their female colleagues when they are out working in the seas. Before being engaged in the job, women too must be taught about the challenges that they will be facing when working in the fishing vessels,” Mr Wickham stated.
FFA’s gender equality policy
It is common knowledge that in the Pacific, there are more women working in the canneries. However, one of the key goals of FFA’s Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) initiative is to give women and minority groups a broader range of roles in the sector – not just in canneries alone.
According to the FFA’s HR Division, they are taking a three-pronged approach to advocate for these changes.
“First, we plan to collect more data, more regularly. Men and women in Pacific island countries engage in distinct and often complementary activities that are strongly influenced by the social, cultural and economic contexts in which they live. We need to collect a range of data more systematically and analyse it regularly to understand gaps and identify opportunities or barriers to progress,” a statement from the HR Division said.
“Secondly, we plan to deepen the analysis undertaken for meetings, workshops and trainings, and other engagements, to better incorporate a gender equity and social inclusion lens.”
FFA wants to strengthen the capacity of the fisheries sector and Pacific island governments to integrate gender equity and social inclusion into policies, processes and procedures.
“This includes reviewing job descriptions to make it possible for women and others from less represented groups to apply, posting job advertisements in accessible places, and better targeting recruitment for jobs across the value chain, including management,” the statement added.
The future of the gender initiative
The planned activities for the next twelve months under FFA’s GESI initiative involve:
- conducting a diversity pay audit across the fisheries sector in both the private and public domains, including within FFA
- commissioning research to understand the impact of COVID-19 on women in Pacific offshore fisheries
- coaching key employees on skills for analysing gender equality and social inclusion issues
- convening a GESI forum, aimed at advocating for the advancement of women within the fisheries and aquaculture sectors
- providing a platform for effective interaction and cooperation among academics, technicians, government and NGO experts involved in issues related to equality and inclusion in Pacific fisheries.
The FFA’s statement has also highlighted that the planned forum will involve a diverse set of people coming together to share, e-learn and ideally map out ways to work together in bridging the GESI gap in fisheries. The forum is planned for 2021.