NFD supports FFA gender equality campaign for fisheries

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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.

The Managing Director of the National Fisheries Development (NFD) in Solomon Islands, Mr Frank Wickham. Photo: PITIA.

“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.

FFA Director General Dr Tupou-Roosen (centre) with the two longest-serving female staff of the FFA, Solomon Islands nationals Mrs Susan Olisukulu (left) and Davinia Boso (right) in front of the FFA conference room named in their honour earlier this year. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.

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.

Mapping tribal owners to benefit Bina landowners and cannery

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Verification has begun of the people who have claimed tribal ownership of the land where the Bina Harbour tuna cannery will be built, and nominations for positions as tribal trustees opened on Monday, 24 August.

Elections for trustees will be held in the next two weeks.

These are important steps in ensuring the building of the Bina Harbour tuna cannery is not disrupted by landowning disputes, which have halted other projects in Solomon Islands.

Verification is part of the process of formally mapping the tribal owners of the land. Its importance has been underlined by the estimated cost of the project and the level of private investment in it.

The project is likely to cost at a little over SB$2 billion dollars, with an external investor to contribute about 40%. 

Celsus Irokwato Talifilu, a local adviser to the Malaita Province Premier, said the cost of the project meant the government of Solomon Islands needed to be “very careful” to build the right foundations for success — and that meant mapping the tribal beneficiaries before the project started. Mapping entails identifying and registering people from the tribes acknowledged as tribal owners by the Solomon Islands High Court.

Mr Talifilu heads the Premier’s Advisory Research Unit (PARU) for the Malaita Provincial Government (MPG). He said it was important to establish who the resource owners were before site preparation and building began.

“These exercises are pillars for a sustainable project,” Mr Talifilu said.

He said those who intended to invest their hard-earned cash in the project would not do so if they believed the land-settlement process was inadequate. 

dispute over land was settled in 2016–2017. In July, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to commence work on the Bina Harbour project was signed. It included agreement to map tribal landowners as beneficiaries of the project. Mapping was conducted over eight days in July.

Bina Harbour women, men and children wait inside open-walled room to have names recorded as beneficiaries, Solomon Islands
Tribal landowners waiting their turn to have their names recorded as part of beneficiary mapping at Bina Harbour

In a statement, PARU said: “The beneficiary mapping exercise is a critical part of the land-settlement process for the Bina Harbour tuna processing plant project. This exercise ensures the resource owners are rightly identified and recorded. It is also the basis for a clear beneficiary scheme for the landowning groups.

“The MPG participation is crucial as a partner in the development of the project under the newly signed MOU. It is also a good exercise for the province so that the province can help with messaging of the new scheme that is more such sustainable.” 

Man uses a tablet to take a photo of a young woman who is a tribal landowner at Bina Harbour, Malaita, Solomon Islands
Albert Benisi of Pacific Horizons goes through the formal process of identifying and registering a tribal landowner as part of the Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping

Mapping means formally agreeing who the landowners are

The mapping exercise involves formally registering all living people among the landowning tribes. The record of each person includes a photo of them, and the names of their parents and grandparents. The list of names is then verified by the group elders. After verification, the list is given back to the group for final checking. The checking might take two weeks. 

After the final list has been approved, the groups seek nominations for the election of their trustees.

Pacific Horizons Consultancy Group is mapping the beneficiaries. It conducted the same exercise for the Tina hydro project. 

New approach means representation should be fair

Albert Benisi of Pacific Horizons said the consultancy used a new approach to mapping the benefits for landowning groups. In the past, disputes over land ownership had brought projects to a halt. 

Mr Benisi said the approach taken at Bina Harbour would benefit all landowning groups. 

“The approach taken now is different from logging, which normally leads to unfair distributions of benefits to landowners,” Mr Benisi said.

“For this approach, there will still be trustees overseeing the tribal group who are parties to the development, just as with current logging and mining operations in the country. 

“But the trustees will be working for tribes as representatives only, and not deal with benefits and such.” 

Man sits at table writing in book while other tribal landowner applicants look on, Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping, Solomon Islands
Another step taken in recording the details of tribal landholders during the Bina Harbour beneficiary mapping

Because trustees would be elected, they stood as the choice of the tribes. Representation would be fair. In the past, those who were close associates of the land would be automatically qualified to be a trustee.

“One of the good things about this approach is every single member of the tribal landowning groups, from infants to elderly individuals, will be the beneficiary of the Bina Harbour cannery project,” Mr Benisi said.

He said that mapping would be completed for both primary and secondary rights holders of Bina land, and that everybody would have the same benefits from the cannery once it was fully operational.

Any company that runs the cannery will need to buy shares directly through the bank accounts of the individuals registered under the tribes. Young people would be eligible to receive their shares when they turned 18.

The cannery is due to start operating in 2023, and process about 27,000 metric tons of fish a year.