Women in Climate and Fisheries: A Just Transition to a Sustainable Future

Perspectives | Feb 23, 2023

The staff photo for Carly Lovas.

by Carly Lovas

Quantitative Research Associate

GMRI Quantitative Research Associate Carly Lovas reflects on a workshop she organized for the fifth annual Sustainable Development Goals conference in Bergen, Norway, called Women in Climate and Fisheries.

This is a graphic that reads Women in Climate & Fisheries.

This February was the fifth annual Sustainable Development Goals conference in Bergen, Norway. Aligning with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, this conference explores the roles universities can play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at local, national, and global scales. This year, the conference's theme was “a just transformation to a sustainable future.”

The first of the three-day event, Day Zero, was a day of interactive workshops, webinars, and discussions to answer the question: how can we ensure this transformation is a just transition leaving no one behind?

Having attended the conference virtually for the past two years as a graduate student, I wanted to be more involved this year as a GMRI employee. GMRI Science Advisory Committee member and associate professor at the University of Bergen, Dorothy Dankel, encouraged me to submit a workshop idea for Day Zero. There are many ways in which fisheries and climate science can relate to the idea of a just transition but given that women continue to be underrepresented and overlooked in both sectors, I decided to orient my workshop toward issues of gender equality.

To that end, I organized a discussion-based workshop focused on SDGs 5, 10, 13, and 14 (Gender Equality, Reduced Inequalities, Climate Action, and Life Below Water) to facilitate conversations, foster connections, and encourage action to eliminate gender inequality in marine, climate, and fisheries spaces.

The aim of this workshop was to understand the experiences, challenges, and rewards of being a woman in the climate and fisheries space, from both lived experience and gender theory perspectives. Another goal was to demonstrate how envisioning and achieving gender equality in this field can help fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals.

Gender, Fisheries, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

One of the aspects of this conference that I most admire is its accessibility. Due to the pandemic, the conference has been fully virtual and free to the public for the past three years. Participants are encouraged to chat on the website's platform during conference sessions and plenaries, send questions to panelists, meet in virtual coffee corners, and openly challenge concepts that are discussed. Because of this, it was extremely important to me that my workshop be as interactive as possible. I wanted not only to present the expertise of women scientists working at the intersection of gender and fisheries but also to encourage open discussion amongst participants and panelists in the workshop. Consequently, the workshop was designed to include four separate breakout groups, each with an assigned SDG and a discussion question pertaining to that goal. Each question was designed to bring concepts of sustainability, fisheries science, and gender together into discussion.

Under the guidance of GMRI Postdoctoral Research Associate Kat Maltby, GMRI Research Scientist Kanae Tokunaga, and GMRI Research Scientist Kathy Mills, I reached out to and connected with four scientists who work at the intersection of gender and fisheries.

We were fortunate to have Ellen Johannesen, Yinji Li, Priscila Lopes, and Hillary Smith join us as distinguished panelists from four different time zones to share their expertise and lead the discussions. You can find more information on their backgrounds below.

Breaking down the breakout groups

This is a graphic showing four different workshop questions.

Group one:
ICES Secretariat and World Maritime University Ph.D. candidate Ellen Johannesen and Kanae Tokunaga led the first group of the workshop, which focused on SDG 5 and how gender inequality manifests in climate and marine science. The group noted the disparity of women-friendly spaces, and touched on how technology, infrastructure, and equipment are not designed for women. Many of the points discussed how scientific community culture and how science has historically been conducted perpetuates gender inequality and impedes women’s abilities to effectively contribute to their field.

Group two:
I joined Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte Associate Professor Priscila Lopes to lead the second workshop group, which focused on SDG 10 and applying an intersectional lens to issues of gender equality in marine and fisheries science. Our group contrasted the perception of marine science as a male-dominated profession with the cultural expectations of women. Women are expected to be full-time caretakers in addition to being full-time workers and “full-time human beings,” while having to work harder to achieve the same status as their male colleagues. These issues are then amplified if a woman is categorized as any other cultural minority, further barring access to education, resources, and opportunities for financial independence and career advancement.

Group three:
Duke University Postdoctoral Researcher Hillary Smith and Kat Maltby addressed questions around SDG 13 in the third workshop group. They discussed the ways in which women contribute to climate resilience and adaptation within fisheries and marine science. The group concluded that there is not yet enough information on this topic and that the barriers keeping women from entering fisheries may be hindering new innovations for adaptation. They highlighted how there have been initiatives for climate adaptation and for women’s empowerment in fisheries, but few combine the two. They called for a cultural reformation in which women are not seen as a hindrance to fisheries but an asset for innovation.

Group four:
The fourth and final workshop group, led by Tokai University Associate Professor Yinji Li and GMRI Research Associate Claire Enterline, focused on SDG 14; Life Below Water. This group explored how women contribute to and benefit from ocean sustainability, within the context of the SDG 14 targets. The discussion centered around current inequities facing women in different regions of the world, and how women’s involvement in fisheries is either barred or overlooked. Participants noted the cultural differences in how women are perceived in fisheries and that transformation will require challenging these cultural norms.

A Just Transition to a Sustainable Future

Each group raised important points that must be addressed in order to ensure a just transition to a sustainable future. To help address those key themes that arose in the discussions, participants and panelists reconvened to discuss how women need to be included and involved to achieve a sustainable future.

Participants called for diverse voices to be included in all ways, from governance to the micro-level, and highlighted how patriarchal structures are deeply embedded in more than just fisheries; they’re reflected in how we do science, design policies and management plans, and call for research funding. Ensuring gender equity in marine science and fisheries requires greater reflexivity, education, and earnest discussion of how the patriarchy has shaped how we work and in what ways we can deconstruct and rebuild. As researchers and professionals in this space, we have the capacity to facilitate these conversations where decision-makers may not have the confidence in their knowledge to do so.

To ensure gender equity in this field, we must examine the infrastructure, equipment, technology, and space we provide women. We need to ask ourselves: is this reflective of what women need to efficiently and effectively do their work? Is this designed to support women? To support everyone? We need to understand where inequalities exist and ask why. How have our cultural expectations shaped how we perceive and accept science? Who is a scientist? Who is a fisherman? What do they look like?

Shifting these perceptions, empowering more women to enter this space, and supporting them throughout their careers may bring opportunities for new ideas, innovations, and adaptations for our rapidly changing world. A just transition requires diverse voices and perspectives, imaginative and innovative solutions, and all of us to have a certain boldness to challenge the structures that have defined science and fisheries.

Reflections & Acknowledgements

Every year I’ve attended this conference, I’ve praised its organization, its execution, and its capacity to engage people in new and inspiring ways. Having the opportunity to not only attend but also contribute to the conference has been so rewarding. Being able to connect with brilliant scientists doing impactful work at the intersection of gender and fisheries has left me feeling inspired (and with a sense of urgency) to bring more of these perspectives into the work we do here at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. My deepest and sincerest thanks to Hillary, Yinji, Ellen, and Priscila for gifting us their expertise; to Kat, Kanae, Kathy, and Claire for helping facilitate the workshop; and to the University of Bergen and the SDG Bergen Conference organizers for another great event. See you again next year! Skål!

About the Panelists

Hillary is a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University whose work has focused on the sustainable use of common pool marine resources. Her dissertation work aimed to implement the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in Tanzania by focusing on gender equity goals within fishing communities.

Yinji is a marine social scientist at Tokai University, School of Marine Science and Technology in Japan. Her research also focuses on small-scale fisheries in Japan, Korea, Mainland China, and Taiwan. Yinji is the Too Big To Ignore Japan Research Network coordinator and the Japan coordinator of the Vulnerability to Viability Global Partnership project. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Pole and Line Foundation.

Ellen is the Coordinating Officer at the Secretariat of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and a Ph.D. candidate at the World Maritime University. Her professional interests include international marine science cooperation and administration, the ecosystem approach, and more recently considering the role of gender in the practice of international marine science through the Empowerment of Women in Marine and Ocean Science.

Priscila is an associate professor at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. With a Ph.D. in Ecology, Priscila’s research merges ecology with social science and economics, focusing on the dynamics of small-scale fisheries, fisher’s behavior, and strategies that investigated pathways to socio-ecological resilience and fisheries conservation compliance. Her advisory work with Brazilian institutions has helped assess the impacts of development on fishing communities and food security while revealing the oft-overlooked contributions of women to the industry.