From Coast to Coast: Empowering and investing in women fishers and fish farmers around the world

Progress toward gender equality is critical for ensuring that blue food systems remain environmentally sustainable in a changing climate, continue to nourish our global population and contribute to thriving coastal communities. Banner Photo: © Karly Kelso
From Coast to Coast: Empowering and investing in women fishers and fish farmers around the world

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This article was originally published by the Environmental Defense Fund on 8 March, 2022.

Three billion people depend on our ocean, rivers and lakes for nutritious blue foods. By 2050, our global population is expected to reach 10 billion and global demand for blue foods is expected to double. Blue foods, including fish, shellfish and seaweeds, provide vital nutrients like protein, zinc, vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids—nutrients important for all ages and sexes but especially for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. Although blue food supply chains employ roughly equal numbers of men and women, their roles, influence and benefits can be highly unequal. Progress toward gender equality is critical for ensuring that blue food systems remain environmentally sustainable in a changing climate, continue to nourish our global population and contribute to thriving coastal communities.

Earlier this month, we celebrated International Women’s Day and supported the call for action to accelerate women's equality. Yet we still have a long way to go in recognising the immense importance of the contributions of women in coastal and fishing communities around the world. We need to take steps to advance gender equality and empower women to lead the blue economy

2021: A banner year for blue foods

2021 elevated the importance of blue foods in global food system dialogues and ensured these foods got the attention they deserve. The first five Blue Food Assessment papers, which were published in various Nature journals, provided irrefutable evidence of the importance of blue foods. This body of work included deep dives into the nutritional contributions, environmental performance and climate risk of blue food systems and spurred mobilisation of stakeholders at the first United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS 2021). Convened by the United Nations Secretary-General, UNFSS 2021 sought to identify game-changing actions and solutions that can transform global food systems and help progress towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

These efforts were successful as, for the first time in a global dialogue, blue foods were recognised as a key component to help make our food systems healthier, more sustainable and more equitable.

EDF and partners worked within the UNFSS process to champion the inclusion of blue foods as a bold and promising solution. These efforts were successful as, for the first time in a global dialogue, blue foods were recognised as a key component to help make our food systems healthier, more sustainable and more equitable. UNFSS 2021 created a growing coalition composed of 22 member states and an array of civil society organisations, academic institutions, blue food producers and consumer groups. The Blue/Aquatic Foods Alliance, which is chaired by Iceland, aims to put blue foods at the centre of food system decision-making and to mobilise technical and financial support for blue food projects. The recognition of blue foods in a global venue is a seismic shift in global food systems dialogues, which have traditionally and almost exclusively looked to terrestrial food systems to feed the world

Photo: © Willow Battista
Photo: © Willow Battista

2022: Ensuring gender equality in blue food systems

While this past year yielded significant progress, there is more work to do. Now, in 2022, it is time for action that will ensure that gender equality is a core component of the blue food agenda. We must continue to emphasise the importance of blue foods in global dialogues, and to do so we must acknowledge the critical role of women in the blue economy.

Globally, women comprise 47% of the workforce in capture fisheries and 70% of the workforce in aquaculture, dominating blue food processing in particular.

Women are essential in blue food supply chains and local food systems. Globally, women comprise 47% of the workforce in capture fisheries and 70% of the workforce in aquaculture, dominating blue food processing in particular. As such, women make essential contributions to household income and often determine family nutrition and diets. However, a sneak peek of the Illuminating Hidden Harvests report, to be released later in 2022, shows that women are rarely accounted for in fisheries and labour policies, are underrepresented in decision-making and face many barriers to meaningful participation. Furthermore, where gender equality is lacking, blue foods are less affordable and blue food waste and losses are greater.


Read more: Success for Women is Success for Everyone: Closing Gender Gaps Starts with Understanding by Sydney Heimbrock, Chief Industry Advisor for Government, Qualtrics, and Gina Sheibley, Chief Communications Officer, Qualtrics


To make blue food systems truly equitable, policies and business practices need to account for the fact that women often face special circumstances and higher risks than their male counterparts. For example, there is a higher prevalence of HIV infection in women than men in fishing communities in developing countries around the world, often from women trading sex for access to fish or access to sell their catch in the market. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, partners on the ground working directly with fishing communities shared that men were eligible to access certain social safety nets and government support, but women in the sector were not, further illustrating the consistent gender inequality in the blue economy.

What’s next?

With the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture underway, we have an important opportunity to advance gender equality in blue food systems. In addition to operationalising the gender equality components of FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication, countries can support and empower women in fisheries and aquaculture globally through the following pathways:

The benefits of enhancing gender equality in blue food supply chains will extend beyond the individual to households, communities and the blue economy at large. As global food system action in 2022 and beyond integrates blue foods and their valuable contributions, let’s recognise the invaluable role of women in coastal and fishing communities around the world and take steps to empower women to lead.

The pandemic has not improved things for women. Learn more with the OECD Data Insights Young people and women hit hard by jobs crisis

 Learn more with the OECD Data Insights Young people and women hit hard by jobs crisis

The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. Find out more!

The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. Find out more!

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