Fisherwomen: trapped in the net of inequality

In the fishing industry, 14,311 women work in the 17 coastal states in Mexico, against 158,227 men, 70% of those women don't earn a steady income

Fisherwomen: trapped in the net of inequality
Fisherwoman in Baja California Sur - Photo: María Ecléctica/EL UNIVERSAL
English 16/10/2018 15:56 Enrique Alvarado, Alejandro Melgoza y Andrés M. Estrada Mexico City Actualizada 14:19
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When the bay scallop season (Argopecten irradians) begins every Spring at the Magdalena Bay, in Baja California Sur, Marceni Mejía's hustle and bustle begins at 4 a.m., when she prepares the boats and brings them to shore.

She then cooks breakfast for her two children and takes them to school, as she wants them to have a career and not depend on fishing. Later, she cleans the house and picks up the boats with the product by noon.

While the concessionary measures, weights, freezes, and sells the clams, its workers sleep for around three hours. During that period of time, she picks up the children from school and then goes back to routine. At 7 p.m., her eyelids seem to be lifting lead.

Every day, Marceni rows upstream, like many other women, as male fishermen tell them they bring bad luck at sea; that they have no strength; that they work is at home; that their salary is lower because men work harder.

In the fishing industry, 14,311 women work in the 17 coastal states in Mexico, against 158,227 men, 70% of those women don't earn a steady income, according to an analysis from dataMares and Community and Diversity (Comunidad y Biodiversidad, Cobi), based on numbers from the last economic census carried out by the Inegi.

That numbers are the result of the lack of effort to collect data in previous and later extraction processes, where women take place, according to fisherwomen, businesswomen, concessionaires, and experts interviewed EL UNIVERSAL for this three-part story.

Women's role in fishing isn't valued socially or financially,” says Lorena Ortiz, counselor of the Fishing and Fish Farms Cooperatives Mexican Confederation (Conmecoop). “The main challenge is the scarce public policies,” says Dr. Alejandra Perea, who has a Ph.D. in Marine Biology by the Wellington University, in New Zealand. “A major challenge is having a real census of how many women participate,” says Laura Rodríguez, director of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in Mexico.

To achieve a comprehensive public policy, more data and counterbalance in the decision-making process is needed, the experts agree. For example, in the story of the Aquaculture and Fishing National Commission (Conapesca), there hasn't been a female lead since 2001, and in the incoming administration, there won't be one either.

Geru Aparicio, a professor, and an expert on public gender policies from the National Institute of Penal Sciences (Inacipe) explains that “you can't reach equality within the same subordination structure. While men are still leading the institutions and are in control of the resources, we won't reach a material or substantial equality condition.”

Learning the trade

Marceni identifies herself as a housewife, despite learning the trade since she was a little girl, in her hometown of Reforma de Angostura, Sinaloa. Her first shift begins at home and by caring for her children, as men fish at dawn or at night.

The second one takes place at the processing plant, cleaning the product, gutting the head or eviscerating, preparing the boats, repairing fishing nets and uniforms, as well as distribution. Then comes the administrative work, accountability, and permits.

These activities aren't always paid, according to Dr. Mónica Rivera, from Baja California Sur's Autonomous University, who adds that “before leaving for work, they have to leave everything ready at home.” The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) indicates that this is a global issue, as millions of women work with or without steady incomes in the sector.

With Mexico in the 16th place in fish production, the numbers aren't encouraging either. Conapesca establishes that there are 22,000, while the Inegi registered 14,411 women in its 2014 census. Out of them, 9,907, 70% of the total, don't have a steady or regular income, the same as 88,233 men, 59%.

Diva Gastélum, a former member of the Senate's Gender Commission, accuses that this vulnerability places women beyond the situation faced by indigenous communities. “We're going through a very important deficit.”

The most alarming percentages are in Guerrero, 90%; Nayarit (88%); Jalisco (87%); Oaxaca (86%), and Michoacán (83%). Together they represent 6,503 women. In Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Michoacán, 50% of its total inhabitants are poor, according to the National Council for Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval). Ortiz emphasizes that they have the most complex fishing camps, due to outdated technology and low local economy.

In contrast, Sonora (81%), Baja California (79%), Quintana Roo (73%), Yucatán (58%), and Campeche (53%) have steady incomes, nevertheless, they only generate a third of the jobs, 2,259.

Starting all over again

Since Marceni divorced, it was like starting all over again. She tried to make a living in different ways, but fishing has always been her main income source. In time, she noticed that she earned less than men. “If you work at a processing plant, you will earn around MXN $2,000, and although you don't make anything, you can make even more during the day. A fisherman earns more than a woman in an office or selling whatever,” says the 36-year-old woman.

Although the profits change according to the regions and fisheries, the interviewees claim that men earn three times more than they do.

“A man's product is bought at a higher price on the beach,” emphasized Marceni.

Minerva Pérez, owner of Atenea en el Mar, in Ensenada, Baja California, remembers that when she entered the business she learned about the salary differences in the sector “I was told: oh because they are women, men work more.”

For Alejandra Perea y Fatima Blásquez, authors of Women's participation in fishing: new roles, economic profits, and double shifts, the inequality factor takes place on the family, community, and government levels. “There is a long way to go in social interaction processes that allow equal work distribution,” said the Doctors in Marine Biology and Psychology by the Wellington and Madrid universities, in an investigation, carried out in San Felipe, Yucatán.

Currently, there are no official numbers about the wage gap among fisherwoman; only in public service, where the Conapesca registers 65% of men, 25% of women, and the rest of their vacancies, according to its directory.

From the 12 positions in the Commission, only one is balanced: the direction of the second level, while in the first level there are 11 men against 4 women. In the sub-directorates, heads of departments, general and deputy directions, the staff is mostly male. Also, no woman in office earns over MXN $50,000, in contrast with men, who earn from MXN $60,000 to MXN $130,000.

Support in four years

The Commission, part of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food (Sagarpa), told this newspaper that in the last four years, the federal government has invested over MXN $880 million in support projects that benefited over 11,000 women involved in fishing and aquaculture. One of the most important plans to support middle and highly marginalized communities is an incentive denominated as Rural Aquaculture, through which they supported 1,286 projects in 20 entities, with an investment of MXN $174 million, which benefited 2,791 producers, 744 of which were women.

The Conapesca claims that women were 25% of the payroll, and by the end of September 2018, they represent 31%, “occupying many of the middle and high-ranking positions.”

In regards to economic activities in Mexico, fishing and aquaculture are the ones with less female presence. Perea explains that “the double or triple shift is not recognized as a statistic when women invest a lot of time during fishing season.” Jorge Torre, director of Community and Biodiversity A.C., emphasizes that despite belonging to a value chain, there is “basically no information, and it is something that is taking place all over the world.”

At the Magdalena Bay, Marceni is not the only one who took that path. “Here, many women do what I do, there are strong women who dive to catch bay scallop, women who like to fish, go out into the sea. The majority are workers, and they are part of the sea's productivity.”

She has gone through statistic invisibility, the wage gap, and discrimination, elements that create a barrier to create public gender policies in fishing. These conditions have “given room to women being excluded in the majority of decision-making processes,” says researcher Sarah Harper, in her work Contributions by women to fisheries economies: insights from five maritime countries, published in 2015.

“There is a lot to investigate and solve and create a public policy directed towards fisherwomen, that is not triangulated, that doesn't get to them by chance,” adds Gastélum.

In 1997 Marceni arrived in San Carlos, where she learned to be a mother, wife, fisher, and businesswoman. Now she has two boats, but her contribution to national economy is invisible in official records.


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