Women in Indonesian Fisheries: An Underrecognized Force in Economic Growth and Recovery

Silhouette of Person Holding a Fishing Net View more by Chanwit Wanset from Pexels
Accounting for up to 42% of the workforce, these women are the unsung heroes of an industry often perceived as predominantly male. 
In the vast archipelago of Indonesia, women’s contribution to the fisheries sector is not just significant—it’s essential. Accounting for up to 42% of the workforce, these women are the unsung heroes of an industry often perceived as predominantly male. This oversight is not just a matter of fairness; it’s a critical economic and social issue.


Empowerment and Sustainability: The Impact of Women in Fisheries

Women in Indonesia’s fisheries sector are more than just a workforce; they are a driving force in the economy. Dominating roles such as fish sellers, where they represent 72% at ports, these women contribute significantly to the annual fish catch, valued at a staggering $253 million. Yet, despite their pivotal role, they often remain invisible in the realms of management and policy.
Initiatives on islands like Barrang Caddi in South Sulawesi are shining examples of how empowering women can boost local economies and create sustainable livelihoods. Women’s natural inclination towards sustainable practices and ethical stewardship of the marine ecosystem makes their involvement crucial for responsible fisheries management. This is not just about gender equality; it’s a strategic necessity for sustainable development, poverty alleviation, and recovery in the post-COVID-19 era.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected women, especially in sectors like fisheries where they dominate low-paying, informal, or unpaid roles. This impact extends beyond individual livelihoods, affecting food security and global recovery efforts.

The Indispensable Role of Women in Indonesian Fisheries: A Closer Look

1. Key Actors In The Sector 
In the dynamic and bustling fisheries of Indonesia, women are not merely participants; they are foundational pillars. Representing 42% of the labor force in this sector, their impact is monumental. Each year, these women contribute an astounding 169,000 metric tons of fish, translating to a market value of about $253 million. This figure alone speaks volumes about their economic importance. But their contribution isn’t limited to the numbers. The real story lies in the breadth of their involvement which spans the entire spectrum of the fisheries sector. From the break of dawn, these women are engaged in a myriad of tasks – from mending nets to preparing the boats for the day’s journey, and from sorting the day’s catch to selling it in local and regional markets. Their workdays, often stretching beyond 17 hours, encapsulate the essence of dedication and resilience. This tireless effort not only fuels the fisheries industry but also sustains the cultural and economic fabric of the Indonesian archipelago.
2. Poverty Alleviation
Women’s role in Indonesian fisheries extends far beyond the immediate confines of the industry, playing a crucial role in poverty alleviation and household economics. Their involvement in the fisheries sector is a significant economic lifeline for many families, contributing up to 48% of household income. This contribution is a testament to their role not just as laborers, but as key economic agents. In regions like South Sulawesi, women have organized themselves into community business groups, pioneering a variety of seafood-based products. These groups are more than just business ventures; they are beacons of economic resilience and empowerment. Through these initiatives, women are not only providing for their families but are also driving local economic growth, creating a ripple effect that benefits entire communities. Their role in these business groups highlights the multifaceted impact of women in fisheries – they are not only catching and processing fish but also steering economic development at the grassroots level.
3. Better Fisheries Management
The inclusion of women in fisheries management isn’t just a matter of gender equity; it’s a strategic imperative for sustainable and equitable fisheries. Women bring to the table a unique set of insights and a cooperative approach that are invaluable for responsible marine stewardship. Their inherent understanding of the delicate balance within marine ecosystems positions them as natural stewards of these resources.
In places like Kaur Regency, Bengkulu, and Tanakeke, South Sulawesi, the practices of octopus fisherwomen and seaweed growers stand as testament to this fact. These women are not just harvesting resources; they are actively involved in monitoring and managing marine life to ensure its sustainability. Their involvement in record-keeping of catches and voluntary work in ecosystem rehabilitation showcases a deep-rooted commitment to ethical and sustainable practices. This holistic approach, blending traditional knowledge with sustainable practices, underscores the critical role women play in shaping a more responsible and sustainable fisheries sector.

Lead image courtesy: ‘Silhouette of a Person Holding a Fishing Net’ by Chanwit Wanset, sourced from Pexels