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National Women in Fisheries Association established

HighlightsNational Women in Fisheries Association established

Photo: Women in Fisheries Association elected council

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 20, 2024

After eight years of dedicated efforts, Belize has officially established a National Women in Fisheries Association on Tuesday, June 18. This achievement comes as seven women have been elected to serve on the executive body, including a president.

“The whole idea started in that women wanted this space for them to be able to share their concerns and their issues regarding a sector that they’re not fully recognized in as being an active participant,” Ralna Lamb-Lewis, the Assistant Country Director – Marine at the Wildlife Conservation Society told Amandala.

Historically, women’s roles in fisheries have often been overlooked, primarily because the act of fishing itself is predominantly performed by men. However, women play crucial roles in preparing for fishing trips, processing the catch, and managing sales once the product returns to land.

Despite their contributions, women have been largely excluded from management decisions and advisory boards within the fisheries sector.

“Because of the mere fact that when people think about fishing, it’s only the act of fishing you’re thinking about, and how those regulations would impact that set of persons. But in reality, any type of regulations and management decisions will impact all the persons involved in the sector, since all of them are playing a role within the sector,” Lamb-Lewis emphasized. This exclusion pointed to the need for a dedicated association to ensure women’s voices are heard and their contributions acknowledged.

Though it took years of discussion and planning, the journey has been a positive one with supportive feedback and even visits from numerous associations, ministries, and non-governmental organizations, including the Ministry of Blue Economy, the Fisheries Department, the National Fishermen Cooperative Association, and even a regional association called the Caribbean Network of Fisher Folk Organization.

The new group is currently working on finalizing the memorandum of association as well as being registered formally, as the first thing on their list would be to secure benefits for fisherfolk, both women and men, with a particular focus on health and retirement funding, given the various health risks associated with the fishing industry.

Supported by the Climate Adaptation in Protected Areas Initiative, the association also plans to strengthen its membership by applying for grants and funding opportunities. These efforts will enable them to embark on community development projects.

“A lot of them live in these coastal communities that are being impacted by the effects of climate change. As fisher folk, obviously, they’re heavily reliant on the sea, which is impacted by warming seas and coral bleaching and so on. So that is another aspect of it that they’re really looking at — how they could help to diversify the income base for their communities, which would make them more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” Lamb-Lewis added.

Another key goal for the association is capacity building. This will be achieved through partnerships with women-focused terrestrial and marine groups, providing training and opportunities for peer learning exchanges.

The association will be registered in Belize City, with virtual meetings held to accommodate its dispersed membership. The first official meeting is scheduled for August, where the focus will be on setting the association’s vision, goals, and mission.

Membership in the association is open to women engaged in any aspect of the fisheries sector. This inclusivity means that one does not need to be a licensed commercial fisher to join. Women involved in various roles, such as the spouses of fishers, those in processing and marketing, lionfish jewelry makers, and seaweed farmers, are all welcome.

Currently, the association’s membership represents eleven fishing communities, including Barranco, Punta Negra, Placencia, Seine Bight, Riversdale, Hopkins, Dangriga, Belize City, Lemonal, Chunox, and Sarteneja. The newly elected executive committee includes Chairwoman Paula Jacobs Williams, Vice-Chairwoman Ms. Veronica Tun, Treasurer Ms. Sherene Miranda, Secretary Ms. Isela Martinez, and Councilors Ms. Olga Colon, Ms. Karen Belgrave, and Kristalee Valerio.

The formation of this association was a highlight of the 7th annual Women in Fisheries Forum (WIFF) held in Hopkins Village, Stann Creek, under the theme, “Leave No One Behind in Building an Enabling Environment for Our Small-Scale Artisanal Fisheries.”

The forum brought together approximately 70 women from various coastal communities. The annual event aims to recognize the diverse roles women play in Belize’s small-scale fisheries sector and provide a platform for them to voice their challenges and opportunities. The vision for WIFF is to ensure that women’s contributions are recognized and that they have equal access to resources and involvement in managing their livelihoods.

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