Rights of Women Fishers

*This is an excerpt from PKKK’s Rural Women Status Report on CEDAW 2011.

Magna Carta of Women or RA 9710 defines fisherfolk (women) as “those directly or indirectly engaged in taking, culturing, or processing fishery or aquatic resources. These include, but are not to be limited to, women engaged in fishing in municipal waters, costal and marine areas, women workers in commercial fishing and aquaculture, vendors and processors of fish and coastal products, and subsistence producers such as shell-gatherers, managers and producers of mangrove resources, and other related producers.”

The Magna Carta of Women is an important legislative milestone for women in the fisheries sector because it clearly defines and recognizes their marginalization in resource management and governance as a result of gender-based discrimination.  It also addresses and rectifies the common notion of fishing as a work of “men” that resulted in the continuing marginalization of women fishers.

Furthermore, women fishers are guaranteed specific rights and entitlements such as equal rights to utilize, manage, develop and benefit from fisheries and aquatic resources, equal opportunities for empowerment and participation in resource management, governance and other relevant economic activities.

Gender Issues in the Fisheries Sector

Available data on women workers in the fisheries sector shows that women comprise 8.1% or 117 of the total 1, 444 persons employed by the fishing industry in 2007.  In terms of average daily basic pay in the fishing industry, men receive Php160.1 while women only get Php145.4 or 10% difference. The nature of employment is often seasonal and does not include data on women engaged in unpaid labors and subsistence activities.

Non-recognition of women fishers’ role as equally important stakeholders undervalues their significant labor and socio-economic contribution in fisheries development despite their valuable participation. It also resulted to various gender issues in the fisheries sector particularly lack of gender-disaggregated statistical information and gender analysis useful for policy and program development; discriminatory fisheries registration and licensing system; lack of comprehensive and integrative program and budget allocation for women fishers; and limited involvement of women in the formulation/planning and implementation of fisheries policies and programs at all levels.

These issues hinder realization of women fishers’ equal rights to development such as resource depletion, coastal habitat degradation, weak fishery law enforcement, lack of access to basic social services, non-utilization of the GAD budget for improving women fishers’ welfare and the prevalence of violence against women and children in coastal areas.

Recognition of Women Fishers as a Continuing Struggle

As embodied in the Fisheries Code of 1998 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations and stipulated in the Bureau of Fisheries Aquatic Resources’ (BFAR) Comprehensive National Fisheries Industry Development Plan (CNFIDP), fishers should undergo the process of registration and licensing to be legitimately recognized and be entitled to fishery rights. However, realization of these policies has remained elusive with the absence of corresponding enabling local policies such as municipal or city ordinances, and Fisheries Administrative Order at the national level; hampered with weak implementation and law enforcement and coupled with unfunded programs.

Existing registration process and licensing schemes are discriminatory against women fishers  with lack of clear standard procedure on municipal fisheries registration and licensing being implemented by the LGUs. For a long time, the forms formulated are production-oriented wherein most of the data being asked are related to capture fisheries and seem to disregard gender data relevant to the formulation of gender responsive fisheries programs and policies. Through the engagement of PKKK in engendering fisheries registration, the BFAR has now its updated form that somewhat incorporated information associated to women fishers. However, the challenge remains at the local level in implementing a gender-responsive fisheries registration and licensing.

Furthermore, unaffordable registration and licensing fees, time-consuming process and lack of orientation about the importance of the process also hinder women fishers in the process. The non-registration worsen their marginalization and unequal access to and control over the resources and benefits from fisheries programs and other related development projects. It also undermines their bargaining power in the economic market and excludes them in decision or policy-making processes and other related governance activities in the fisheries sector.  In the context of a changing climate, non-registration of women fishers has implications to them especially in claiming rights to various social protection programs such as settlement tenurial security, social and health insurances, credit and livelihood opportunities in order for them to adapt and be resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Women’s Participation in Fisheries Governance and Resource Management


Leadership in existing fisheries governance structures and even within fisherfolk organizations continue to be dominated by men even with existing policies on women’s participation.  The Magna Carta of Women guarantees women’s equal rights to representation and participation in policy-decision making bodies with 40% of development councils and planning bodies at the regional down to the barangay level shall be composed of women; while the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Councils (FARMCs) under the Fisheries Code provides for a seat for women representatives in local FARMCs though it is not clearly articulated in the National FARMC.

There is a lack of clear data on the quality and level of women’s participation in FARMCs and other development or planning bodies. PKKK study cited that local FARMCs are functioning at a varying degree with only a limited number of women involved. Even if women are represented, men still control the organizational processes as they occupy the key positions. FARMCs in some LGUs are not even convened and not performing the way they should be which affects meaningful public participation of women fishers in fisheries management.

Bantay Dagat

The Magna Carta of Women provides for the eradication of discrimination against women in deputizing Bantay Dagat, and yet discrimination of women still happens. PKKK members, who implemented projects on women-managed areas in Mercedes in Camarines Norte, Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur, Calbayog City in Western Samar, Bolinao in Pangasinan and Bacon in Sorsogon, among other areas, actively participate as members of Bantay Dagat Teams in the implementation of local fishery ordinances and fisheries apprehension. They said that women are discouraged to participate in the conduct of trainings for potential Bantay Dagat because of the belief that law enforcement entails physical activities that are perceived as not appropriate to women such as patrolling, arresting and/or confronting of illegal fishers.

Women-Managed Areas

According to NSCB 2006 Poverty Statistics for the Basic Sectors, fisherfolk has the highest poverty incidence of 66.9 especially in the CARAGA, ARRM and Region V. Unsustainable fisheries further drives fishing communities into extreme poverty conditions. The depletion and degradation of coastal resources affects their economic productivity of coastal communities and their everyday subsistence. The decline of fish catch and unviable fishing gives additional burden to women fisher since they are the ones who manage the budget and expenditures of fishing households. They are obliged to find other means and sources of income in order to sustain the needs of their families. Thus, coastal and fisheries resource management is highly important for their survival.

PKKK women leaders in Sorsogon, Cavite, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Pangasinan, Surigao, Quezon Province, Northern Samar, and Zambales have been directly and actively involved in resource management initiatives such as mangrove reforestation, coastal clean-ups, information and education campaign on fisheries policies, establishment and maintenance of marine sanctuaries, and even in patrolling of the fishing grounds. However, their contributions do not extend to other phases of resource management particularly in decision-making. Women are accorded a secondary role relative to those given to men such as in the FARMCs, Bantay Dagat and fisherfolk organizations.


PKKK study also cited that the 5% GAD budget are usually allocated for activities not intended for addressing gender issues and improving the welfare of women in the area. They are spent on celebration of women’s day, conduct of cosmetology training as a livelihood opportunity, and construction of roads among others. In other LGUs such as in Candelaria Zambales, the GAD budget is allocated for the honorarium and activities of their health workers (BHW and BNS) aside from the regular budget allocated for the same. Some LGUs like the Province of Sorsogon have their own GAD Code, however implementation of such is another issue.

Government’s Program for Women in the Fisheries Sector

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has instituted its GAD Focal Point as a mechanism to mainstream gender in the fisheries sector. Through its Fisheries Office Order No. 25 series of 2010, the GAD Focal Point was reconstituted to provide directions in the GAD mainstreaming initiatives of the Bureau and implement specific programs and projects pursuant to GAD as one of its major functions. It also reported that gender mainstreaming within and among government agencies is one of the strategies employed to enhance its institutional capacities pursuant to GAD. Both men and women employees were included in capacity-building activities. Moreover, the BFAR GAD Focal Point is engaging civil society groups and partners on specific GAD-related projects. For instance, through the Inter-Agency Committee on Rural Women and Development, the PKKK, through its Fisheries Cluster has been working closely with the BFAR GAD Focal Point in promoting women fishers agenda (i.e. pilot campaign project on gender-responsive fisheries registration and licensing).

In terms of information generation, the BFAR has now started to maintain sex-disaggregated data (e.g. beneficiaries of trainings and technical assistance for livelihood programs conducted by the different regions) as reported in their GAD accomplishment reports.  However, the absence of a clear mechanism and guideline to generate sex-disaggregated data and gender analysis on fisheries profile in terms of fish production, number of fishers and their socio-economic contributions, access to resources, fisheries governance, fisheries project impacts, and other relevant gender data as basis for program and policy formulation remains a challenge for the Bureau and the entire fisheries sector in general.


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