A Somali woman lays out freshly cut tuna on racks to dry in the sun at an IDP camp on the outskirts of Bossaso, Puntland. Although women do not take part in fishing themselves, they are beginning to get involved in the processing of the fish once it arrives back on land. UN Photo/Tobin Jones

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisions a present and future that is all-encompassing; socially, economically and environmentally resilient. For the global community to deliver this ambition, all must work together to promote inclusive and sustainable use of natural resources — including our water resources. This includes establishing stronger environmental laws, allocation of financial resources; promotion of innovation and private-public partnerships; and, strengthening community resilience that ensures sustainable benefits for all.

Premised on this, as the concept of the blue economy gains momentum, strategic approaches that guarantee gender and social inclusion are critical. While the blue economy offers vast economic opportunities and high nutritional food resources, women often face limited access to these opportunities compared to their male counterparts. Women’s participation and contribution is often overlooked, undervalued and underrepresented. While in some communities, cultural norms and societal biases continue aggravate their vulnerabilities, exposing them to exploitation and unfair competition; as women depend heavily on middlemen, for access to markets and fishing commodities.

Women on the shores of Lake Victoria do not fish; they rely on the men for the supply of fish for markets and domestic use. With the invasion of hyacinth in the lake, the quality and quantities of fish have decreased significantly, resulting in high levels of competition, inflation of prices and exploitation. In some areas along lake, women fishmongers are trading sex for fish, an exchange locally referred to as ‘Jaboya’ to cope with the competition for the scarce commodity. Photos: UNDP Kenya/Kevin Ouma

Gender equity and inclusion in all sub-sectors of the blue economy cannot be undermined. Increased engagement of women within the related sectors will not only ensure collective responsibility in the conservation and sustainable use of water resources, but also increase opportunities for decent work and reduction of poverty at household levels. Thus appropriate measures and policies must be put in place, to ensure that the blue economy is a viable sector that can catalytically advance equitable economic growth and, improvement of livelihoods.

Investing in gendered policies and frameworks aimed at advancing effective production, conservation and management of blue economy resources will help bridge the gap and open a new realm of possibilities in the creation of decent work for all and reduction of poverty levels. Furthermore, gender-disaggregated data will also increase the understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the sector and provide a nuanced outlook in the formulation of ideas that respond to everyone’s needs.

Understanding the role of women in the various value chains within the blue economy sub-sectors, can support the development and implementation of systems and policies that cushion them from exploitation and discrimination. Deliberate inclusiveness in identifying opportunities will ensure equitable socio-economic growth and deliver a sector that is beneficial for all. As a ‘New Frontier of the African Renaissance’ the blue economy must not isolate or relegate women to the periphery, but aim for substantive inclusion — both in the public and private sector — by deliberately committing to ideas that increase their participation in the management and utilisation of resources.

Julie Ndwiga is a Gender Specialist, and Ngele Ali is the Head of Communications, UNDP Kenya.

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