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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Liberia: Women inclusion in Liberia’s small-scale fisheries

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Note: To celebrate the upcoming International Women’s Day on 8 March, Steve Trent, CEO of the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), writes about gender inclusion in Liberia’s small-scale fisheries.

The Foundation has conducted extensive work in Liberia’s coastal communities including setting up women-run saving associations across 18 fishing communities. These have increased the financial independence of women playing a crucial role in small-scale fisheries and leading the post-harvest activities.

Mary is a Liberian fishmonger and processor, supporting a family of 12. In August 2022, Mary’s husband’s canoe capsized and was destroyed – and with it, their family’s main source of income.

However, because Mary had joined a women’s community-run savings association called a ‘Village Savings and Loans Association’ (VSLA) in 2021, she was able to use her savings to reduce the impact of the accident on her family, treat the injured fishers and buy a new boat.

Her family now has a new canoe, and she is able to save every week with her VSLA group. This is one of 29 VSLA groups which have trained 890 fishmongers across Liberia, all but one of them women.

These have been set up by the EU-funded Communities for Fisheries project implemented by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), an NGO which works internationally to drive systemic, durable reforms to protect the environment and defend human rights.

These associations were set up to help address gender imbalances in the coastal communities in Liberia and increase women’s participation in managing the fisheries they rely on.

The saving associations are crucial because the women live in poorly connected rural communities in Liberia, where most banks or credit facilities don’t establish branches. This, combined with the fact that many women have a lack of knowledge about personal finances, leaves many without the confidence to apply for loans.

When these companies are present, many collect debts weekly and come to the borrowers’ houses to do so. This leaves others in the community aware of who is borrowing money and sometimes creates an atmosphere of shame around requiring loans.

By joining the saving associations, Liberian women working in small-scale fisheries can improve their understanding of finances and access loans as part of a supportive community.

Women in Liberia’s coastal communities often face significant discrimination. Despite making up 60% of the fisheries workforce in Liberia, women are all too often left out of decision-making processes and excluded from leadership positions.

Men decide on fish prices at landing sites and the fishing seasons, alongside other key decisions. Male participants in EJF’s report admitted that women are largely not present during the meetings where these decisions are made.

There are now VSLAs in 24 fishing communities in Liberia, spreading across four coastal counties. As they have to worry less about their personal finances, we have discovered increased community advocacy amongst women in these communities which, in turn, has also improved their decision-making powers and financial independence.

Despite the increase of women in decision-making positions, they still face numerous challenges linked to prescribed gender roles.

According to our latest investigation, unlike the men who often take time to rest after a fishing expedition, women are expected to frequently multitask between their paid work and unpaid domestic labour, leaving them with less leisure time and, crucially, less time to participate in important fisheries meetings.

The VSLAs were introduced across the four counties through awareness-raising and education by EJF’s Community Mobilisers and Senior Technical Officer for Gender and Community Participation.

Following training by the Mobilisers which included leadership and communication skills, they worked with each group to develop by-laws and host elections for each Association’s leaders.

Cephas Asare, West Africa Regional Manager, said: “The introduction of these savings associations has been transformative for women across these communities, but the VSLAs have only been able to succeed because of the collaboration and capabilities of the participants.”

THE INTRODUCTION OF THESE SAVINGS ASSOCIATIONS HAS BEEN TRANSFORMATIVE FOR WOMEN ACROSS THESE COMMUNITIES.

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