Fisheries are an essential source of food, income and livelihoods for thousands of people across Liberia, particularly in coastal communities. About 20% of Liberians depend on fish as a source of animal protein. More than 33,000 depend on fish for their livelihoods and income.
Women are the backbone of the artisanal fisheries. They provide finances for the fishermen; they process and sell the fish. They are a pillar of the small-scale fisheries, bringing the catch from the landing site to people’s plates.
But despite their crucial involvement in the fishery value chain, they have been largely excluded from participating in fisheries management. The barrier comes from the cultural setting where society is male dominated and only men are allowed to go fishing at sea.
A four-year project funded by the European Union is seeking to change that. ‘Communities for Fisheries’ brings women on board to manage the fisheries’ resources.
The project is led by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) in partnership with Liberia's National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority (NaFAA). ESF have organised ‘Village Saving Loan Associations’ (VSLAs) where women can come together to save money and obtain loans. The women can pool their community resources and invest back into their own businesses.
But beyond being a platform to save money, the VSLAs provide the women a place to discuss issues affecting their fisheries businesses. They give the women confidence to engage the men when it comes to fisheries issues. The women have even started to stand for election in leadership roles in the ‘Collaborative Management Associations’ that bring fisherman and processors together to manage their own resources.
With more women participating in fisheries management and making decisions that start within their own community, there is hope that this will translate into more sustainable, legal fishing in Liberia that the next generation can depend on.
Watch the story of Barbra, Oretha and the other VSLA 'heroes'.