World Oceans Day, which occurs every year on June 8th, is an annual celebration of the ocean and its importance. Each year, the United Nations honors the celebration by highlighting an issue involving ocean sustainability to spread awareness. This year’s focus is on the theme of “Gender and the Ocean.”
Gender inequality and its presence in environmentalism is often underrepresented or underlooked. The UN reports that there is only a small amount of data on the issue, and that awareness is necessary to effectively restore the ocean. Women empowerment and gender equality are vital in reaching sustainability goals.
“There’s a disproportion valuation or recognition of women’s work and skills in marine and coastal development and ocean and marine resources,” says Carla Kraft, a UN Women’s Policy Analyst.
Because there is so little data, it’s difficult to administer change. Kraft argues that the lack of gender-focused research in the field “makes it harder to make really adequate policy responses… we don’t know the exact status of where women are in the economic activities in ocean and marine-related fields.”
Women are at a disadvantage in all ocean-related fields, including marine life research, fishery and animal labor, seafaring, and policy-making. Like many others in different scientific industries, women in ocean work have to deal with being excluded from projects, being patronized by male coworkers, and not having outlets to express their frustrations.
Women outnumber men in the large and small scale fisheries workforce. However, they are only paid 64% of what their male counterparts earn for the same labor. Additionally, only 2% of roughly 1.2 million seafarers in the world are women. Only 38% of marine biologists are women, and are usually ignored or excluded from decision-making conversations within their workplaces. These alarming statistics are true indicators of how much gender inequality persists in ocean-related career fields.
The fishery sector is especially gruesome and has been referred to as “modern slavery” because of the mistreatment workers face. Women are clustered into “low-skilled, low-paid, seasonal jobs without health, safety, and labor rights protections.” On top of the poor working conditions, women in particular are not compensated fairly nor are being paid equally.
Women outside of the workforce are also being affected. Studies indicate that women are more likely to be negatively impacted by natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes. This is due to women having unequal access to resources and being denied basic recovery aid.
Additionally, men are often prioritized in both immediate and later organized rescue efforts. This is typically the result of patriarchal ideals; it is preferred that boys or men survive in order to carry on family bloodlines or rebuild destroyed properties.
Without women being recognized and heard, the journey to creating a sustainable environment is prolonged. They are absolutely necessary for reaching the ultimate goal of restoring the world’s oceans.