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Women in Blue Economy: Changing lives and aiding poverty alleviation

Posted by JUDITH DORA AKOLO on 13 June 2022 6:55 PM CAT

By Marla Simeon (Seychelles), Judith Akolo (Kenya), Jose ArturAriscado (Mozambique)

A buzz of activity fills the air as vendors’ shuffles to catch the eyes of passersby while others tries to guide the curious shoppers to their stalls. We are interested in one particular corner shop, the ‘Meat and Fish Supermarket’ run by a fishmonger named Mary Massawa.

While persistent gender inequalities prevent women from fully participating in economic opportunities and decision making, ultimately restricting the potential of the fishing sector, Mary has weathered it all. She started her fish trade business while she was a high school student, she tells us she would be chased away from school because her parents were so poor they couldn’t afford to pay for her school fees. The young student had to go to Lake Victoria to purchase fish from the fishers and then sell it at the market near her home, the proceeds are what she used to pay her school fees. On completing her high school education, she went ahead with her fish business which has thrived over the years.

The 50 year old female fishmonger has been in the industry for over 24 years, having started off her fish trade in Mombasa, Mary transferred her business to Nairobi and in the process developed her network of suppliers to continue supplying her business with sufficient stock to cater for her customers.

Just like many of her fellow vendors, Mary is affected by the sudden inflation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Europe which has seen the cost of fuel rise making transportation of her fish stocks from Mombasa and Kisumu very expensive. She noted that the inflation has decreased their usual level of business. The fishmonger hinted that there is a possibility of taking on a second job to generate more income in her household.

“I am contemplating taking up another job to supplement my earnings,” she tells us and adds that out of her five siblings, four sisters and a brother, one is currently living and working in Seychelles. The mother of two, says she is proud of her fish business because it has seen her send her children to university a feat she did not accomplish herself. “My biggest pride is my children attending University, I only managed to go through high school, am happy my children are excelling in education,” she says.

As only a high school graduate herself, the fishmonger has paved the way for a better life for her children. The mother of two whose husband is an Information Technologist working in one of the government departments says giving children an education is important as it is the only inheritance a parent can bequeath her children.

Mary is an employer and has employed 12 people at Fish and Meat Supermarket, this has a multiplier effect in poverty alleviation since she is contributing to reducing unemployment in the country. She has cut an edge over the rest as she is the main supplier of sea food as well as fish sourced from the lake. She acknowledged that she knows the business procedures from the ground up through her experiences.

The fishmonger who runs the business jointly has also never worked in any other industry. From the launching of her business, she has established herself as a worthy opponent in the market as a supplier for sea food and lake food.

Since women represent a significant part of the fisheries workforce, the sector represents a high-impact opportunity for women’s economic and social empowerment. Evidence from the conversation with Mary shows that interventions to improve women’s entrepreneurial and negotiating skills could help them to and help strengthen women’s livelihoods through increased income, as well as better social and health outcomes.

According to the World Bank report “Striking the Balance,” due to the growing population and per capita income, demand for fish is expected to increase 30% by 2030. Fisheries contribute to Africa’s economy. Currently, fisheries and aquaculture directly contribute US$24 billion to the African economy, representing 1.3% of the total African GDP in 2011. The sector provides employment to over 12 million people with 58% in the fishing and 42% in the processing sector. While fishing jobs are almost entirely taken by men, 59% of the processing work is done by women.

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