Celebrating women’s work in ocean disciplines

19 March 2024
Two Women Surrounded with Green Fish Nets

Speakers at a Women’s Day webinar on the role of Indo-Pacific women in ocean protection and management have called for more meaningful approaches to gender mainstreaming.

The virtual event, ‘Investing in Women Making Waves in the Indo-Pacific Region’, was convened to recognise the often-overlooked contributions of women whose work is related to the ocean – from science to fishing and advocacy and culture.

The webinar was organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Blue Charter Programme in partnership with  (WPSE). WPSE is a non-profit platform which provides opportunities for business networking, insights, information and expert discussions concentrating on smart energy and low carbon industry..

The online forum sought to highlight women’s achievements, address challenges and underscore the importance of creating spaces and opportunities for women. In his opening remarks, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans & Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said:

“The imperative to centralise the vital role of women is mainstreamed across every aspect of the Commonwealth's work, and it is at the heart of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which brings member states together in common action for a sustainable and healthy ocean.”

With 49 of the 56 Commonwealth member states having a coastline and women constituting 50 per cent of the workforce in marine and coastal industries, Dr Hardman-Mountford stressed that a collective effort is needed to remove the barriers to women’s equal participation, status and pay.

Women in the Indo-Pacific region have long-been crucial custodians of marine biodiversity. The webinar served as a platform for dialogue, insight, and raising awareness of the need to achieve gender equity.  By investing in women's empowerment, the Blue Charter team and the WPSE are paving the way for sustainable development and inclusive growth across the Commonwealth.

Magnifying Women’s Voices

Moderator Dr Renis Auma Ojwala, a Kenyan research scientist who focuses on gender equality in ocean science, said that magnifying the voices of women in the Indo-Pacific region was not just for their benefit, but also for the prosperity of families, communities and the entire Commonwealth.

The Blue Charter’s Gender Outreach Assistant, Nafesha Richardson, described investing in women as “smart economics”.
She added: “Investing in women's education, entrepreneurship, and the workforce, can lead to higher productivity.”

Adi Alani Tuivucilevu, marine biologist and Network Coordinator of Women in Fisheries Network – Fiji, pointed out that women are often not sufficiently involved in making decisions on how ocean resources are used. Noting this, she said the Women in Fisheries Network has turned its focus to applying a gender lens to ocean management plans.

Dr Christina McGraw, Associate Professor Department of Chemistry at the University of Otago, commended the positive changes she has seen regarding women in ocean science. Throughout her 25 years in the industry, she said there had been significant strides towards gender diversity.

Dr McGraw noted: “There are more women in ocean sciences designing field-deployable instrumentation for marine ecosystems than 10 years ago. Women are putting themselves out there... becoming the face of marine science.”

However, barriers still remain for women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Dr Samantha Lai, Deputy Director of the Coastal and Marine Branch of the National Biodiversity Centre within Singapore’s National Parks Board, stressed the importance of representation and strong female role models.

She told the audience that “it is possible for women to have a fulfilling career in STEM, for women to be scientists [and] to be effective and great scientists.”

Shenade Muller, Indigenous Partnerships Coordinator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science highlighted the multiple barriers faced by Indigenous women.

“The inequalities we face as women, are also compounded by the additional challenges that Indigenous people face due to dispossession of our land, loss of our culture and knowledge of our culture and cultural practices, and not having a place at the table when it comes to management decisions of our own sea country,” she said.

In a discussion around the benefit of investing in women in the Indo-Pacific region for the wider Commonwealth, panellists reflected on the “cross-pollination” and cross-cultural ripple effect which can be experienced in other regions.

The webinar closed with strong calls to action for women to be each other’s allies, and for more genuine approaches to gender mainstreaming as opposed to ‘box-ticking’. The panellists also reflected on the importance of media and communications to change the narrative, instead of depicting women as weak, to highlight their role as leaders.

Call for gender champions

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is calling for video submissions from women working in the ocean sector to share compelling stories to foster meaningful dialogue around the challenges and triumphs they face. More information about submissions can be found here.

A video compilation will be screened at a special event to celebrate World Ocean Day on Thursday, 6th June 2024.

The event will consider the gendered dimensions of ocean-related work and emphasise the pivotal roles that women play in ocean science, advocacy and art. It will also recognise the existing disparities and aim to inspire collective action towards a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable ocean sector.

  • Victoria Holdsworth  Communications and Media Liaison Lead, Commonwealth Secretariat
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