Making waves for women in fisheries with the "Amdjers de Mar"
When asked to provide a word to describe the assembly of women around them, both Lucy Duarte and Nataly Soares choose the same: guerreira. It is the Portuguese word for warrior, and if there was ever a group that embodied it, it is the peixeiras – women fishworkers – of Sal. Today, they are sharing their experience as they finish up a week of intense training designed to equip them with the tools needed for a very particular battle.
Before the summer of 2020, Lucy, Nataly and their fellow peixeiras were an iconic part of the daily scene at the pier in Santa Maria, using buckets and their own material to sort, cut and clean the daily catch hauled in by local artisanal fishers. While this attracted the attention of tourists in search of a good photograph, the lack of space, safety regulations and formal knowledge and organization left them at a significant social and economic disadvantage.
Enter Projeto Empodera, an initiative implemented by Project Biodiversity and funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) to build capacity among the women fishworkers of Sal through a series of workshops in financial management, food safety and handling, and leadership. The end goal? The establishment of an association dedicated to ensuring the sustainability of both their livelihood and the marine resources they rely on.
Nataly has been working as a fish processor and vendor on and off for the past several years, and after her most recent re-entry 8 months ago, is determined to find success in the industry despite its many challenges.
Some, she says, she enjoys; the feeling at the end of a hard day’s work, where she arrives home with an aching back after having sold all of her stock with just enough to bring home for dinner.
Other challenges are much more tiresome and difficult to tackle – like when her clients cancel their order at the last minute and at the end of the day when it’s nearly impossible to sell the fish to someone else, or the fact that many restaurants import their fish instead of buying it locally.
The peixeiras face similar obstacles to women in the fisheries sector worldwide. Despite an estimated 85% of representation in fish processing activities, women fishworkers continue to battle poor conditions, lack of resources and gender discrimination in the sector. In Cabo Verde, the lack of social security benefits and poor labor law parameters for the fisheries sector also contribute to their everyday challenges.
Lucy Duarte is both a seasoned vendor and a fisher in her own right, having fished alongside her fathers and brothers since childhood. Her biggest obstacle as a fisher, she says, has been the misconception that women belong onshore, not in the boat. The biggest challenge as a vendor is competition – from hotels and local businesses and amongst the women themselves.
According to Carla Corsino, the coordinator and facilitator of Projeto Empodera, the solutions lie not only in investing in the economic empowerment of the peixeiras, but in their social and personal empowerment as well. In order to address practical issues such as financial management and organisational leadership, she had to create space to explore the effects of hardships unique to women – the burden of expectation that they will raise a family, run a household, and provide for it without any significant support from partners. All of the women in this program are more than capable, says Carla, it is just a matter of having access to the tools to organize and manage their own conditions, formalize their existing work to enable them to make the most of their skills and role in the fisheries industry, and to feel secure in their knowledge and experience.
For Lucy and Nataly, their participation in the programme has broadened their horizons with both practical, hard skills such as financial management, food safety, leadership, as well something much deeper – a sense of power over their circumstances and solidarity with other peixeiras to forge a brighter path forward for their profession.
What that path looks like remains to be seen. Nataly dreams of a future where local hotels and restaurants source their fish locally, allowing for a consistent stream of income for the whole group. Lucy hopes to one day open her own fish market and restaurant that serves the catch straight from her boat. Now armed with new skills and new uniforms, Lucy, Nataly and all the “Amdjers de Mar” are well on their way.