Nelly Bassily | January 7, 2008
Some Ugandan women are breaking traditional barriers in the fishing industry in order to obtain a better share of the profit.Historically, men owned boats and other fishing equipment and harvested the fish from Lake Victoria. Women purchased the fish, which they cleaned, prepared, and re-sold.
Women in Uganda are now legally entitled to own boats. However, traditional beliefs remain a barrier. One belief holds that women bring bad luck if they go fishing. The belief that women are not physically strong enough to row boats or haul nets also persists. Women’s groups are working to change this.
On a landing site on Lake Victoria’s northern coast, the Katosi Women Fishing Development Association helps women obtain loans to buy boats, nets, and engines, and to demand equal rights to fish on the waters.
Margaret Nakyejjwe is among the growing number of Ugandan women who own boats. She sold part of her land to purchase the boats and now employs men to operate them. As payment, Ms. Nakyejjwe shares the catch with her male employees.
According to the Ugandan government’s Fisheries Sector Strategic Plan, about 70 per cent of the fish business is conducted by women – but fishermen enjoy most of the benefits. Women involved in the fishing industry are commonly widows or separated from their husbands – a vulnerable group. To help ensure that they receive a consistent supply of fish to prepare and re-sell, even when fish stocks are low, women who do not own fishing assets are often pressured into sexual relationships with fishermen.
These traditional roles and relationships have caused women to receive less financial benefit from the fishing industry, even though they play a larger role. They also put women at greater risk from sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
According to the Ugandan government’s Poverty Eradication Action Plan, empowering women in the fishing industry may benefit entire households in fishing communities. There is evidence that households where women are directly involved in fishing are better off because women are more likely to save and invest their earnings.