If you want to save the ocean, make women part of the solution

Statement 06 June 2019

Women depend on the ocean for livelihoods as much as men, yet their voices are not heard loudly enough when it comes to solving the crises facing our seas. The following statement signed by members of the Council of Women World Leaders, the Friends of Ocean Action and other ocean and environmental leaders explains why.

Globally, there has been enormous momentum on gender parity. If we translate that into action for a healthy Ocean, we have a chance of tackling the crisis facing the largest life-sustaining ecosystem on the planet.

Across the world, women play a vital role in the battle to save the Ocean.

Many of the great entrepreneurs, scientists, policymakers, grassroots activists, indigenous peoples and business leaders doing critical and unheralded work are women.

Investing in women and girls creates ripple effects throughout entire communities. Countries with a high representation of women in parliament are more likely to ratify international environment treaties. Case studies from across the world repeatedly show that including women in the leadership and management of marine and coastal ecosystems yields better results.

Half of seafood workers worldwide are female. They play an essential role in ensuring a reliable supply of food on which three billion people depend on for their daily source of protein. Yet, across the supply chain, there is substantial segregation of work and pay by gender, with women all-too-often denied a voice in fisheries management.

This is a mistake. The challenges facing the ocean are neither gender-blind nor gender-neutral. Women are at the forefront of - and disproportionately affected by - major Ocean emergencies like plastic pollution, illegal fishing, plummeting fish stocks, the climate crisis and ecological breakdown.

When there is empowerment and gender parity, however, women bring to the table different experiences that enrich coastal management, community resilience and fresh perspectives in tailoring solutions. Across all sectors, women need to be empowered as leaders in the sustainable use and conservation of the ocean.

In fisheries and aquaculture, where men frequently do the offshore and higher-value work, for example, women are overwhelmingly (90%) more involved in less well-paid, or unpaid, tasks such as processing, harvesting of less valuable seafood, sales and maintenance. In cases where they have access to the same jobs, tools, resources and decision-making power as men, both conservation and food productivity get better.

Women are frequently more exposed to the risks. Illegal fishing, a vast criminal enterprise, often coexists with violence against women, a widespread problem documented by the US Department of State. Studies analyzing the impact of disasters like cyclones and tidal surges show that women have greater risks to their survival and recovery in the aftermath. More research and data are needed to uncover the ways that women are impacted. This will help both to magnify the problems and their solutions.

With clear evidence of the positive role that gender parity has in fast-tracking progress, we need to be much more inclusive in finding gender-based solutions at all levels if we are to save the Ocean.

Women need to be given an equal seat on the decision-making bodies that affect the Ocean. They need to be given better access to funding, education, technology, market information and the ability to start ventures. The lack of gender diversity across numerous sectors stifles innovation, productivity and the solutions women could offer for creating a sustainable relationship with the Ocean.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14, a comprehensive plan agreed to by all the countries of the world, is focused on the global effort to conserve and sustain the world’s ocean, seas and marine resources. This goal is less likely to be achieved if 50% of the population it affects is not taken into consideration or listened to.

In June 2020, world leaders will meet in Lisbon for the second ever UN Ocean Conference. The first Conference in 2017 brought comprehensive global attention on the need for urgent and concerted Ocean action. We need to act much quicker, work together and be smarter in our approach.

Fortunately, we have the knowledge, power and technology to do this. We just need to translate this into tangible, scalable solutions that will put the Ocean back on a path to recovery. This will not be done without ensuring women are empowered and included.

Signed by

Helen Ågren, Ambassador for the Ocean, Sweden

Grethel Aguilar, Acting Director General, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Heidi Aven, Co-founder and owner of SHE Community, Norway

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and President of Chile (2006-2010 and 2014-2018)

Joyce Banda, President of Malawi (2012-2014).

Jessica Battle, Senior Global Ocean Policy Advocacy and Governance Expert, WWF

Dona Bertarelli, conservationist and philanthropist, Switzerland

Alice Bunn, International Director, UK Space Agency

Arne Cartridge, Special Advisor, Yara International, Norway.

Kim Campbell, Prime Minister of Canada (1993) and honorary board member of the Climate Action Reserve.

Laura Chinchilla Miranda, President of Costa Rica (2010-2014).

Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008), Patron of the Helen Clark Foundation.

Paula Cox, Premier of Bermuda (2010-2012).

Maria Damanaki, Global Managing Director for Oceans, Nature Conservancy, USA

Sylvia Earle, President and Chairman, Mission Blue, USA

Daniela V. Fernandez, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Sustainable Ocean Alliance, USA; and Global Shaper, World Economic Forum

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, President of Iceland (1980 - 1996)

Katherine Garrett-Cox, Chief Executive Officer, Gulf International Bank (UK) and Young Global Leader (World Economic Forum)

Tarja Halonen, President of Finland (2000-2012). Co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability (2010-2012) and Chair of the Board of Trustees, WWF Finland.

Nina Jensen, Chief Executive Officer, REV Ocean, Norway; and Young Global Leader (World Economic Forum)

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia (2006-2018) and World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador since 2019

Emily Saïdy de Jongh-Elhage, Prime Minister of the Netherland Antilles (2006-2010)

Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International

Doris Leuthard, President of Switzerland (2010, 2017)

Laura Liswood, Secretary General, Council of Women World Leaders, USA

Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for Environment and Climate, Sweden

Jane Lubchenco, Marine Ecologist, Oregon State University; former U.S. Under-Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere; former U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean, USA

Kenneth MacLeod, Chairman, Stena Line UK, United Kingdom

Douglas McCauley, Director, Benioff Ocean Initiative; and Professor, Department Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California Santa Barbara, USA

Beatriz Merino, Prime Minister of Peru (2003)

Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997), Founder and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice

Jo Royle, Managing Director, Common Seas, United Kingdom

Karen Sack, Managing Director, Ocean Unite, United Kingdom

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, UN’s SDG Advocates Co-Chair

Dame Jennifer Smith, Premier of Bermuda (1998-2003).

Camilla Hagen Sørli, Chair of the SHE Community, Norway, and Young Global Leader (World Economic Forum)

Andrew Steer, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Resources Institute, USA

John Tanzer, Leader, Oceans Practice, WWF International

Liz Taylor, President, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, USA

Kristian Teleki, Head of the Friends of Ocean Action; and Director, Sustainable Ocean Initiative, World Resources Institute, United Kingdom

Peter Thomson, UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Ocean

Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati (2003-2016)

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, President of Latvia (1999-2007)

Dominic Kailash Nath Waughray, Managing Director and Head of the Centre for Global Public Goods, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum