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The latest news, letters, comment and analysis from the Friends of Ocean Action, leaders who are fast-tracking solutions for a healthy ocean.

Statement 06 June 2019

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

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.

Zanzibar, Tanzania. Women from a fishing village are catching small fish off the coast of the ocean.
Image: Getty Images

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
  • 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







STATEMENT 06 March 2019 / 05:00 GMT

Ocean Envoy calls for World Trade Organization members to end harmful fisheries subsidies

UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean Calls for Immediate Action from the World Trade Organization to Eliminate Harmful Fisheries Subsidies

Abu Dhabi, 06 March 2019 - In 2015, Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 was agreed to by all UN Member States as one of the targets of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The goal pledges to prohibit or eliminate harmful fishing subsidies by 2020. Such subsidies contribute to overfishing as well as illegal and unregulated fishing.

At a meeting of the full World Trade Organization (WTO) membership held in Geneva on February 27, 2019, Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the WTO, noted the progress being made in WTO negotiations on tackling fisheries subsidies. Such progress would deliver on Sustainable Development Goal 14.6, and Director-General Azevêdo called on members to be ready to engage at the political level in order to deliver an agreement within the 2019 deadline.

The following is a statement from Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean and Co-Chair of the Friends of Ocean Action:

“Director-General Azevêdo’s words are like a ray of sunshine upon what have for too long been turbid waters. The time for technical discussions on fisheries subsidies at the WTO is over. Negotiations should now move to a political level for decisive action.

“A WTO agreement on fisheries subsidies must be achieved by the end of 2019. Only then can the international community meet the deadline for Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 and stay true to the global plan to conserve and sustainably use the Ocean’s resources.

“According to expert research, fisheries subsidies contributing to overcapacity, overfishing and illegal fishing amount to around $20 billion per annum. It is estimated that 80% to 85% of all fisheries subsidies go to large-scale industrial fleets, thus causing market distortions that hurt small-scale artisanal fishers and the livelihoods of coastal communities.

“Too often we hear there is no money for environmental protection and sustainable development. Part of the answer is to stop wasting our precious wealth on harmful fisheries subsidies. The billions of dollars spent each year on harmful fisheries subsidies are wasted dollars that could be better spent supporting the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Notes to Editors

The Friends of Ocean Action are developing a public private platform to support the World Trade Organization and its members in achieving the SDG 14.6 target.

The Friends of Ocean Action is a coalition of over 50 leaders who are fast-tracking solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean. Its members – the Friends – come from business, civil society, international organizations, science and technology.

This Coalition is convened by the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute.