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Prioritizing Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) within Regional Fisheries Organizations

Promoting women’s empowerment and participation, and gender equality in the fisheries value chain, in Southeast Asia and the Coral Triangle region

Millions of people in Asia-Pacific depend on marine ecosystems for food and livelihoods. This ecosystem is threatened by illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, pollution, and climate change. The depletion of ocean and fisheries resources has reached an alarming point and is increasingly having a negative impact on small-scale fishers and coastal communities. Without improved fisheries management and without prioritizing gender equality and social inclusion, the region is forecast to experience a significant decline in marine resources, leading to loss of income and food insecurity.   

Regional fisheries organizations play a key role in helping governments address threats to marine life, including IUU fishing. Their ability to convene multisector stakeholders across the region is critical for promoting sustainable fisheries and marine resources management. The impact of regional fisheries organizations is strongest when it includes adhering to the principles and practice of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI).  

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Sustainable Fish Asia Local Capacity Development Activity (SUFIA LCD) was initiated in August 2020 with an aim to strengthen operational and technical capacity development of regional fisheries organizations to improve marine biodiversity and fisheries resource management. Since then, a series of capacity development activities has been implemented to support two regional fisheries organizations, the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) and the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), to strengthen their leadership in the region in fulfilling their mandates, and as strong regional partners of USAID in sustainable fisheries management.  

Photo Credit: SEAFDEC

Gender equality and social Inclusion training in regional fisheries organizations 

From the onset of the project, the SUFIA LCD team prioritized GESI as both an ethical approach and a means to achieve more sustainable results. SUFIA LCD’s capacity development assessments and all subsequent trainings, workshops, and individualized consultations included GESI components and considerations, where applicable. SUFIA LCD advised all training providers and consultants to integrate GESI in all trainings. This reflected the Activity’s continuous efforts to implement GESI-responsive capacity development interventions in which regional fisheries organization partners can learn from each other and subsequently apply learnings in their own activities and interventions.  

Training sessions detailed how to include GESI elements within the project cycle to ensure understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion in sustainable fisheries management, as well as in functional organizational areas such as administration, human resources management, project management, communications, reporting, and leadership. Training included practical exercises and case studies so participants could apply what they learned, such as analyzing gender issues, developing GESI action plans and strategies to address existing issues, and ensuring GESI issues are accounted for in project monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL). Participants were encouraged to integrate these action plans into their existing tasks within their organizations and share GESI learning with their peers to further promote and increase awareness on gender integration within their organizations and with their partners. 

Successes in implementing gender equality and social inclusion for regional fisheries 

SEAFDEC Integrates GESI in Human Resources Management 

SEAFDEC staff participated in a SUFIA LCD-sponsored training on “Strategic Human Resources Management and Business Leadership” conducted by the Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand. The staff expressed that they understood more the importance of GESI in HR work. The topics included understanding strategic human resource management, performance management, and business leadership and participating staff articulated how they will apply what they learned.  

 The trainings covered various GESI considerations and how to identify and address unequal power relations experienced by people on the basis of gender, wealth, ability, location, ethnicity, language, and agency, or a combination of these dimensions. During the training, SEAFDEC learned how to integrate GESI in their existing HR policies and technical programs. 

Ms. Arpaporn Eiamsa-ard, SEAFDEC’s Human Resources Officer, stated, “SEAFDEC will increasingly consider diversity and inclusion in the recruitment of new staff. For example, positions will be open to all genders, whereas in the past, we would assign certain jobs for a specific gender.” Participating in the training opened her eyes to ways in which GESI can be integrated in human resources management.  

Another participant, Ms. Saivason Klinsukhon, Senior Information Officer and the Gender Focal Person for SEAFDEC Secretariat, shared that, “With SEAFDEC’s Gender Strategy and the knowledge gained from the training, we incorporated principles of transparency, non-discrimination, gender equality integration, and social inclusion, not only in the implementation of SEAFDEC technical projects, but also in our human resource policies and practices.” 

The SEAFDEC staff who attended the GESI HR training subsequently conducted an in-house training for 33 additional SEAFDEC staff to share the lessons learned on GESI integration and to discuss how to implement this within the organization. The improved GESI efforts made by the Gender Focal Points and HR team will increase all staff awareness and improve their understanding on the importance of GESI and equip them to implement their organization’s gender strategies. This is beneficial to all staff and to the sustained results of SEAFDEC’s work among fishing communities and industry partners.  

CTI-CFF implements new GESI policy and integration in HR systems 

Similarly to SEAFDEC, following CTI-CFF staff participation in training activities organized by SUFIA LCD, the organization created a new learning space to enrich leadership capabilities and improve the effectiveness of incorporating GESI considerations and practices within human resource management. During the past year, CTI-CFF approved its GESI Policy and developed and updated relevant HR policies so that they better incorporate GESI issues, such as transparent hiring, non-discriminatory behavior in the workplace, and ethics. CTI-CFF also ensures that their strategies, communications materials, and advocacy efforts are inclusive of GESI considerations.  

SUFIA LCD supported CTI-CFF by organizing a workshop to socialize the newly approved GESI Policy among member countries and development partners and drafting the guidelines to implement the GESI Policy. Member countries and partners play a role in implementing the GESI Policy to ensure alignment with CTI-CFF’s Regional Plan of Action (RPOA) 2.0 goals of equity and inclusivity. The implementing guidelines provide details on the practical steps and required actions to integrate GESI Policy in CTI-CFF management operations and technical program design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. This will equip people working in sustainable fisheries and marine biodiversity to promote and advocate for GESI integration in the Coral Triangle region.  

SUFIA LCD acknowledges the contributions of CTI-CFF, SEAFDEC and Apiradee Treerutkuarkul to this article.  

Learn more about SUFIA LCD Activity and RTI’s Marine Conservation and Fisheries capabilities