Women’s Economic Empowerment and Hilsa Fisheries: Experience in ECOFISH Activity
USAID funded ECOFISH Activity (2014-2019) aimed to improve the resilience of the Meghna (Padma-Meghna and tributaries) river systems and communities reliant on coastal fisheries. The activity, implemented jointly by WorldFish and Department of Fisheries, supported to establish a collaborative, science-based co-management approach to reduce overfishing and protect juvenile fish species and brood in the peak spawning season. ECOFISH achieved these objectives through involving various stakeholders across 10 coastal districts of Bangladesh and supported 20,000 fisher’s households. ECOFISH assisted to improve the HFMAP’s implementation through a bottom up approach with inclusive community engagement of both fishers’ women and men in the decision making process and introduction of adaptive co-management across the river sanctuaries. The project sought to reverse this trend and revive the Hilsa fishery in the Bangladesh River system as well as increase biodiversity through improved resilience of the ecosystems and that of the fishing communities. ECOFISH implemented strategic approaches on access to finance, women’s empowerment, and sustainable fisheries management in a coordinated, integrated way by engaging women with AIGAs, savings groups and co-management committees. Because of ECOFISH’s support and training, fisherwomen’s contribution to their family and community became visible and women’s’ position in households improved. Women’s AIGAs has created new sources of income and opportunities for improved family nutrition. Women’s capacity to produce vegetables, rear livestock, and engage in other opportunities increased. Consequently, fisherwomen are now supporting their male members during the fishing ban periods with money and household resources from their income. These women’s contributions to family income have in turn reduced dependency on fishing, increased compliance and enforcement. After women’s empowerment increased, fishers’ illegal activities have reduced, resulting in 90 percent compliance across all 136 villages. Some villages eliminated illegal fishing activities. Women are also keeping their husbands engaged in family activities like gardening, livestock rearing, and pond management during fishing ban periods. ECOFISH has promoted women’s influence in fisheries governance, resulting in increased sustainability and conservation. Women’s participation in adaptive co-management helped identify and resolve potential conflicts and differences in setting management priorities between and within user groups. ECOFISH established 575 HCGs, 63 HGGs, 148 CSGs, and 400 CFGs as building block of fisheries co-management, where women’s participation was ensured in all groups except in ghat groups and community fish guards. Fisherwomen’s participation was mandated as follows: at 30 percent at all community levels, fisheries management committees, and union committees; and 10-17 percent at the higher level, upazila, and district committees. Community savings groups served as a gateway for fisherwomen’s empowerment through which they played a greater role at the family, community, and higher levels. By 2019, ECOFISH had formed 148 CSGs, involving 5,180 women with a total savings of US$ 159,210. 4,125 Fisherwomen received soft loans from this fund and reinvested their money in different businesses, such as tailoring, goat rearing, cow rearing, commercial gardening, grocery business, and poultry rearing. This intervention helped the poor fishing families in the intervention villages eliminate the high interest exploitative loans from the non-formal loan sharks, known locally as dadonder. ECOFISH also introduced a Business Literacy School to provide basic literacy, business, and loan management skills to CSG members with the objective to engage them in local businesses and trade.