A few weeks have passed since the end of my CBE summer fellowship at the FAO and the magnitude of the experience is just starting to sink in. I am grateful to the Center for the Blue Economy for making it possible to enhance my study of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management through this invaluable experience. My time in Rome was enriched by my wonderful colleagues who made me feel welcome from day one and included me as a full member of the team. I benefited from their expertise and guidance and have come away with a more nuanced understanding of the issues impacting resource sustainability, fisheries value chains, community livelihoods and food security. I was exposed to the latest in fisheries management through special events at the FAO and access to a wide range of technical documents. Traveling on mission to Sao Tomé and Principe allowed me to apply the knowledge I have gained from academic study to a real-world setting and engage with stakeholders working at all levels of government and society.
My work with the FAO Blue Growth Initiative has directed my interest toward a focus on small scale fishing communities. I am particularly interested in the overlooked and undervalued contribution of women and youth to the fisheries and aquaculture value chain. I was able to develop this focus by researching and authoring a discussion paper on women and youth empowerment in the context of Blue Growth. Women account for more than 15 percent of the fisheries primary sector workforce and 90 percent of those engaged in secondary processing activities. Their paid and unpaid labor is a significant factor in household and community level livelihood and food security. Unfortunately, sectoral policies and programs have largely failed to address the inequalities and constraints that prevent women and youth from participating as equal and productive partners in the sustainable development of fisheries resources.
The Blue Growth Initiative is working to change this reality by promoting the role of fishing communities, with emphasis on women and youth participation, in enhancing local resilience through improved livelihoods, social equity and strengthened food systems. The full recognition and inclusion of women and youth in the fisheries value chain is essential because sustainable economic development and judicious management and governance of aquatic ecosystems and resources is only possible when all societal actors are given a fair and equal opportunity to participate. I will keep raising the seemingly taboo topic of sexual and reproductive health in my work because reproductive autonomy is not only a human rights imperative, but also key to socio-economic empowerment, which in turn can strengthen sustainable resource management and reduce pressure on natural and built environments. I hope to continue this important work going forward in my career, building upon my memorable experience as a 2017 CBE fellow at the FAO.