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April 19, 2015
Women in the Shrimp and Prawn Farming Industry Treated Unfairly
Shoma Mondol is a prawn farmer in a village located near Bangladesh’s third-largest city, Khulna. She and her husband have two small-scale prawn farms with a total area of 2.5 hectares. They raise freshwater prawns from April to November, and for rest of the year they grow rice in the same paddy fields. Life is not opulent, but the young couple manages to make ends meet.
Shoma is just one of a million Bangladeshis who make a living from shrimp and prawn farming. Shrimp farming has been benefiting exports for three decades. With over 80 per cent of processed shrimp exported to the European Union and the rest to the United States and other countries, the export revenues from this sector ($600 million in 2011- 2012) constitutes the country’s second largest source of export revenue, after ready-made garments. Meanwhile, it is estimated that the whole shrimp value chain provides a livelihood to over one million people, including shrimp farmers, fry producers, depot owners, transport workers and traders. Many work on small, family-owned farms, and over 50,000 workers (70 per cent of them women) are employed in the country’s 90 shrimp processing plants.
Shoma takes care of a wide range of tasks on their prawn farms in addition to regular household chores. “I clean weeds out of ponds, select and buy larvae for stocking, collect feed and disperse it, repair dykes and plant crops on them…I do as much as my husband on the farms, but I never had a sense of ownership.”
Although working as hard as their male counterparts, the female shrimp workers in Bangladesh by and large face deliberate discrimination: either in family-run shrimp farms, where, like Shoma, their contribution is not valued properly by their husbands, or in processing plants, where they are deprived of fair wages and other labor rights.
Studies suggest that very few women working in shrimp-processing plants are employed on the permanent pay roll, a status that entitles workers to paid leave, use of free canteen services and other privileges. Women are usually employed through labor contractors as casual workers, with no job security or social benefits, and have no chance to become permanent workers. Consequently, they receive lower wages compared to male workers. For instance, women working in shrimp factories in Khulna get $46 per month on average, which is only 61 per cent that of male workers. Meanwhile, female workers, especially young and unmarried ones, are particularly vulnerable to verbal and physical abuse as well as sexual harassment from factory supervisors.
The situation both on shrimp farms and in shrimp processing plants is showing some signs of improvement thanks to the gender-focused training courses on Good Aquaculture Practice (GAP) offered by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Aiming to help women involved in shrimp production sector enhance their technical capacities and increase their incomes from aquaculture, these training courses have effectively strengthened women’s position in their households and in the processing plants.
Shoma and her husband attended one of the courses designed for farming couples. “Experts from the Department of Fisheries trained us on our own farms for over two years. Through this hands-on training, I leaned various good shrimp farming practices, from farm design, water quality management, shrimp health management and good feed, to best harvest and post-harvest methods.”
“Now, I am responsible for keeping the records, especially expenditures and sales for both ponds. I do most of the feeding and I monitor the prawn growth regularly. These are all the ‘important’ things that I was not asked to do before doing the training courses,” she laughed.
“And most importantly, my husband has begun to respect me more for my contribution. Now I feel that ‘we’ own the farms. And I’m so glad that I can share my knowledge with my female friends so that they can contribute to their shrimp farming in a better way. I believe that women can influence men to change society for the better if they receive good knowledge, gain skills and are involved in the process of development.”
Source: United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Gender-Focused Training Courses Empower Women in Bangladesh’s Shrimp Production Sector. Zhong Xingfei. April 16, 2015.
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