According to the Marine Fisheries Census 2010, brought out by India’s Ministry of Agriculture, the State of Maharashtra has 45,971 people from fishing communities engaged in fish marketing. Of these, 36,668 (79 per cent) are women. The situation is similar in other coastal States of India. Women of fishing communities are known to dominate marketing and processing activities, reflecting a gender-based division of labour, where women tend to be predominant in land-based activities, such as net weaving, processing and marketing fish, while men engage in fish harvesting.
The International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) undertook a study titled “Women Fish Vendors in Mumbai” to document the current situation and challenges facing women fish vendors in Mumbai. A workshop was organized at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, during 2-3 December 2012 to discuss the study, articulate proposals and suggest strategies to secure the livelihoods of women fish vendors in Mumbai.
The ICSF study focused on women fish vendors in formal markets owned by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and private markets, as well as unstructured markets (street, peripatetic vendors). At a very general level, the study found that, irrespective of the fact that vending has been a traditional occupation for women of fishing communities in Mumbai, they are increasingly marginalized from their livelihoods due to factors such as the private development of markets, poor maintenance and deteriorating conditions of markets, lack of licences for legitimate vendors, scarcity of fish, increased competition from malls and non-traditional vendors, and absence of decent working conditions and social-security measures. It was also found that though Maharashtra has a large number of women fish vendors, for the most part, women vendor organizations are not strong. Also, the Fisheries Department of Maharashtra has no women-vendor-specific schemes, reflecting the gender bias inherent in much of fisheries policy.
The aim of the workshop was to analyze issues facing women fish vendors in Mumbai and to discuss, based on their proposals, strategies that may be adopted to secure their livelihoods.
A one-day preparatory workshop was organized on 2 December 2012 in which representatives of fishworker unions and vendor and market associations (from Mumbai and other parts of India), researchers and activists participated to discuss the study and to make specific proposals.
The main workshop, on 3 December, brought together representatives of the Maharashtra Fisheries Department, BMC and fishworker organizations, as well as researchers and activists to discuss the proposals from the study as well as strategies that could be adopted for securing the livelihoods of women vendors.
The participants at the workshop had varied backgrounds, educational qualifications and levels of exposure to such processes, which contributed to making it a very rich environment for mutual sharing and learning.
Report of the Workshop
Day 1: 2 December 2012
The focus of the first day was on elucidation of demands and identification of proposals for action, from representatives of fish vendor associations in Mumbai. The 31 participants included representatives from the Maharashtra Macchimar Kruti Samittee (MMKS), Mumbai-based market associations, representatives from the National Hawkers Federation (NHF) from various States, representatives from YUVA (a non-governmental organization), fishworker leaders, as well as researchers from TISS.
The day began with a brief introduction to the workshop and the day’s programme by Chandrika Sharma, Executive Secretary of ICSF. Thanking all present for taking the time to attend the workshop, she requested the participants to introduce themselves.
Following this, Sharma spoke of the status of women in fisheries in India and in the State of Maharashtra. Noting the vulnerability of fishing communities, and, particularly, women within these communities, she said that, according to a recent marine fisheries census, of the total marine fisherfolk population of four mn, a majority (61 per cent) are below the poverty line. Sharma’s presentation also spoke of the predominance of women in marketing—nearly 81.8 per cent of those in marketing...