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Women Are Becoming Agents of Change in Indonesian Fisheries

March 24, 2021
Heather D'Agnes
Roosa Sibarani
Octopus fisheries provide critical opportunities for women

Wa Dimba is an octopus fisher in Darawa, a small coastal village in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. When the tide is low and reef areas become exposed, Dimba ventures into the water with her metal spear and gleans for octopus. Her fishing skills were passed down through generations.

“My parents taught me how to glean for octopus,” she says.

Dimba’s way of fishing differs from the methods used by the men, who use small boats to venture further out, then swim around the reef to spear the octopus. But her work is no less critical.

Women are intimately involved in coastal fisheries throughout the tropics and bring a deep knowledge of the industry and its practices. Yet historically their voices have been absent from conservation discussions about how to make fisheries more sustainable.

A female octopus fisher with her catch in Darawa, Indonesia.

That’s beginning to change as women become more engaged and valued for their work in all aspects of fisheries, from catching octopus and other seafood species to helping communities like Darawa better manage the industry through improved data collection and monitoring.

Located inside Wakatobi National Park, Darawa is home to approximately 775 people, most of whom rely on the ocean for their livelihoods.

In 2018, the Darawa community began managing their octopus fisheries, assisted by FORKANI, a partner of Blue Ventures, a Walton Family Foundation grantee.

As a community-centered organization supporting human rights–based conservation, Blue Ventures is committed to advancing gender equality in all of its work. It is motivated by the belief that the enjoyment of rights and opportunities should not be determined or limited by a person’s gender.

Octopus fisher Wa Dimba (in blue veil) joins other women in discussion about the temporary closure of three fisheries near Darawa, Indonesia.

Blue Ventures knows that natural resource management is most effective when the people who are affected by the rules can define and modify them. It believes, as the foundation does, that those closest to problems such as overfishing are also closest to finding solutions.

There are some practical reasons why communities benefit when women are more involved in decisions about fisheries.

Greater participation of women in local management associations can enhance governance by encouraging norms of collaboration, compliance, conflict resolution and accountability. And when women have more access to income-generating opportunities, their families and communities also benefit.

Women gather data to unlock fisheries potential 

In villages like Darawa, FORKANI worked with fishers to secure community management rights of local marine resources. The process started with increased monitoring. Community members, particularly women, began to collect data on their octopus fishery including catch, weight, sex of individual octopus, and the fishing site.

“I’m happy, and proud of being an octopus data collector, because I can contribute to a better understanding of the octopus fisheries in my village,” said Finarsih, a woman who helps the Darawa fishers record their octopus catches.

An Indonesian woman collects data about octopus to help manage the fishery. Information includes the weight, sex of individual octopus, and the location where they were caught.

“I have learned the importance of data to see the trends in octopus fisheries, to plan how to manage them sustainably,” she added. “In the past, people did not care about octopus fisheries, but now communities have begun to pay attention to their fishing catch.”

Women like Finarsih are not just collecting data, “they are the agents of change,” says Mursiati, a FORKANI team member. “Not only do they record catch data, they’re educating the community about why it is important to manage the octopus fisheries sustainably, for their children and grandchildren.”

Women taking part in community decision making

Increasingly, women are also engaging in discussion platforms where interpreted data is presented and made accessible to communities, helping guide their next steps in decision-making.

“The data should be returned back to the community. I provided information about octopus fisheries, and I’m happy when the data I collected is well used by the community,” Finarsih added.

In Darawa, the data collected through participatory monitoring of the octopus fishery prompted the village to temporarily close three fishing sites for three months each in 2018-19. The closures gave octopus time to increase in size and reproduce, generating larger, more profitable catches that command a higher price at market.

Octopus hang from a drying rack in Darawa, Indonesia.

Community data feedback sessions also give women like Wa Dimba a chance to raise their voices to ensure that women’s needs are considered in the decision-making of their fisheries.

“During the first octopus fisheries closure, female fishers could not access the closure area due to deep water, so we suggested that for the next opening we will have an area specifically for female fishers.” she added.

Following the success of the closure, the fishers decided to close an additional site next year and will prioritize women’s access during the opening, using community-collected data, disaggregated by gender, to guide their planning.

Women also play an important role in communicating news about the temporary closures beyond their communities, which encourages more communities to engage in marine management.

“We are an agent to spread information,” said Wa Dimba.

Through their increased participation in fisheries and their management, Finarsih, Wa Dimba and other women in their community have become influential and respected agents of change, leading the way in managing a natural resource their communities rely on now, and for the future.

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