‘White Knight Syndrome’ persists while addressing women’s empowerment in fisheries

A group of artists engaged in painting to spread the message of women empowerment in fisheries and aquaculture at the venue of the Global Conference on Women in Fisheries and Aquaculture in Kochi on Monday.

‘White Knight Syndrome’ persists while addressing issues pertaining to women’s empowerment in fisheries and aquaculture. The syndrome basically comprises a tendency to rush in, with all good intentions, and under the impression that women in fisheries are in trouble and need help. It is more evident in the face of a lack of sufficient data to put a finger on questions that need answers.

There is a lack of actionable data on women and their problems in fisheries. India and Sri Lanka have generated some, said, P. Krishnan, director of the Bay of Bengal Programme, making a presentation here at the Eighth Global Conference on Women in Aquaculture and Fisheries (GAF 8) on re-imagining women’s empowerment through evidence-based approach. The BOB Programme is an inter-governmental fisheries advisory body of countries bordering the Bay of Bengal.

A camaraderie approach will be more suited to addressing problems facing women in the sector, said Dr. Krishnan, who also observed that there had been an increasing number of studies on gender perspective in fisheries, especially since 2000. 

But a lot remains to be documented in the face of a lack of macro-level data. The White Knight Syndrome comes to play more evidently in data vacuum. Though the intentions are good, when policymakers or other agencies get into the white knight mode, women are left with fewer choices instead of being given a larger menu, said Dr. Krishnan, who has been engaged in fisheries research for over two decades. 

One of the basic issues he highlighted during his presentation related to the space from where women sell fish. While there is praise for their role in marketing, the legality of the space from which they sell fish is usually not addressed. They sell fish on roadsides or on streets from where they can be evicted any time by the authorities. But a project in Besant Nagar in Chennai, where women fish vendors rented space from the city Corporation proved successful, giving legitimacy and security to their business, said Dr. Krishnan.

Picking data available in different sources, he said there had been a trend of decreasing women’s population among the fishing communities. While the larger population has displayed increasing sex ratio, the evidence is contrary when it comes to the fishing population. This observation needs more elaborate studies to be fully verified because if the trend continues there will be greater marginalisation of women from the fisheries sector.

Dr. Krishnan also said that there had been a fall in employment as a whole in the fishing sector despite big leaps in production, processing, and allied activities. This is evident from the fall in the employment of male population, while the number of women in fisheries has remained steady.

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