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Brazil’s Fisherwomen Mean Business

In Vila Castelo, a small town in the Brazilian state of Pará, fisherwomen are learning the ropes of fiscal management and entrepreneurship 

Traditional fishing does not differ much today from what it has been since biblical times—a boat, a net, and a few men. Wait. Men? Maybe it has changed after all. At least in Vila Castelo, a tiny fishing village in Brazil’s state of Pará, women fish alongside men. 

Joselina Farias da Silva is one of them. “I started fishing when I was a little girl. My father taught me how to do it. He is a fisherman and here fishermen always teach their trade to their children,” she says. “I am a fisherwoman and I feel very feminine. I don’t feel like I’m less than men. Men here appreciate me through my fishing work.” And that’s not all. Women, who make up 58 percent of Vila Castelo’s population, don’t only fish—they have also become key players in ongoing efforts to overhaul their trade and help pull it from informality and turn it into a formal business. 

This goal is vital if fisherwomen and fishermen are to benefit from the Pará state drive to provide them with assistance to improve their business. The state is the largest fishing producer in Brazil, and nearly 90 percent of the fishing output in the state is provided by artisan fishers, most of whom perform their task on an informal basis. 

“There are many programs to support artisanal fishing, and they cover the whole fishing chain of production,” says Maria Nazareviga, a manager at the state’s Finance Secretariat who is overseeing the local government’s efforts to improve the lot of Vila Castelo’s residents. “These are very simple programs for the communities,” and enhanced access to them would have a strong positive impact, she adds. For example, an ice factory would make a big difference. “Right now, when they come with their catch they have nowhere to store it,” Nazareviga explains. Additionally, a cold chamber would also help a lot. “This would allow them to sell their catch themselves instead of having to hand it over to a middleman as they currently do,” the official says. 

In order to achieve those lofty goals, officials are now focusing specifically on training women on fiscal management, so they can spearhead the drive to turn the local fishing business into full formality. “Women’s role is very strong, both in creating harmony in the community and in the fishing activity,” says Nazareviga. The program, which has the backing of the Inter-American Development Bank, will also boost the community’s access to consumer goods and capital goods. 

Gender specific issues play a key role in this area, as men’s and women’s needs tend to differ substantially. Living and income conditions, spending habits, and property ownership are examples of issues where women’s and men’s requirements have a tendency to part ways. 

There are other more subtle, but also relevant elements at play as well, such as time availability. For example, evening training sessions, typically popular with the men, are normally harder to attend for women, who, after a full day’s work in the boats, usually have children and a household to manage too.

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