A healthy ocean is critical to the survival of every life on earth. However, given that the marine environment, including its currents and species that inhabit its waters, are transboundary, national action alone cannot ensure its conservation. Each one of us must resolve the pressing issues facing the ocean, from marine pollution and overfishing to securing vulnerable coastal communities.
Therefore, in 2008, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution for an official "World Oceans Day" - a day to remind all of us of the importance of the ocean, and to emphasize our individual and collective responsibility to conserve the ocean. This year, the special theme for World Oceans Day on June 8th was ‘Gender and the Ocean’, providing a much needed opportunity to explore how to enable all women to play transformative roles in understanding, protecting and sustainably managing the ocean and coasts.
Although women are engaged at all levels of interactions with the ocean, gender inequality is not uncommon across sectors. One such example can be found in small scale fisheries, which make up a significant contribution to the livelihoods of households in remote coastal communities. In various regions, women contribute to 50-80% of the total fisheries labour force in small scale fisheries and aquaculture, yet earn about 64% of male wages for the same work. By addressing marine and coastal protection with gender equality, we can also address broader issues that threaten the most vulnerable communities and preserve the life-forms of the ocean that all species depend upon. However, despite the importance of gender inclusion in restoring and protecting the ocean, there are gaps in our understanding of women’s roles in fisheries and the implications this has for poverty alleviation, policy development, and effective marine management. Fostering sustainable interactions with the ocean requires greater encouragement of gender equality and reminds us of the important interlinkages between Sustainable Development Goals ‘Life Below Water’ (SDG 14) and ‘Gender Equality’ (SDG 5).
The Decade and The Marine Regions Forum
In the anticipation of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030), the global ocean community is planning for the next ten years in ocean science and technology to deliver, as stated by UNESCO, “the ocean we need for the future we want”. This Decade aims to encourage international scientific collaboration as well as sustainable management of the ocean and coasts through the interplay of science and policy. It also aims to “mobilize citizens from all cultures and peoples, across gender and generational lines”.
To contribute to this Decade, the Marine Regions Forum 2019 is being implemented and will take place for the first time in Berlin, Germany. Focusing on the regional level, the purpose of the conference is to develop clear recommendations, catalyse actionable outputs, and build partnerships for stronger regional ocean governance in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UN Ocean Conference 2020.
National, regional and global inspirational action across cultures is needed if we are to restore and protect the ocean. The environmental and social challenges are undeniable, but we also have strong woman that are leading the charge in conservation, politics and research, from Greta Thunberg to Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. And as Sylvia Earle, a pioneer and role model for woman in ocean science states, “We need to take care of the ocean and take care of it as if our lives depended on it. Because they do”.