International Women’s Day 2021: #ChooseToChallenge

At Love The Oceans, we’re constantly striving for positive change. From stewardship of the sea to social justice, we aim to leave no stone unturned when it comes to working to create a better world. As March 8th marks International Women’s Day, we wanted to set out our plans to make the future for women all around the world as bright as possible!

Magna, one of our most promising young swimmers. Photo Credit: Hasse Hedstöm

Why do we still need to talk about women?

We’ve spoken many times before about how empowering women is fundamental to the progress of a thriving global society – and this year is no different! Centred around 2021’s theme of ‘Choosing To Challenge,’ LTO is working with indigenous communities in Jangamo Bay to respectfully challenge accepted social norms of gender inequality. By encouraging girls to pursue an education, promoting access to sanitary products and teaching more women to swim, our hope is to provide girls with the tools and confidence to be a driving force of conservation.

Following on from our blog about the 2018 #PressForProgress initiative in aid of International Women’s Day three years ago (which you can check out here!), the conversation surrounding women’s rights remains as important as ever. So, let’s talk!

Mozambique’s gender inequality problem

Back in 2019, researchers investigating gender employment rates in Mozambique’s non-subsistence sectors (i.e. parts of the economy that go beyond small-scale agriculture and fishing practices to sustain a livelihood) found that, alarmingly, the country’s gender employment gap has actually widened over time.

One of our young students at Guinjata School. Photo Credit: Jeff Hester

This may be attributed to a gender discrepancy in conditional employment probabilities, which, put simply, means that women are less likely than men to fit job criteria. This includes a lower chance of being highly educated and living in the right area for emerging non-subsistence opportunities.

In our region here in Jangamo, many of the opportunities for work rely on artisanal agriculture and fishing. The subsistence economy often acts as the default for survival in smaller communities such as Jangamo Bay, where paid jobs are rarely an option. But how is this relevant to women?

While the largest gender gaps tend to exist in developing non-subsistence employment, there still remains a need to initiate change on a subsistence level. Aside from unpaid participation in family farm work, research suggests that women in remote areas of Mozambique dedicate more time to household jobs than their female counterparts in other regions of the world.

In accordance with the tradition for women to be married shortly after they get their first period, it’s no surprise too that women are less likely than men to be single. The stats suggest that married men are remarkably more likely than married women to work in the non-subsistence sector; this demonstrates the barrier presented by marriage to women wishing to continue their education and pursue work in the growing labour market. 

Another factor influencing gender inequality in employment is a gender imbalance when it comes to education, literacy and Portuguese language proficiency. The key to combating this is education, which ultimately ties in with two of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls (Goal 5) and promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all (Goal 8).

Marine resource management lessons in Guinjata School in 2019. Photo credit: Sophie LaFrance

Even with the right education and qualifications, women in Mozambique (and many other parts of the world!) are more likely to face discrimination by employers who deem the majority of paid jobs more appropriate for men. This factor alone makes it clear that we still have a long way to go in mobilising social change.

As with the connection between all of the ocean’s finely tuned ecosystems, gender equality is not a standalone problem: it is intimately linked to the successful function of wider society. This is why we believe that change is an essential part of creating a brighter future for all citizens, not just women.

So, what is LTO doing to help?

Meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight, which is why our team has been working over the years to make sustainable moves that will stay part of Jangamo Bay’s ethos long into the future. By doing this, we hope to create positive associations with female empowerment, demonstrating that empowerment for women is beneficial for everyone.

To combat some of the issues outlined above, our team is conducting initial research and assessments into how we can best support girls and women in Mozambique’s Jangamo District. By working with community stakeholders, we’re looking to open conversations and provide women with opportunities other than the social norm narrative which states that a woman’s fundamental roles are to keep up with housework and nurture a family.

In terms of swimming, addressing period poverty is essential. By encouraging the use of sustainable, hygienic and re-usable period products, more women can feel comfortable getting in the water without a fear of being limited by their bodies. At the moment, most girls in our area stop swimming around the age of 13. But by addressing period poverty, we ultimately hope to work towards a future of female Ocean Conservation Champions (OCCs), an initiative that works to positively inspire young people in the community and bring about long lasting change.

By normalising discussion around periods and working towards a society where girls’ education is not compromised by marriage, our goal is to empower women everywhere to follow their dreams. 

Whether it’s women or whale sharks, our dedicated team will continue to work with indigenous communities to create a world where all of us can thrive.

Our LTO staff member Natalie assisting in swimming lessons with two of our youngest but keenest swimmers in our beginners class: Joaquina (5) and Chelsea (7). Photo credit: Stella Levantesi

Is there something you feel passionately about to do with gender equality? Get involved with the global conversation on Instagram and Twitter and let us know what you #ChooseToChallenge!

Find Love The Oceans on Instagram here.

All that’s left to say is…Happy International Women’s Day!

Written by Lily Holbrook

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