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Gendered livelihoods in the global fish-food economy: a comparative study of three fisherfolk communities in Kerala, India

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Over the past several decades, global economic relations within the fisheries sector have intensified creating a “global fish-food economy”. Until recently, relatively little attention has been paid to the gendered spatial relations underlying this system and the differential way globalization shapes men and women fish workers’ livelihood options. This paper integrates insights from feminist commodity chain analysis and livelihood analysis to analyze household-level economic data and gendered patterns of labor among three fisherfolk communities in Trivandrum District, Kerala, India. The objective is to investigate the diverse impacts of globalization within fisheries on women and men in local fishing communities. Different gender divisions of labor across the three communities studied inform very different livelihood strategies in response to economic transformations. Thus, globalization in the fisheries plays out differently for men and women in different fishing communities as a result of different configurations of gender, work, culture, identity, and economy and the different ways households and communities are connected to fish economies at different scales. Identifying these differences offers a means by which we might broaden our theoretical understanding of the gendered nature of globalization in resource-based economies.

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  1. In other parts of Kerala where there are modern harbors landing prawn for export, women are employed in seafood processing (peeling for freezing). They work in factory settings typically supervised by men and may or may not be from fisherfolk communities (see Aleyamma 1995).

  2. Historically, Panathura was inhabited by both Muslims and Hindus; however, over the past two to three decades, most of the Muslim households have moved inland. By the time we first surveyed the village in 2005, there were only about 5 Muslim families (households) living in the village. Informants report that only Hindu men in the village engaged in fish harvesting. Muslim men in the village worked as fish vendors.

  3. Trivandrum was the capital of the erstwhile State of Travancore, which existed from 1729 until 1949. After Independence, its territory was rearranged and merged with other Malayalam speaking districts, and the territory was renamed Kerala in 1956.

  4. The exception is wives of shopkeepers. Male shopkeepers also manage household expenses, but in nearly every other household we surveyed, women reported managing funds, and men reported turning over their incomes to either their wives or mothers.

  5. Coir is also produced in factories, and there is a factory nearby to Panathura that employs women from a different caste community (Ezhava). However, in Panathura, it is a home-based industry.

  6. In Panathura, beach seines and the large canoes that are used to launch them are owned in a share system in which 30–35 people (men and women) own shares. This system has evolved as a way to ensure labor, which has become in short supply with Gulf migration and young men seeking alternative employment to fishing.

  7. In 1999, we interviewed one woman who worked in fish drying. She mentioned there were a couple of others who dry fish. No one reported this activity in our 2005 household survey.


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Support for this research was provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation, a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad fellowship, the Association of American Geographers Anne U. White Fund, Syracuse University, and East Carolina University. All findings, conclusions, and/or recommendations are those of the authors alone and do not reflect the view of the National Science Foundation or U.S. Department of Education. We would like to thank the editors and reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Holly M. Hapke.

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This paper belongs to Topical Collection (En)Gendering Change in Small-scale Fisheries and Fishing Communities in a Globalized World

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Hapke, H.M., Ayyankeril, D. Gendered livelihoods in the global fish-food economy: a comparative study of three fisherfolk communities in Kerala, India. Maritime Studies 17, 133–143 (2018).

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