Women’s engagement in and outcomes from small-scale fisheries value chains in Malawi: effects of social relations


Women play an important role within small-scale fishing communities in sub-Saharan Africa through engaging in fish value chain activities and contributing to household food security and income. There is, however, little empirical information about the nature of women’s engagement in small-scale fishery value chains and the outcomes of that engagement especially in Malawi, our study country. This study addresses the gap by examining (1) the ways in which women participate in fish value chains; (2) the outcomes of their participation at individual, household, and community level; and (3) how social relations influence the participation and the outcomes obtained. The study adopted a case study approach and draws upon qualitative data from the two small-scale fisheries in Msaka on Lake Malawi and Kachulu on Lake Chilwa. The research applies a social relations approach in the line of Kabeer, in examining women’s participation and outcomes of participation within the small-scale fisheries. Our study reveals that women provide significant social and economic benefits to their families and the broader community as they participate as processors and traders with a few participating at the production node as gear owners. The study also finds that women encounter challenges that may have potential to negatively affect their engagement in the small-scale value chains including gender-based discrimination as some women are restricted by their husbands to engage in the intermediary role especially at Kachulu; the few women who join the crew fishing face social exclusions, poor working conditions, care burden that limits women’s time to actively participate in value chain activities. The study highlights the social norms associated with hierarchical husband-wife relationships have negative effects on women’s participation and the outcomes derived in the value chain activities. This research adds to the body of work that examines issues of social relations and their impacts on the well-being and roles of women in small-scale fisheries.

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Data availability

The data underpinning the findings of this research are not yet publicly available in any consolidated form.


  1. 1.

    The Department of Fisheries in Malawi defines a “fisherman” as the “gear owner.” In this study, we refer to gear owners and crewmembers as “fishers”

  2. 2.

    Zitenje refers to cloth wrapper used by women

  3. 3.

    They term this practice as “chisabwana” meaning “without the boss” (female gear owner, Kachulu).


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Special thanks go to Cynthia McDougall and Fiona Simmance for their critical review of the drafts for the paper. The authors also extend thanks to all respondents for participating in this study, as well as all Department of Fisheries staff for field work logistical assistance.


This work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agrifood Systems (FISH). Funding for this study was provided by European Union–funded Fish Trade Progamme implemented through the Lusaka Zambia office. The research was also in part funded by the Gender Equality Studies Training (GEST) programme of the University of Iceland.

Author information




The first author conducted the field research and data analysis and wrote the initial manuscript. The two co-authors contributed to the manuscript by providing analytical and theoretical input.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chikondi Lydia Manyungwa.

Ethics declarations

The research was approved as part of the lead authors PhD studies by the Humanities and Social Science Research Ethics Committee of the University of the Western Cape, with ethics reference number HS/16/1/5. Verbal consent was obtained from participants before commencement of interviews. Ethical clearance was sought through the University of the Western Cape in South Africa through the faulty of Economics and Management Sciences.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and by no means those of the European Union, WorldFish, nor GEST programme.

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Manyungwa, C.L., Hara, M.M. & Chimatiro, S.K. Women’s engagement in and outcomes from small-scale fisheries value chains in Malawi: effects of social relations. Maritime Studies 18, 275–285 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40152-019-00156-z

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  • Women
  • Value chains
  • Small-scale fisheries
  • Social relations
  • Malawi