In Morocco, climate change is now at the heart of political concerns, both at national and local levels, but its management requires a collective response. Including women and girls in the design and implementation of climate response actions is key to addressing climate adaptation, mitigation and solutions for sustainable development and gender equality.
In the fisheries sector, approximately 10,000 fisherwomen collect shellfish and other seafood along the Moroccan coastline to make a living, risking their lives daily. The fisherwomen from Tiguert, near the Agadir region, attest to the daily risks they face while collecting shellfish and share how they are working in ways to help preserve these natural resources for future generations.
Armed with a bucket, a basket, a knife, and boots—if they have them—the fisherwomen, usually aged 45 to 60, set out at dawn towards the foot of the cliffs where the arduous task of collecting shellfish awaits them. On the road towards the cliffs, which stretch out for more than 20km, a rudimentary sign authorizes the collection of seafood. The 10 km trek takes nearly two hours each way, but their hopes of returning home with a good harvest is unwavering.
"With a fine blade and a knife, I scrape while respecting and protecting the species’ habitat,” says Fadma Ouchane, Vice-President of the Mahar Assahel Cooperative, which was established in 2019 to support local fisherwomen and to convey their needs, such as the provision of transportation and a workspace near the sea. “In few minutes, my basket begins to fill.”
After the shellfish are collected, they are cleaned, cooked, and dried in the sun before being displayed along the road to be sold. Depending on the availability of shellfish, the women may earn around DH 200 or DH 300 (USD 21 and USD 31) per month, with half a kilo going for DH 40 (USD 4). Although shellfish are more abundant from May through July, the fact that shellfish are relatively sedentary, and their harvesting is possible all year round means that this is a reliable source of income for the fisherwomen.
“The earnings are modest, but it allows us to supplement the month’s income to buy food,” explains Fatima Azdoud, 28, President of the cooperative. It is also a good food source, high in protein, for their families.
Regardless of the period, the collection of seafood is a difficult and painful job given the length of working days and the risks that the fisherwomen are exposed to. Every day, for periods of more than five hours, they are covered in seawater and face injury due to moving around rocks and the sharp edges of the shells. The risk is as high as being pulled into the ocean when the tide is high.
“We have no choice,” shares Azdoud. “Our mothers and grandmothers have been doing this for a very long time. This is what was before our eyes from a young age.”
For fisherwomen like Azdoud, this close relationship with shellfish that is passed from generation to generation becomes a body of historical and naturalist knowledge that allows them to assess their environment and identify its changes to optimize their work. However, over the past ten years, the people of Tiguert have observed the disruption to the marine ecosystems and organisms due to climate change. As a consequence, they have incorporated sustainable practices in their daily work to protect the environment while securing a source of income to support their families. For example, instead of using forest firewood to cook the shellfish, many women are now opting for solar ovens.
“We need to change our way of working by using modern technologies to respect the environment, preserve resources, optimize our technical-economic performance, and save water and wood resources while adapting to climate change,” says Azdoud. “[This way, we can] get closer to the demands of the community and the needs of the green and sustainable market.”
To meet these needs, UN Women is putting fisherwomen at the center of any effort to adapt, mitigate and manage risks related to natural disasters while improving their lives and resilience. This includes making a climate-friendly fisheries economy a reality. As part of this work, UN Women has provided fisherwomen with eco-friendly and sanitary equipment for harvesting and for returning juvenile shellfish to their habitats to reduce their loss due to non-selective fishing. In addition, UN Women has also provided the women with neoprene fishing suits with reinforcements in the knees and elbows to protect them from small injuries and help maintain their body temperatures.
"The project focused on improving the capacity of 650 fisherwomen in terms of leadership, entrepreneurship, sustainable fisheries management practices as well as their financial resilience. They have learned modern fish processing techniques and have increased their awareness of their role in protecting fisheries resources," says Leila Rhiwi, UN Women's Representative in Morocco. "Beyond the economic benefits, gender equality and the participation of fisherwomen are necessary conditions for an open, inclusive and supportive society.”
In July 2021, UN Women, in collaboration with the Department of Maritime Fisheries and with the financial support of the Government of Japan, organized a workshop on sustainable fishing in the coastal village of Oualidia. Among the topics addressed were healthy collection methods, authorized fishing areas and biological rest periods—all in an effort to ensure that these natural resources are preserved for future generations. Azoud, who was one of the participants, shared the knowledge she obtained with the fisherwomen of the cooperative.
“Many fisherwomen make sure to bid their loved ones goodbye [before heading to the cliffs], fearing that they will not return home,” shares Azdoud. For her, the sea is a source of joy and tragedy, but also of economic autonomy. “Despite [the challenges], for these women, the call of the sea is an imperative for survival as well as a way towards freedom.”