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‘Man can’t give birth, woman can't fish’: gender dynamics in the small-scale fisheries of Bangladesh

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Going beyond the myths prevalent in the socio-cultural embeddedness of rural Bangladesh, this article examines the diverse visible and invisible roles of fisherwomen in small-scale fisheries. This research considered two ethnic groups situated in two different ecosystems: the floodplain freshwater ecosystem is represented by new-entrant Muslim fishers ‘Maimal’ and the coastal ecosystem is represented by caste-based Hindu fishers ‘Jaladas’. From the basic ontological worldview of human dignity, moral individualism, and the social recognition of women’s rights, we argue that fisherwomen’s roles need to be recognized, focused, and valued to develop a horizontal understanding that is a prerequisite to the process of democratization, and the proper functioning of a just society. In the rural societies, a host of attributes, such as the deep-rooted socio-cultural constructions of the motherly myth, extreme tolerance, family teaching, religious antagonism, poverty, lack of education, internalization of a subordinate position, lack of supportive institutions, and fear of loss of societal patronage, profoundly undermine the capacity of women to aspire and raise their voice. Fisherwomen are accrued an inferior social position although they perform unique roles in the areas of childcare, household upkeep, livelihoods, and psycho-social support for the seafaring fishers. Conducive to the ecotone of marine fisheries, this article also portrays how a rigid patriarchal form of society is seasonally transformed to matrifocality when fishermen are away for fishing for half the year.
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Keywords: Bangladesh; fisherwomen; livelihoods; matrifocalidad; matrifocality; modos de sustento; mujeres pescadoras; pesca artesanal; rituales; rituals; small-scale fishery

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship, Government of Manitoba, Western Region-Brandon, 1129 Queens Avenue, Brandon, MB, Canada R7A 1L9 2: Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada R3T 2N2

Publication date: March 16, 2015

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