EARTH Scholarship brings Hub researcher Buhle Francis to the UK to deepen research on justice, gender and ocean livelihoods

Hub early-career researcher Buhle Francis (Rhodes University, South Africa) has been awarded an EARTH scholarship by the British Council Scotland, which is thematically focused on environmental arts and humanities and their interdisciplinary connection. The scholarship will support Buhle to undertake research at the University of Strathclyde (UK) from April-July 2023.

Her research project is titled “Granmothers of the Sea – Protecting Women’s Rights through Art and Fair Benefit-sharing from seaweed harvesting in the face of climate change.”  It was co-developed by Buhlewith a group of women artisanal fishers, drawing on three years of collaboration through the Coastal Justice Network (CJN) – a knowledge-action network of small-scale fishers, environmental justice organisations and Hub researchers.

The women have long histories and local ecological knowledge of the ocean, linked to their seaweed harvesting practices that are currently being exploited, with little benefit coming back to them. This is particularly distressing, as South Africa is experiencing massive and unprecedented climate emergencies (flooding and droughts) and in this context women, who for generations have relied on the ocean as a rural safety net, and food security source (not to mention a site of spiritual and cultural sustenance), are now deeply threatened. struggles with benefit sharing and navigating national policies around marine resource us. All this makes their climate adaptation particularly difficult, and requires a sophisticated and strategic response and intervention. This co-designed study aims to build capacity, legal empowerment and meaningful climate adaptation strategies moving forward.

The project entails a collaborative analysis to better protect the human rights of small-scale fisher women in the Eastern Cape, South Africa by:

  • identifying how to share fairly and equitably the benefits from seaweed harvesting;
  • clarifying the conditions for the protection also of their human right to a healthy ocean, livelihoods and culture;
  • advancing legal empowerment and supporting transformative dialogue with national and local ocean decision-makers through novel arts-based research approaches and decolonial historical analyses within local cooperative cultures; and
  • co-developing climate change adaptation strategies based on secure marine livelihoods.

Buhle will be based at the University of Strathclyde from April-July 2023, to engage in collaborative data analysis with legal scholars at the Hub that focus on human rights and the ocean, and benefit-sharing (Elisa Morgera, Elaine Webster), experts in legal pluralism at the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (Saskia Vermeylen and Linda Mensah) and historians of colonization (David Wilson).

In addition, the project will provide an opportunity for the Hub to collaborate with Dr. Dina Lupin at Southampton University, who specializes in participation and environmental justice, who has already collaborated with Buhle on an ocean narrative report, to discuss methodological innovation on participation, art and customary law. Prof Morgera and Dr Lupin also collaborate as part of the UN Environment Programme Winter/Summer School on Human Rights and the Environment (see also here).

Photo: Buhle Francis