Turning the tide for women in small-scale fisheries in Ghana: Reflections arising from four gender and fisheries workshops

By Bolanle Erinosho

The One Ocean Hub organised four workshops for small-scale fisher (SSF) women in the four coastal regions (Central, Volta, Greater Accra and Western) of Ghana between 2021-2023. The workshops were a response to Hub research findings that are discussed in the newly published article by Harrison Golo and Bolanle Erinosho  ‘Tackling the challenges confronting women in the Elmina fishing community of Ghana: A human rights framework’. Published in Marine Policy, the article notes that SSF women are often excluded from governance and decision-making processes, access to fisheries aids and subsidies and are significantly impacted by declining fish stocks. This blog post captures the key highlights of the ‘gender SSF workshops’ organised in Ghana, that informed the article.

In the article, the authors note that although there are existing national and international human rights frameworks that can support SSF women in tackling these challenges (see also here and here), interventions targeted at human rights education, advocacy and the building of social capital networks for SSF women can support their capacity to engage with and utilise human rights processes in tackling these challenges.

Bringing together SSF women, civil society organisations, and government agencies

Responding to the research findings, Hub researchers planned an initial workshop in November 2021, bringing together women from coastal communities in the Central Region of Ghana, civil society organisations, and government agencies. At the workshop, Hub researchers shared their research findings, civil society organisation representatives explained how they support women in SSFs, and the women in SSFs shared their key concerns and strategized on how these could be addressed.

“The workshop was a success in terms of information sharing and reciprocal learning. The inclusion of government departments such as the Attorney-General’s Department, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Legal Aid and the Fisheries Commission along with civil society organisations enhanced opportunities for intersectoral co-operation on fisheries and human rights”, Hub researcher Bolanle Erinosho says.

Pop-up law clinics provided legal support to SSF women from debt recovery to domestic violence

Following the first workshop, Hub researchers responded to the need identified at the first workshop to provide enhanced legal support for the participants. So, the next three workshops in the Volta Region (26-27 January 2023) Western Region (21-22 February 2023) Greater Accra (16-17 May 2023) included a pop-up law clinic run by the University of Cape Coast’s Faculty of Law.

A law lecturer who is also a practicing barrister and solicitor was supported by two law students volunteering with the law clinic. The law team presenting in the local languages discussed the constitutional and other legal frameworks that support human rights and the opportunities inherent within those frameworks to support SSF women. The presentation was followed by an invitation to participating women to consult with the law team on legal challenges for which they require advise. Mr Vanboven Swanzy-Essien, who led the pop-up law clinic, noted that the women were enthusiastic about the potential of human rights frameworks to support the challenges they encounter in the SSF sector, as well the accessible legal support provided by the law team.

“The women noted the need for more frequent pop-up law clinics in their communities to support other SSF women who were unable to attend the workshops” Bolanle notes.

The issues the women sought advice on ranged from family and domestic matters including child maintenance payments, inheritance and domestic abuse.  Advise was also sought in relation to contractual disputes, loan defaults and debt recovery.  The women noted that declining income from fisheries has resulted in more frequent incidences of loan defaults from business partners and fishermen. The women were offered preliminary advice and referred to the appropriate Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Legal Aid offices. and the Domestic Violence Unit of the Police where appropriate.

The value of partnerships between academics and civil society

After participating in the first workshop, the Ghanaian civil society organisation, Hub’s partner organisation, Hen Mpoano (“Our Coast”) took the lead in convening the next three workshops. Hen Mpoano has worked for the past decade to support inclusive and integrated management of coastal and marine ecosystems. Their expertise and long-standing relationships of trust with specific communities of women in SSFs has been crucial for the Hub’s research. Presentations and discussions were in English, Ga, Fante, Ewe, and Ada, depending on the regions, ensuring all could participate in languages they were comfortable with. Hub researcher

 ‘Civil society organisations such as Hen Mpoano have been instrumental in supporting women organisations of fish traders and fish processors, their expertise in community advocacy and the linkages they have developed with community groups, government departments and researchers will be beneficial in disseminating hub research and supporting the hub’s impacts and legacy’, Bolanle Erinosho says.

The Hub organised four workshops for small-scale fisher (SSF) women in the four coastal regions (Central, Volta, Greater Accra and Western) of Ghana between 2021-2023. Photo: OOH Ghana

Deepening connections

Across the four workshops and three pop-up legal clinics, women raised similar challenges relating to work, particularly the failure by borrowers (often fishermen) to repay money lent to them by the women, loan defaults involving multiple parties, and unfair dealings by business partners. Participants also expressed significant concerns around sexual and gender-based violence, child labour and trafficking, and feeling forced into buying ‘bad’ fish for resale (fish caught using methods such as dynamite, DDT, and carbide).

The participating women in SSFs came away from the workshops with much clearer understandings of their human rights and possible steps to secure them. In turn, the organisations and researchers were enriched by days of discussion in which these women shared their perspectives on the possible drivers and effects of human rights violations.

 In addition, participants discovered a wealth of connections amongst each other, as well as previously unexplored aspects of their own remits:

  • The Fisheries Commission was present at all four workshops. Representatives shared how they can support fisheries associations, but also learned about the Commission’s potential accountability as a duty-bearer to uphold the human rights of women in SSFs.
  • Hen Mpoano enthusiastically dived into the nexus of fisheries and human rights. The organisation seems motivated to continue to explore human rights as a relevant part of their mission.
  • Governmental entities that deal with human rights, such as the Attorney General’s office,had not previously considered the specific concerns of small-scale fishers particularly SSF women. These events brought that specific constituency to their attention.
  • The University of Cape Coast is known for its coastal and marine sciences, but other departments in the university, such as the Faculties of Law and Social Sciences, have not had a particular focus on coastal communities. New connections have been made within the University, bringing together relevant expertise across a much broader swath of disciplines. The involvement of the Faculty of Law’s relatively new Law Clinic with the workshops provided a concrete point of connection with these coastal communities.
  • The participating women in SSFs noted the need to strengthen women’s groups, in order to provide stronger support to one another and the potential power in acting together to assert their rights, such as refusing to buy bad fish.


Looking ahead, Hen Mpoano colleagues noted, that ‘the workshop highlights the importance of unified women’s fisheries groups at local and national levels to support the voices of women’. They further underscored the need for:

  • improved access to credit facilities,
  • capacity building and empowerment for alternative and supplementary livelihoods (a key area of research also in South Africa),
  • legal support for businesses including support for drafting and enforcing contracts for SSF women; and
  • interventions to mitigate gender-based violence, and child labour and trafficking.

Hub researchers are conducting research on legal empowerment for SSF women, the psycho-socio determinants of child labour and trafficking and community preparedness for supplementary livelihoods.