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Gender norms and relations: implications for agency in coastal livelihoods

  • Sarah LawlessEmail author
  • Philippa Cohen
  • Cynthia McDougall
  • Grace Orirana
  • Faye Siota
  • Kate Doyle
Research

Abstract

Improving livelihoods and livelihood opportunities is a popular thrust of development investments. Gender and other forms of social differentiation influence individual agency to access, participate in, and benefit from existing, new, or improved livelihood opportunities. Recent research illustrates that many initiatives intended to improve livelihoods still proceed as “gender blind,” failing to account for the norms and relations that will influence how women and men experience opportunities and outcomes. To examine gender in livelihoods, we employed empirical case studies in three coastal communities in Solomon Islands; a small island developing state where livelihoods are predominantly based on fisheries and agriculture. Using the GENNOVATE methodology (a series of focus groups) we investigated how gender norms and relations influence agency (i.e., the availability of choice and capacity to exercise choice). We find that men are able to pursue a broader range of livelihood activities than women who tend to be constrained by individual perceptions of risk and socially prescribed physical mobility restraints. We find the livelihood portfolios of women and men are more diverse than in the past. However, livelihood diversity may limit women’s more immediate freedoms to exercise agency because they are simultaneously experiencing intensified time and labor demands. Our findings challenge the broad proposition that livelihood diversification will lead to improvements for agency and overall wellbeing. In community-level decision-making, men’s capacity to exercise choice was perceived to be greater in relation to livelihoods, as well as strategic life decisions more broadly. By contrast, capacity to exercise choice within households involved spousal negotiation, and consensus was considered more important than male or female dominance in decision-making. The prevailing global insight is that livelihood initiatives are more likely to bring about sustained and equitable outcomes if they are designed based on understandings of the distinct ways women and men participate in and experience livelihoods. Our study provides insights to make these improvements in a Solomon Islands setting. We suggest that better accounting for these gendered differences not only improves livelihood outcomes but also presents opportunity to catalyze the re-negotiation of gender norms and relations; thereby promoting greater individual agency.

Keywords

Fisheries Agriculture Development Gender equality Pacific Women 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH) led by WorldFish. The program is supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund. Funding support was provided by the Australian Government and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research grants (FIS/2012/074 and FIS/2016/300). We acknowledge the GENNOVATE Initiative of the CGIAR for spearheading the methods and fieldwork on which this study draws. We thank our anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful and constructive feedback. Thanks to those who participated in this study, the WorldFish team in Solomon Islands, Anne-Maree Schwarz, Miranda Morgan, and Michelle Dyer’s support in methodological adaptation and data collection. Lastly, special thanks go to Andrew Dart for his guidance, edits, and support.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Lawless
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Philippa Cohen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Cynthia McDougall
    • 3
  • Grace Orirana
    • 2
  • Faye Siota
    • 2
  • Kate Doyle
    • 4
  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.WorldFishHoniaraSolomon Islands
  3. 3.WorldFish, Jalan Batu Maung, Batu MaungBayan LepasMalaysia
  4. 4.PromundoWashingtonUSA

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