In the past, it was strange to see women do tough jobs like men in Zanzibar. Women were mainly engaged in what we call soft jobs like teaching and nursing in hospitals.
Also, many women were house wives who looked after children, decorating henna and waiting to entertain their husbands.
However, women in Europe did hard jobs in the 18th Century during Industrial Revolution. In Zanzibar women have changed over the recent years.
At present, women are engaged in tough jobs to survive as many of them are widows and have their own families to take of and have in fact established their own association.
Women are now working in construction areas where they are engaged from morning to sunset hours mixing concrete for building works. Happily, they would say it in Kiswahili “zege hailali”, literally meaning already prepared concrete would never be left aside.
Nowadays, it is not unusual to find women work as street cleaners, stone crushers, garbage collectors, fish vendors and other tough works which would in the past seem to degrade their social respected status as mothers, wives and aunts who have been doing everything for us.
Besides those jobs, women in Zanzibar are engaged in sea jobs like seaweed farming and fishing in the isle’s rural areas.
Such women engagements can be found in Nungwi, Tumbatu, Fukuchani, Kendwa, Mto wa Pwani, Mkokotoni, Kizimkazi and other rural areas.
Women also collect oysters(chaza), shells, sea snails and clams in seabed and rock reef.
It is a scene found at the low tide coastal areas and the small islands of Zanzibar where women would be seen with buckets and polythene bags collecting such as creatures.
Some of the women would catch stranded small fish by retreating water and spearing octopuses hidden in the rocks and corals.
This phenomenon is familiar for women in Madagascar and Laos who also catch octopuses to gain money for the care of their households.
All these works done by women are essentially for the sustenance of their households as subsistence fisherwomen.
However, women in Zanzibar are not largely involved in fishing industry for several reasons that hinder them.
The first reason is that women have been excluded due to the fact that the industry is commercial oriented.
Secondly, seafood extraction has been narrowly defined in terms of finfish such as tuna, tuna like fish, sardines, sharks, snappers, blue marlin, king fish, barracuda, sword fish which has been traditionally engaging men who haul this kind of catch from the sea.
Thirdly, some people traditionally say “fish are for men and shells are for women” which apparently exclude women engagement in the fishing industry.
Generally, women are deprived of various works related to the fishing industry. For instance in Asia and Europe women are engaged in cleaning boats and mending nets but the Zanzibar women are only fish hawkers in small markets.
Women in other countries like Vietnam, Mexico, Mauritius, China etc., works in fishery processing industries than engaged in fishing.
During the presidential campaigns 2020, Dr. Hussein Ali Mwinyi pledged that his government would put more strength in the fishing industry by constructing fish harbor, buying fishing fleets as well as establishing fishing processing industry.
If this pledge is effectively implemented, it is clear that more job opportunities will be created for the youth.
Therefore, more efforts are needed to engage women whose population is larger than that of men.
For instance, out of the isles 1.304 million population, women whose population, women are 657,216 which is equal to 50.4% of the population.
For the serious implementation of blue economy, Zanzibar should prepare conducive environment in which women would participate fully in this economy including training them and establishing cooperatives for them.
Zanzibar can learn from the experience of Morocco where women are effectively engaged in the fishing activities including boat ownership and mending nets. They fish by themselves without men assistance after undergoing training.
Some of these families have families and great contribution in taking care of their households.
“I like my work. In some days the sea is rough, but any way I get money”, said Fatima Mekhnas.
“We live in the sea and if we separate ourselves from it, we will die like fish”, says Fatima who is a president of her cooperative and adds, “The sea is my entire life and that of my children and the villagers”.
Likewise, Somali women are also effectively engaged in the fishing industry and have broken the barrier that only men can do the job.
Asha Abdulkarim (45), a mother of three children who lives at Ely, a coastal town in Somalia is now a famous fisherwomen. She didn’t set out to be a fisherwomen in her younger years. She started as a housewife, but then her marriage fell apart a way to care for her three children.
As a wife of fisherman she learned from ex-husbands how to mend nets and pilot boat.
“I catch a lot of fish during high season”, said Asha.
Instead of being shell collectors and spearing octopuses, catching sardines at shallow water, it is high time the Zanzibar women engaged in the fishing industry as their counterparts in Morocco and Somalia do.
Learning fishing will help them a lot and depart from subsistence fisherwomen of shell collectors to commercial fishing, as Zanzibar is going to receive four fishing ships for deep fishing.
The blue economy is golden chance for women in Zanzibar to increase employment. They will have opportunities in mending fish nets, snares, boat cleaning and building work at the fish processing industries and become fish mongers.
Major fishing nations of the world like China, Indonesia, India, United States, Russia, Peru, Vietnam, Japan, Norway and Mynmar (Burma) have played a great role in minimizing unemployment in their countries.
Learning from other countries experiences, women in Zanzibar should be well organized and prepare to participate fully in implementing the Blue Economy.