Many facets of marginalisation of fisherwomen in south india and the impact of natural disaster –cyclone ockhi november 2017

RAJAYYAN, JYOTHI BASU (2018). 'Many facets of marginalisation of fisherwomen in South India and the impact of Natural disaster –cyclone Ockhi November 2017' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


Marginalisation of women is a big issue in South Asia where women are generally featured with limited power, lower social positions, and less economic and political participation and are more likely to be treated unfairly (Thiara and Gill, 2010; Singh, 2000). Many studies identified the obstacles such as lack of education, cultural and social factors that inhibit their participation in the mainstream society. It has been stated that the personality traits and the socio-economic and cultural environment are to a great extent responsible for women’s marginal participation in political, social or public and economic arenas. Most of the studies reveal that the status and position of women in the society, especially in terms of political participation. Generally, women in Asia, especially those from depressed fisheries households, participate actively in many fisheries activities, including aquaculture. However, the lower status accorded to women in many Asian societies means that their contribution to fisheries is undervalued and unrecognized.  However, the social and economic conditions of women are not much discussed in the South Asian literature.

Adding to this, tropical Cyclone Ockhi has occurred during 29th November in South India. Hundreds of fishermen were missing, about 50 people were dead, rescued fishermen came with fractures, trees were uprooted and many other causalities were recorded in South India and southern parts of Sri Lanka. The Governments in these areas declared rescue operations and compensation packages for the affected fishing families.

The proposed research study will be conducted on exploring various forms of marginalisation of women in Cyclone Ockhi hit areas in South India. The cyclone hit families, in particular, women are going to face many survival issues and they are vulnerable to exploitation due to their current post-disaster discourses. The study is intended to assess all forms of discrimination and violence (including workplace and domestic) against women. Through this, it is possible to propose social protection policies and the provision of public services for the women, and their political, economic and social/public participation.

The study will address debates on the complex intersections between ethnicity, gender and inequality, as well as on human rights and violence against women. The ethnographic account is set within the context of social and cultural theory, notably the ideas of Judith Butler, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault- anthropological studies of disaster.  In short, it will assess the socio-political ecological perspective of women in South Asia.

Development of Research Questions based on literature sources

Fisherwomen are considered to be one of the most marginalized groups in India and Sri Lanka (Siason et al., 2001). Use of large mechanized boats and crafts have increased this marginalisation of women in fisheries, whose main occupation is mostly related to fish processing and fresh fish marketing at a small scale, through centralization of fisheries and non-monitoring of commercial fisheries activities in the region. The occupation is generally perceived as an undesirable one, usually the last resort for a poor household. Though a higher status of women within the community is acknowledged by some studies, following matrilineal systems including property rights to the bridegroom and staying married women in mother’s house, engaging social reform activities and fighting for the rights of fisher community (Maryraj, 2011; Vareethaiah, 2010; Ram, 1992), their relative position with other community members is not clearly articulated.

Women role in the fisheries sector is invisible, with their labour going unrecorded in the computation of work participation rates (Siason et al., 2001). At the same time, though several studies have been conducted in the unorganized sector as a whole, and fisheries, in particular, only a few attempts have been made to study the conditions and problems of coastal women in South Asia. Even women in the unorganized sector have come up as subjects for discourse in the national and state levels in India; fisherwomen have been rare subjects for discussion and found a place in research studies. One of the reasons for this could be that researchers might have limited access to the participants with reference to coastal women. In the absence of such studies and discussions, they are found excluded from being the target of support services meant for the fishermen communities in general. Consequently, there is no policy to promote the welfare and sustainable livelihood of the families of the fisher folks. This necessitates the present study that is aimed to fill these gaps.

A systematic review of literature will be utilized based on the various academic sources including Cecilia Busby’s work on South Indian (Kerala) fishing communities, Frida Hastrup work (weathering the world) on tsunami and its effects on fishing communities, FAO and related studies and other similar international and national works.

Key Research Questions:

The study will address the following questions:

  1. How are coastal women marginalised in South India?
  2. What are the strategies adopted by the women to address their marginalization?
  3. What support mechanisms are in place for their empowerment?
  4. How post-cyclone ockhi situations in South Indiaare going to influence their marginalisation/empowerment?


An anthropological study using ethnographic approaches will be employed with a feministic perspective. Intersectionality of class, race/ethnicity, gender and poverty will be a key feature of the methodological approaches for the study. Qualitative research procedures of instrument development, data collection and analysis will be entertained including participant observation, sustained interaction with daily lives of the coastal women, and short focus group methods.

The focus of the qualitative research methods will be identifying different levels of marginalization and reasons for such marginalization. Focused group discussions will be conducted with a variety of women groups with reference to the interview data. These will be conducted in the local language wherever possible or using translators and will be translated into English and transcribed. Qualitative data analysis using key concepts and issues framework will be deployed.

A socio-political ecology perspective when assessing equity issues in terms of the analysis of minority caste/classes, gender, livelihood, religion and ethnic issues at all phases of disaster research

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