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This edited volume explores the roles of northern women in both subsistence and commercial fisheries in Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Norway, and Finland. The roles of men and women in fishing vary across the north, yet men are primarily construed as the actual fish harvesters in governance policies and research. This gap in perception and research may undermine efforts to develop sustainable fisheries that allow for both commercial and subsistence activities.
The book is divided into two sections, “Gendered Participation in Subsistence and Commercial Activities,” and “Governance Practices.” However, some of the ideas of each can be found in the other. For instance, in many of the 12 studies in the book, women are engaged in “supporting” work for the subsistence and commercial fisheries. This work is vital to the economic cycle (such as processing and distributing or selling the fish), but it is also defined here to include creating and maintaining social and policy structures at local and regional levels that support fishing. Katherine Reedy-Maschner’s chapter on Aleut fishing, for example, explores the many roles of women in the community and the commercial fishing industry. These include as fishers, business managers, and central figures in subsistence production and distribution networks. She concludes her chapter with the question of prestige for men and women and how work and community and spousal support for that work build social status for both sexes. The governance section of the book provides several engaging examples of how fisheries governance structures marginalise women despite their many roles in fishing. Joanna Kafarowski explores how and why women are excluded from fisheries governance in Nunavut, while Elina Helander-Renvall and Elisabeth Angell explore these topics for Sámi women in Norway.
The main anthropological theme is the perception of gender roles in subsistence and resource harvesting-based economies. Kerrie-Ann Shannon’s chapter highlights this by examining the fluidity of Inuit gender roles in fishing, since fishing is removed from the man-the-hunter versus woman-the-gatherer dichotomy (or, perhaps in the Inuit situation, woman-the-seamstress). Her chapter, and several others (e.g., Mulle and Anahita, Karlsdóttir) support a more nuanced understanding of the gender division of labour in many northern societies (whether widely accepted or not in her case study). Martina Tyrrell gives a particularly interesting counter-example to the man-the-hunter generalisation in her chapter, by examining Arviarmiut Inuit women. These women were once the main shoreline net fishers of char, but in the past few decades have embraced the wage labour economy more than men and thus have little time to pursue their traditional work. As a result, men have taken over this kind of fishing.
The second major theme is sustainability of northern fisheries. Robinson, Morrow, and Northway’s chapter highlights the importance of utilising the different knowledge of men and women to develop and promote sustainable management. Karlsdóttir explores the social constraints put on women in Iceland’s fishing and aquaculture industries. There is social pressure to maintain traditional home-centred roles for women, who are discouraged from taking up community or economic leadership roles. This, and other social factors, are encouraging young women to leave rural coastal communities for the cities and higher education in order to increase their economic options. Discrimination against women threatens the social sustainability of Icelandic fishing communities. The final chapter, by Hoogensen, explores the broad topic of human security and touches on similar issues, raising questions about behaviours and policies that marginalise different groups, including women and northerners.
This volume speaks not just to fisheries, but also to the role of women in modern mixed economies. Through their struggles to balance their multiple traditional roles (including as fishers, household managers, community workers, psychological supporters, and politicians), with new wage labour economies, we see a fascinating picture of modernity’s effects on northern resource-based communities. Although in most cases women are not the active fishers in their communities, this fact matters little to the impact of the book. Rather, the text explores many layers of complexity in the ideas of cultural survival, creation, and expression, as well as making a living in the broadest sense. It would be of interest not only to students of women’s issues, but also to those with an interest in the north: sociologists, economic anthropologists, and geographers.