July 05, 2024
Breaking Barriers: Women Leading the Blue Economy

By Minako IUE, Sailors for the Sea Japan Chair & CEO



When I first founded my organization, Sailors for the Sea Japan, in 2011, I was not welcome. Because I am a woman and a mother of two boys, my role in society was to stay home, cook, and clean.

Traditionally, in Japan, there is a strong tradition of gender bias. For example, in the Japanese language, when you praise someone, you say “Otokomae”, which literally means: “You are a man.” On the other hand, the word “me-meshi” translates to “like a woman”, and it means “you are pathetic”.

Gender bias, whether conscious or unconscious, is still a huge hazard in Japanese society. Today, women working is finally welcome, but women leading still is not.

A large number of women are engaged in ocean or fisheries-related work in coastal areas in Japan. It is reported that women's participation within fishery cooperatives has contributed to the improvement of fishery management, environmental conservation, and other value-adding activities. However, opportunities for women to participate in important decision-making in coastal villages are still limited. Only 5.4% of all regular members of fishery cooperatives are women and the ratio of women at the management level is only 0.5%. In addition, in most cases, labor compensation is paid on a “per-household basis”, so women in the coastal blue economy have almost no economic independence. The difference between women’s actual contribution and their decision-making and economic power is stark. And it is situation replicated in other parts of the world, where women are underrepresented and undervalued in ocean-related governance and industries.

In Japan, the percentage of female Diet members is 15.6, and just 9% of executives of listed companies are female. As a result, Japan ranks a lowly 125th out of 146 countries in the world for gender equality. Our country needs gender-responsive policy change and the improvement of the social system to ensure that women get the social position and economic power that they deserve.

On the other hand, because women are in the majority when it comes to domestic consumption, they are predominant in consumer decision-making. In other words, corporate decision-making by female leaders, from the perspective of women, can more reliably and directly meet the needs of consumers.

My organization publishes The Blue Seafood Guide, a sustainable seafood ratings program in Japan. We also publish a spin-off program called the Blue Seafood Beauty Book, an example of an interdisciplinary, transboundary, and transformative ocean science-based program, to provide information to the general audience. By making beauty and health the headline topic, more than 90% of our website traffic comes from the Blue Seafood Beauty Book. This proves the important role of women's perspectives in influencing consumption patterns.

In 2018, Maria Damanaki, former EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, asked me to help her organize “Leading Women for the Ocean”, an international high-level platform to make the most of female power by developing a substantial network for the ocean. I invited Mrs. Akie Abe, my best friend and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, to spearhead the network with Maria. Together with many other female leaders, we celebrated the launch of Leading Women for the Ocean in Japan in 2019.

Now we are improving and expanding the platform with outstanding female leaders not only of the ocean but also of various fields such as energy, finance, academia, and politics. I am sure, that Maria Damanaki will continue leading this platform, allowing us access to global leaders and forums so that we can strengthen the participation of women in key negotiations related to ocean protection, climate change, fishing and other areas of the blue economy.

I would like to express my appreciation to all who support us. To the Walton Family Foundation, Oceans 5, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. And especially to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which was the first to trust me in 2012, when I had difficulties with a male-centered society in Japan. We are thankful that these groups continue supporting us and educating us with their global perspective, so that together we can dismantle gender biases and build a just and equitable world where people and nature flourish.

By empowering women, we not only unlock a deeper well of ingenuity and perspectives but also ensure a more comprehensive and sustainable stewardship of our ocean's vast riches. That is what the Leading Women for the Ocean network is dedicated to achieving.