Women's History Month: Women in Natural Resources

By: Makayla Byrnes 

In honor of Women’s history month and International Women’s Day, I decided I wanted to write about Women in Natural Resources. Natural Resources is the field that includes any resource e natural occurring including water, air, land, vegetation, soils, wildlife, fisheries, fossil fuels, minerals, rocks, and precious metals. This field considers all elements that are the foundation of life on this massive rock hurling through time and space that we named “Earth”. That’s some seriously important field if you ask me.

So, why consider the topic of women in natural resources? Well for starters, according to the world bank, women make up approximately 49.6% of the world’s population. In the United States of America, women make up 50.4% of the population. So, we are half of the 7 billion people and half of the 318.9 million people in the United States utilizing those resources that are the fundamentals of survival on this planet. In America, women make up 47% of the total labor force. So again, why do women in natural resources matter? How about the fact that according to the United States Department of Labor in 2010, .9% of the women in the American workforce are in natural resources, construction, and maintenance COMBINED.

2010 Dept of Labor women vs. men in natural resources labor jobs

According to the United States Department of labor .9% of the women in the American workforce are in natural resources, construction, and maintenance combined.

I’ll just leave that statistic there so we call all give our jaws room to drop. How is it that females, who make up half of the world’s and the United States’ populations have such little say in such a vital topic? It is no secret that historically women have been oppressed or held back in STEM subjects (Science, technology, engineering, and math). Women have constantly been over-looked and underutilized in this traditionally male-dominated field. And THAT is why I found it so important to discuss the incredibly powerful and impactful women who have shaped the natural resource field, as well as, discuss how women are still being marginalized internationally with their natural resources.

I want to start off by asking for a metaphorical round of applause for the following women: Rachel Carson, Author of Silent spring. She brought scientist’s and every day American’s attention to the issues connected with DDT use. There’s also Susan Fenimore Cooper, who some claim to be the first female American environmental literary. Although, her work is often overlooked for the writings of Thoreau and Walden.  Mrs. Claire Marie Hodges, the first female park ranger to ever serve in the National park service. Gale Norton, the first female secretary of the Department of the Interior, “Lady Bird” Johnson, first lady to President Lyndon B. Johnson, she helped form and advocate for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 and she established the National Wildflower Research Center in 1982. Marion Stoddart, she helped save the Nashua River from pollution of raw sewage and paper mill toxic dumping through founding the non-profit The Nashua River Watershed Association. Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, she was a survivor of 30 years of domestic abuse, and she became the first women to completely finish the Appalachian trail solo. Later on, she became the first person to hike the Appalachian trail completely 3 times. Jane Addams, she helped discover the existence of lead and industrial poisoning in low-income communities. She later became the first female American to win a Nobel Peace Prize. And what would a “women in natural resources” blog be without mentioning the outstandingly brilliant Jane Goodall. Not only did she revolutionize how we understood primate behavior and its relations to the Theory of Evolution, but she fought tirelessly and passionately as an advocate for animal rights and the importance of ecological preservation.

Without those essential women in natural resource history and the many others who I currently do not have the time to fawn over, I know I sure as hell wouldn’t be where I am today. But with all this progress, it’s easy to overlook the work that lies ahead.

Now how does this relate to Wild Woman Fish Co….

Women in Fisheries

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations, there are currently an estimated 120 million people who earn a living directly from fishing and processing. Out of that 120 million, 47% are women. And the percentages even go all the way up to 70% when discussing aquaculture specifically. However, when considering the regions with the highest dependency on fisheries (India, Southern Pacific Asia, and West Africa), most women are not in any form of management role; most of the work that they contribute is considered “invisible” work. This stems from the historical gender discrimination worldwide that associates a lower value with work that is done by a woman.

            This perception of low value is then maintained through limiting women’s access to necessary tools for success in the fisheries industry. These include credit, training, and processing and storage technologies. Without the ability to access these important tools, women often face issues such as higher post-harvest loss due to lack of storage technology to keep their catch fresh. They often face other issues like lack of financial ability to invest in better boats and equipment without access to credit. Not to mention that they are unable to go out on larger boats that go further out to sea due to cultural norms that require them to still complete domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, and raising kids. This can severely marginalize these groups of women, because as these larger boats with greater technology overharvest the fisheries, women who have to fish closer in-shore with minimal technology are having an even harder time obtaining a sufficient catch.

            But what I would like to point out, is that this is not just an issue internationally. Women are extremely underrepresented in the United States as well. According to Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 78,000 jobs in Alaska are in the fishing industry, and women only account for 14% of commercial fishermen. While many U.S. women may not consider commercial fishing as a desirable job, there are still issues for the women that do want to be in this industry. However, I will let you explore those issues in my boss’s blog “A Woman on Rough Seas”.

            I guess my overall point to this blog is that I want the women reading this out here to remember all the courageous women who have incessantly fought for our place in the natural resource field, and I want to urge you to think of ways you can add your name to that list. After all, you deserve a metaphorical (or real) round of applause too. So, keep being an advocate for environmental issues, write a book, get involved in environmental policy, go on a badass hike, make a discovery in the scientific field, become the “first American women to….” whatever that may be. Because, the more women we have becoming the firsts, the more women we can give a voice to both here in the United States as well as internationally. We still have so much work ahead of us, but damn have we come far.

Become someone else’s SHEro.

-Makayla Byrnes