Oceans and seas connect and sustain us. They are home to vast biodiversity and are a vital defence against the global climate emergency.
Yet today the oceans are under unprecedented threat. In the past 150 years, about half of all living coral has been lost. In the past four decades, plastic pollution in oceans has increased tenfold. A third of fish stocks are now overexploited. Dead zones – underwater deserts where life cannot survive because of a lack of oxygen – are growing rapidly in extent and number.
This year's observance of World Oceans Day highlights the gender dimensions of our relationship with the ocean.
The effects of pollution and climate change on the oceans have a disproportionate impact on women. For too long, women have been unable to share equally in ocean-supplied benefits. Women represent half the work force engaged in the catching and harvesting of wild and farmed fish, yet are paid substantially less than men. Women are also often segregated into low-skilled and unrecognized labour, such as fish processing, and are denied a decision-making role.
Similar treatment occurs in related sectors such as shipping, coastal tourism and marine science, where the voices of women are frequently not heard.
Confronting gender inequality is essential to achieving the ocean-related Goal and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We must ensure an end to unsafe work conditions and guarantee that women have an equal role in managing ocean-related activities.
I urge governments, international organizations, private companies, communities and individuals to promote gender equality and the rights of women and girls as a crucial contribution to meeting ocean challenges.
We must also act across an array of sectors to address the conflicting demands from industry, fishing, shipping, mining and tourism that are creating unsustainable levels of stress on marine and coastal ecosystems. The “Call for Action” adopted at the United Nations Oceans Conference in 2017 helps to point the way, and as we look ahead to the next such gathering, in Lisbon in 2020, let us all do our utmost to protect and preserve this essential resource for sustainable development.