Contested livelihoods: Gender, fisheries, and resistance in Northwestern Mexico

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In October 2004, fishermen and women shrimp traders from southern Sinaloa coastal communities organized a protest to demand the end of a moratorium imposed on shrimp harvesting and consumption (Zapien 2004). The Health Department in Mazatlan had implemented the moratorium as a quick response to hundreds of people who had become ill or "intoxicated" after consuming wild shrimp caught in one of the most important lagoon systems in the region. The protestors pressed for local health authorities to conduct studies to determine the exact causes of the intoxication so they could take specific measures to stop the spreading of the illness, rather than a blanket ban on all shrimp. Another concern of the protestors was that as a result of the moratorium people had stopped consuming shrimp, thus negatively impacting those households whose livelihoods depended on fishing and marketing of this product. The most powerful motivation for the fishermen and traders to protest together in collective action was to secure their livelihoods. As one of the shrimp traders in the protest despaired, "We are dying of hunger, no one has approached or brought us rice or beans. It's clear that the government is not going to take care of our children" (Paredes 2004, p. 16B). Those protesting felt that the government was not responding to their demands in a timely manner, but instead continued to threaten their livelihoods. Because of their collective action to press government authorities to conduct more studies, the local health department discovered that a bacterium (Vibrio parahaemolyticus) in the lagoon caused the illness. As expected, the government banned people from fishing or selling shrimp from this lagoon, thus having tremendous repercussions for the local economy. Despite the negative outcome, women shrimp traders still regard their participation in the protests and marches as one of the most rewarding experiences in their lives. As one trader, Catalina, once told me, "I did not know that I was capable of protesting and marching in front of the Health Department. It was a good experience because we all shared the same concerns and because local authorities paid attention to us." Although this was Catalina's first experience with collective action, it is not necessarily true for many other people in southern Sinaloa. Indeed, struggles and conflicts over gaining access to and control over natural resources as well as their resulting collective political activism and grassroots social movements have permeated the history of this region (Rubio Ruelas and Hirata Galindo 1985; Ortega Noriega 1993; Padilla 1993; Verdugo Quintero 1997; Garcia Ramirez and Gutierrez 2004). Studies on the sources and outcomes of these social and political conflicts reveal that they have often revolved around the sustainability of resources, communities, and people whose livelihoods are linked to such resources (see McGoodwin 1987; Lobato Gonzalez 1988). However, much of this analysis has lacked a gender dimension and thus has failed to show how and why these struggles and conflicts are gendered. In this chapter I examine how gender interacts with local norms regarding natural resource use and state policies that dictate the allocation of such resources. My goal is to unravel how conflicts over access unfold and how people gain agency in the process of claiming access rights. I focus on the camaroneras (women shrimp traders) of southern Sinaloa to illustrate the way in which some of these conflicts are gendered and have given rise to local collective action, which has in turn been defined by gender. I first give a brief and general overview of the main theoretical approaches that guide my research, followed by the methodology and an overview of the communities where this study was conducted. Second, I provide a portrait of women's work as shrimp traders in the context of their past and current struggles. Finally, I discuss the implications of women's resistance for the long-term sustainability of their livelihoods, communities, and fishing resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGender and Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationLessons from Asia and Latin America
PublisherUniversity of Arizona Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780816599479
ISBN (Print)9780816530014
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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