Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment in MPAs Fishing Communities: The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Strategic Ecosystem Management (SEM) Project undertakes tangible on-the-ground interventions to demonstrate diversification of livelihood options in MPAs, and the added value through participatory approach and co-management of living marine resources in the MPAs of the region. SEM undertakes these activities at two selected MPAs Pilot Sites, including Wadi el Gemal National Park (WGNP) in Egypt, and Dungonab Bay-Mukkawar Island Marine National Park (DMMNP) in Sudan.

The local communities at both MPAs include sub-tribes of the Bija group, a large ethnic class inhabiting the Red Sea eastern coast. They depend mainly on artisanal and subsistence harvesting of natural coastal and marine resources for livelihood. Fishing and pastoralism are the two main activities practiced, with the former being the most important for the majority, land vegetation degraded due to drought spells that hit the coastal area over the last decades.

The vast majority of the MPAs population lives in poverty. Fishermen earn their main income in fishing season and survive on debts in the rest of the year. However, both of DMMNP and WGNP are endowed with rich marine biodiversity and endemic species that characterize the Red Sea. They accommodate a pristine assortment of marine and coastal habitats of high ecological and economic values. Given its significance and uniqueness, DMMNP and the nearby Senganeeb National Park has been recently inscribed as World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2016, an achievement reached through extensive national efforts by Sudan, but was also significantly enabled and accelerated by the SEM interventions that mobilized community involvement in zoning planning and management of the national park.

This has also triggered establishing national efforts in Egypt to inscribe WGNP as a Natural UNESCO Heritage, as well. For DMMNP, this is expected to increase attraction of the national park as for tourism, which is currently undeveloped. Many tourists visit WGNP, but local community involvement and benefiting from the business is still marginal. Despite the great potential, the current contribution of tourism to the income of local community and the MPAs is negligible. Women, in particular have limited role in household income, due to lack of access to finance, low education and difficulty to practice fishing. On the other hand, they represent the majority of the resident population (e.g. comprising 60% of the resident community at DMMNP), as men usually move to nearby urban areas for work most of the time. This indicates the significant role that women can play in enhancing the socioeconomic conditions of the villages, as well participating in effective management of the coastal and marine resources.

Taking this into consideration, the SEM project puts particular emphasis to implement livelihood subprojects especially devoted to enable women income generation and empowerment at the two MPA Pilot Sites.

The Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden