‘Fisherman /ˈfɪʃəmən/ noun
- a person who catches fish for a living or for sport’ (Oxford)
A seemingly straightforward word... and yet it caused some discussion here in the Tearfund office in Teddington when I recently wrote a piece using the term to describe a woman.
Others in the office, who are probably wiser, suggested it was not a very inclusive word and, as with police officer or firefighter, it would be better to find a more gender-appropriate one.
I went with the term ‘fisherwoman’, but my strong-woman-doesn’t-need-special-measures personal opinion was that it refers to a job. A job a woman is certainly capable of. As with the term human, why would I need a different word to do exactly what’s been being done for ages? I figured I could bring all the girlpower ‘wo!’ needed if I ever chose to be a fisherman. Google seemed to turn up similar opinions from women in the fishing industry in some parts of the world... and very strongly opposing views from other parts!
Differing opinions, but the same driving reason. Equality. We are all passionate about seeing women put on an even footing with men. We are not created the same, but we are created equal. It’s one of Tearfund’s main beliefs – that each of us, made in the image of God, should have an equal opportunity to fulfill our God-given potential.
Around the world, educating girls is one of the most powerful tools we have in breaking the cycle of poverty – not only for individuals, but for whole communities. It strengthens economies and it leads to more stable, resilient societies where everyone, regardless of sex, has a greater opportunity to fulfil their potential.
This is the reason Tearfund partners run literacy and training programmes – giving girls and women the power to be economically active is one way of giving them a voice and power in their communities. Rather than telling people that women can be equal, giving women a voice shows them that they are. Not only that, as mothers are strengthened and equipped, they pave the way for their own children, demonstrating new ways of being where, in the past, perhaps local culture may not have encouraged the equality of women.
Rather than telling people that women can be equal, giving women a voice shows them that they are.
Mariam, in Chad, speaks with pride of her job as a teacher. Both as an educator and as an employee able to contribute to the family’s income.
But things could have been very different. Mariam grew up in a society where education for girls wasn’t seen as a priority. As the eldest daughter in a family of nine children, she was given the responsibility of looking after the cooking and household chores. It was an important job and Mariam says that she did it with joy, but it came at a cost. By the time she left home to get married at 18, she still couldn’t read or write.
Fortunately, Mariam’s husband could see the advantages of having someone who is an equal partner both in their home and in society. So, between them, they agreed that Mariam would be enrolled in a literacy course run by a Tearfund partner.
‘[My husband] sincerely encouraged me to take my classes seriously and especially to study. After eight years of learning, I am not the same uneducated woman the people knew yesterday,’ says Mariam.
‘Literacy has brought a lot of changes in my life; I can read and write correctly in French and in Marba [one of the languages spoken in Chad]. I intend to climb the ladder little by little and gradually make a difference in society and be really useful for my family.’
Equality for women is a team effort. It requires all of us. Women must be ready to stand up and take opportunities. And men need to not only make space for them, but to champion them – realising that a world that is better for women is better for everyone.
Creating an equal world will need us to think about everything – from the small day to day things in our own world (like our words), to the big things, like finding ways to support sisters across the planet who might not yet even have opportunities equal to those that women in our own society enjoy.
As Mariam said, ‘My most ardent wish is that the Lord bless [the literacy programme] a hundredfold... I pray for this programme… to help millions of people who have not benefited from education while they are young.’
Fishers of men… and women
So, back to fishermen. Or fisherwomen. Or just fishers – as the Australians prefer.
To borrow from women’s rights activist and author Ritu Sharma, ‘As the old axiom goes: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." But teach a woman to fish, and everyone eats for a lifetime.’