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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 21  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 45-50

Occupational health and role of gender: A study in informal sector fisheries of Udupi, India

1 Department of Public Health, Manipal University, Manipal, Karnataka, India
2 National Institute for Research in Environmental Health, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India

Date of Web Publication13-Feb-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Rajnarayan Tiwari
National Institute for Research in Environmental Health, Bhopal - 462 001, Madhya Pradesh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijoem.IJOEM_170_16

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Background: Fisherwomen are informal sector workers involved in post-harvest operations and are mostly engaged in peeling, trading, and processing of fish. High degree of wage disparity and gender inequalities results in different socioeconomic status of fisherwomen and fishermen. This study aimed to identify gender issues and their effect on the health status of fisherwomen. Materials and Methods: The present cross-sectional included 171 fishermen and fisherwomen. Interview technique was used to collect information using a predesigned proforma. Data was analyzed using SPSS Version 15.0. Results: Fifty-five percent of the participants complained of work-related health problems. A total of 63.9% of women had occupational health problems compared to 48.5% of the men (P < 0.05). Merely 1.2% of participants used any protective equipment. None of the workers reported receiving any kind of benefits at their workplace. A total of 53.8% were paid on piece-rate basis. Conclusion: This study identified many occupational and gender issues in the informal sector.

Keywords: Gender, fisherwomen, fisheries, India, occupational health

How to cite this article:
Tripathi P, Kamath R, Tiwari R. Occupational health and role of gender: A study in informal sector fisheries of Udupi, India. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2017;21:45-50

How to cite this URL:
Tripathi P, Kamath R, Tiwari R. Occupational health and role of gender: A study in informal sector fisheries of Udupi, India. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2017 [cited 2019 Jun 16];21:45-50. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Approaches to addressing gender inequality and its consequences have seen a major transformation over the past decade. There has been clear recognition that disadvantaged position of women in society is an impediment to their growth and development, if not human rights violation. Women have a significant role in our economy but the devastating repercussions of women's inequality have marginalized them in important areas such as training, employment, policy-making, and planning, implementation, and monitoring.[1]

The ramifications of gender equality and women's empowerment have been clearly acknowledged as a key not only to the health of nations but also to social and economic development.[2]Inequality in wages and employment opportunities lead to the vicious cycle of economic deterioration and decrease productivity.[3]One of the foremost causes of gender inequality is lack of resources and poverty. It has been found that gender inequality is greater among the poor. Economic growth not only reduces poverty but also leads to women's empowerment.[4] Employment and economic empowerment have a synergistic relationship. This combination gives people the freedom to make their own decisions and direct their own lives.

Against this backdrop, women around the world have joined the labor workforce in unprecedented numbers. In 2012, the world labour force constituted 3.3 billion people, of which approximately 40% comprised females (1.32 billion) and female participation rates varied from a low of 16% in Jordan to close to 90% in Tanzania.[5] In developing countries, including India, major part of the workforce is involved in informal sector. Informal sector is important not only from an economic point of view but also in sustaining the livelihood and well-being of the overwhelming majority of Indian population.[6] In India, approximately 50% of the population is women and they comprise one third of the labor force.[7],[8] According to the 2001 Census, the work participation rate for women was 25.63% in 2001, which is an improvement from 22.27% in 1991 and 19.67% in 1981.[9] Only 7% of India's labor force is in the organized sector; 93% is in unorganized, informal sector, and 96% of women workers are in the unorganized sector.[10] These women are concentrated in the lower-income segments, working in survival activities or as casual wage workers or home-workers.[10],[11]

Men's and women's jobs differ greatly, whether across industries, sectors, or occupations. They do very different work and are exposed to different risks.[12] The segregation of formal sector is widely known but recent studies confirm the existence of this segregation in informal sector as well.[13] In the Indian economy, women workers with low income, particularly in the informal sector, are one of the most vulnerable groups. Factors such as irregular work, lack of control over earnings, and almost negligible social and financial support are culpable for their vulnerability.[10] This gender-based division can lead to changes in the physical and mental health of women owing to nature of jobs, such as monotony, repetition, multiple responsibilities, and static effort. Despite considerable progress in enacting legislations, women working in the informal sector face a plethora of problems, which affects not only their growth and development but also their health. Hazardous work environment, excessive work load, extra work hours, lack of social security and welfare schemes, and low wages are a few to begin with.[13],[14],[15] This is partly due to nonimplementation of existing legislations or inadequacy thereof.[15]

Fisheries form the most important resource of livelihood for communities inhabiting in coastal regions.[16] There are 5.4 million people involved in fishing sector in India, out of which 70.4% (3.8 million) are fishermen while only 29.6% (1.6 million) are fisherwomen.[7],[17]

Fisherwomen are involved in various post-harvest operations and are mostly engaged in peeling, trading, processing, and other related aspects.[7] These women play an integral role in the maintenance and economic prosperity of the family. Studies have shown that women spend long hours in labor intensive tasks in fishing sector, besides their equally demanding household chores.[16],[18]

Excessive work load, long hours of monotonous work, long-term exposure to cold have cause specific set of health problems in fisherwomen.[19],[20] Studies have shown that women workers in the fishery sector are more prone to work-related morbidities than their male counterparts.[21] With this background, this study aimed to investigate gender-specific occupational health hazards and to assess the existing welfare schemes and benefits, among fishermen and fisherwomen.

  Materials and Methods Top

The present cross-sectional study was conducted from February to July 2013 at the Malpe harbor, Udupi. The study included fishermen and fisherwomen of Malpe who were further stratified into three strata, namely, fish catching, loading/unloading, cleaning and sorting, and selling. Sample size was selected from each stratum in the same proportion as the distribution of different stratum in the population. Convenient sampling was employed within the stratum sampling. The minimum required sample size for this study was 171. Fishermen and fisherwomen between the ages of 18–60 years and who were working for more than 6 months in the same occupation were included in the study. Fishermen involved in deep-sea fish catching were excluded from the study. Ethical permission for the study was obtained from Institutional Ethical committee. Informed written consent was obtained from every participant before initiating the data collection.

The harbor opens as early as 3:30 am in the morning, and 6–8 am are usually the peak hours, therefore, the interview schedule started from 8:30 am in the morning, so that the workers were not disturbed and did not lose any productive time during the interview. A semi-structured questionnaire was used for the interview schedule. The tool was validated and a pilot study was done to find out the reliability of the tool (Chronbach's α = 8.3) which was highly reliable.

Data was analyzed using SPSS Version 15.0 (M/s SPSS Inc., Chicago). Chi-square test was used to find the association between occupational health problems, gender issues, and other sociodemographic variables. Univariate analysis was followed by multiple logistic regression to calculate odds ratio with 95% confidence interval. Factors having significant association were considered for multivariate conditional logistic regression analysis for adjusting confounding factors.

  Results Top

[Table 1] depicts the sociodemographic characteristics of study participants. The mean age of the study population was 32.9 ± 10.68 years. The mean age was 37.2 ± 10.31 years for females and 29.7 ± 9.87 years for males. Females were older than males, and this difference was found to be statistically significant (χ2 = 18.96, df = 2, P < 0.001). A higher proportion of women (94.4%) were married than men (47.5%), and a significant association was found between gender and marital status (χ2 = 49.09, df = 3, P < 0.001).
Table 1: Gender-wise sociodemographic profile of study participants

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[Table 2] shows the occupational history and health problems of study participants. Most (28.1%) of the participants had been working for more than 15 years. Significant statistical association was found between gender and number of weekly working hours (χ2 = 38.75, df = 6, P < 0.001). Only 18% of the women reported to work for more than 80 hours a week. More than half (63.9%) of the women had various occupational health problems compared to 48.5% of the men. A significant statistical association (χ2 = 3.99, df = 1, P = 0.046) was found between gender and health problems due to job.
Table 2: Gender-wise occupational health problems

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However, on multiple logistic regression, gender, duration of employment, and weekly working hours had no significant association with occupational health problems. However, age had a significant association with occupational health problems; workers between the age group of 40–60 years were two times more likely to have health problems due to their occupation [OR: 2.921 (95% CI: 1.11–7.67)] [Table 3].
Table 3: Multiple logistic regression for study variables

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[Table 4] depicts the types of occupational safety provisions and the types of benefits provided by the employer. Use of personal protective equipment (PPEs) was almost nonexistent, only a handful (1.2%) of these participants used any protective equipment. None of the workers received any kind of pre-placement or safety training. It was reported that there are no lavatories on the boat, so these fishermen did not have any such facility. A significant statistical association was found between gender and use of restrooms (χ2 = 37.97, df = 1, P < 0.001).
Table 4: Distribution of Work Facilities/Benefits according to gender

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  Discussion Top

The present study carried out among fishermen and fisherwomen highlights several gender issues related to occupational health problem and safety and welfare at workplace.

The gender bias was obvious while performing different tasks in fish catching and processing. Tasks like fish catching were exclusively done by men, whereas tasks like cleaning and sorting were done exclusively by women. Loading/unloading the catch from the boat to the harbour and selling fish was done by both men and women. Previous studies also have shown such type of gender segregation, where most of the fisherwomen are involved in various post-harvest operations and are mostly engaged in peeling, trading, processing, and other related aspects.[7],[19]

Disorders of the musculoskeletal system represent a main cause for absence from occupational work, having an impact on personal, socioeconomic status of the worker, and thus incurring considerable costs for the public health system. Studies have shown that about one-third of all health-related absences from work are due to musculoskeletal disorders.[22] Back injuries are the most common site of these disorders (approximately 60%), followed by injuries of neck and upper extremities.[23] The lower back is particularly susceptible to injury because of its function of supporting most of the body weight. In this study, 55% of the participants complained of having some health problems attributed to their job. The back pain was the most (45%) commonly reported health problem.

Awkward postures such as prolonged standing, lifting/carrying heavy weights, bending down, etc. were acquired by fishermen and fisherwomen during performing the tasks, which is a contributory factor for most of the musculoskeletal disorders. Men were more exposed to prolonged standing posture than women and this difference was found to be statistically significant (χ2 = 9.004, df = 1, P = 0.003) while more females than males reported lifting heavy weight over their heads and bending down to lift and keep the basket on the floor. The males and females were also exposed for cumulative trauma disorders by exposure to repetitive hyperflexing and twisting movements of the wrists and repetitive movements of forearms during the process of cleaning and sorting, respectively.

Many studies have reported gender differences in the prevalence of MSDs.[24],[25] Furthermore, socioeconomic factors such as low income and education also play a major role in musculoskeletal morbidity,[26],[27] which can increase the vulnerability by decreasing the choice of alternative resources.[22],[27] It would be pertinent to mention the double-burden theory here, which implies that gender inequalities can translate into stressors that when combined with family situation can induce musculoskeletal problems.[28],[29] In our study, 63.9% of the women had various occupational health problems compared to 48.5% of the men. A significant statistical association (χ2 = 3.99, df = 1, P = 0.04) was found between gender and health problems due to job.

In addition to the harmful postures at work, the absence of occupational health and safety provisions at workplace further aggravate the issue. A statistically significant high proportion of the women felt overburdened because of work compared to men (χ2 = 23.04, df = 1, P < 0.001). On further investigation, it was revealed that these women find it very difficult to balance their paid work with household activities such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. A majority of women reported of taking only leave when the harbour was closed as they were the sole earners of their families. The report by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector, also found similar results in other occupations of the informal sector.[30]

Studies have shown that piece-rate basis of wages is staggering in informal sector.[9],[11],[15] Among the job tasks type, cleaning and sorting, and loading/unloading carried out mainly by females involved piece rate wages system.

The condition of fisherwomen is particularly dismal. Lack of social services, double burden of household responsibilities and work, and insubstantial control over the use of income places both social and economic constraints on the empowerment of women of this community. These all factors work in tandem and effect the health status of women significantly. Gender sensitization about perception that men and women have of each other so that issues regarding stereotyping a particular gender could be addressed is the need of the hour. Redesigning gender mainstreaming policies on the basis of issues specific to a community or district can be a milestone in eliminating the gender inequalities.

  Conclusion Top

Thus, to conclude, this study has identified many occupational and gender issues, which are deeply rooted not only in informal sector but also in the society. The lack of pre-placement and safety training, almost nonexistent use of PPEs, no provision of maternity or sick leave and rampant piece-rate wages are the most important issues marring this sector.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]


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