World Women’s Day, we await Chandrika Sharma.

Today, the world celebrates International Women’s Day to honour women and the numerous roles they play in our daily lives. As small-scale fishers we also take a special moment to remember  Chandrika Sharma, an international Small-Scale Fishers (SSF) rights’ activist who was on the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 that went missing on March 8, 2014 with 239 passengers on board.

Women are the corner stone of the society. They are the back bone of a family and the nurturer of relationships. They make food for the stomach, give food for thought and at times if not most, are the breadwinners.

Coming to the fishing industry, women have historically been involved in fisheries in many different ways, harvesting a variety of marine resources for local consumption as well as for the market.

Women living and working in traditional fishing communities have always played a very significant role in the development of the fishing industry of the world, as well as in the sustenance of our coastal communities, our families and their livelihoods.

As the world celebrate the role of women, the Small-Scale Fisheries sector also still awaits news about Chandrika Sharma, and what happened to flight MH370. The disappearance of the flight still remains a mystery.

Sharma was a dedicated activist for the rights of small-scale fishers and had worked with and was known by many fisher leaders in South Africa.

Chandrika grew up in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, not far from India’s capital, new Delhi. The daughter of an Indian naval officer, she did not experience poverty directly but saw plenty and chose a career in service. She earned her masters in social work in 1989 and worked on community forestry projects, before beginning her PH.D. Programme at the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, Kerala in 1993.

In 1995, she and her family moved to Chennai, where Chandrika found a home with the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) and came under the influence of Nalini Nayak, a fisheries activist since 1967, and a founding member of the collective.

By the late ninety-nineties, Chandrika was fully involved in ICSF and, at the time of her disappearance, was the executive secretary of the organisation.

Since then, she was involved in numerous advocacy efforts and travelled the world to give voice to the aspirations of small-scale fishers. She has championed women’s rights in fisheries and supported policy processes in Sri Lanka, South Africa, India and many other countries. She can be described as petite and small in stature, but big in spirit and passion.

Chandrika Sharma played a crucial role in initiating the development of the SSF international guidelines, adopted by FAO in June 2014, and the SSF Guidelines were dedicated to her memory, subsequently.

Today, 8th March 2017, international leaders of SSF social movements, meeting in Cape Town, took some moments to remember Chandrika and her legacy.

Editrudith Lukanga, from World Fishers Forum (WFF), remembered what Chandrika meant for the SSF struggle, but in particular her importance for the recognition of women in fisheries.

Natalia Laino, from World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), said she celebrates Chandrika’s tireless work for the fight of small scale fishers and food producers, saying: “In our meetings, she was always the first to arrive and the last to go”.

Naseegh Jaffer, secretary of WFFP, added how she didn’t only fight for fishers’ rights, but for the rights of the fishing communities as a whole. “I remember Chandrika in her role of organiser in the SSF struggle, she is probably still organising fishers, wherever she is”.

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