World Oceans Day 2019

Event date: 
2019-06-08 (All day)
The 2019 Theme
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The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) will once again lead the celebration of World Oceans Day (WOD), which is celebrated annually on 8th June and has a history spanning over two decades. It was originally proposed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Since then, WOD has been coordinated internationally by the Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network with global participation. It was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 2008, and is observed, since 2009, by all member states including South Africa. 

South Africa has a rich ocean wealth which shapes it to be a truly maritime nation bordered by the ocean on three sides – to the west, south and east i.e. the Atlantic, Southern and Indian oceans. The country has a coastline of approximately 2,798km and an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of approximately 1,5 million km2 which is greater than the 1,2 million km2 of land that falls under its jurisdiction. South Africa’s sea is a biologically diverse environment, teeming with marine flora and fauna, and is fundamental for the well-being of its people as it provides valuable ecosystem services that benefit its society as a source of food, income and as a place for recreational and cultural purposes.  

There are a number of human activities that occur within our ocean space such as fisheries and aquaculture, oil and gas exploitation, mining of precious minerals, maritime transport and tourism, most of which are of economic value. In 2010, the ocean contributed approximately R54 billion to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) and accounted for approximately 316 000 jobs. South Africa is, through the Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy initiative launched in 2014, seeking to further unlock the economic potential of its ocean space and marine resources. The unlocking of the oceans economic potential through Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy is anticipated to contribute up to R177 billion to the GDP and to provide 800 000 to 1 million direct jobs by 2033.

A host of human activities, including those mentioned above, have compromised the oceans health as a result of unsustainable use of resources as well as pollution. South Africa is a signatory to a suite of International Agreements to continue keeping the environment clean, safe and healthy. Subsequent to these agreements, DEA has a constitutional mandate, as outlined in Section 24 of the Constitution, which states that everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing and to have the environment protected through reasonable legislative measures. The ocean environment and coastline should therefore be kept clean and healthy in order to minimise negative impacts on resources available within this space.

However, in order to improve ocean health and realise the full socio-economic potential of our ocean resources, there must be inclusive, co-ordinated and sustained effort across economic sectors that rely on the existence of our living and non-living ocean resources, and these efforts must, to a high degree, focus mainly on gender representation. Women’s participation in leadership roles has not risen uniformly across sectors and types of employment, and the wage gap still exists between women and men in South Africa. In addition to its own legislative procedures upholding the rights of women and girls such as the Constitution and Employment Equity Act, South Africa is also signatory to other International Agreements to ensure women’s, and girls, full and effective participation, and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making. 

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The 2019 Theme


The international theme for the 2019 World Oceans Day is “Gender and the Ocean.”  This year’s theme serves as an opportunity to explore the gender dimensions of mankind’s relationship with the ocean space. This theme has opened a platform to address the importance of gender equality towards achieving effective and sustainable use of ocean resources and realising their full socio-economic potential. Gender equality refers to the equal valuing, by society, of both the similarities and differences among men and women, and the different roles they play in society. The Gender and the Ocean theme aims to build greater ocean and gender literacy as well as to encourage ways of promoting gender equality in marine-related activities. Thus it is proposed that South Africa adopt the following theme: “Women and the Ocean.”  

Historically, women’s work and contributions in labour at sea, fisheries, policy making and resource management, marine scientific research, and marine and coastal conservation have been completely undermined and undocumented, however, there has been a gradual increase in documentation in the past two decades. Globally, women have made important contributions to inshore aquaculture and fisheries, processing and trading of fish and marine products, in coastal and marine solid waste management, and marine disaster risk reduction initiatives, however, gender challenges and injustices still persist. Thus there is a need to amplify raising awareness of the problem. 

Marine affairs are nowhere near accomplishing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal to ensure women’s full and effective participation, and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making. For any society to achieve greater progress, equal gender representation must be ensured to reflect also the true value of women in a time where influencers of positive change are needed. 

The above-mentioned theme is proposed for the following reasons: 

  • Women and men have common but different needs, interests, knowledge, skills, and responsibilities in connection to the use and management of marine resources, however, both women and men can contribute towards a positive change. 
  • To promote women representation and participation in sustainable ocean governance and leadership positions.
  • To promote equal gender sustainable ocean governance contributions to the health of the ocean which mankind so hugely depends upon improving ocean health includes promoting sustainable development, addressing plastic pollution (emanating from inland sources) that threatens marine wildlife, and protecting marine biodiversity.
  • The lack of mentorship of young women in strengthening their capacity to participate in sustainable ocean governance and oceans economy.
  • To promote the development of skills necessary to empower women to participate as leaders in the oceans economy.
  • To create synergies and strengthen networks that encourage women participation in ocean governance, politics and business, and support the sharing of knowledge and experience.
  • To promote legal frameworks including laws and policies to ensure the full participation of women in sustainable ocean governance without discrimination as well as to develop specific measures to address violence against women in ocean governance and politics in all its forms and manifestations.
  • To encourage the adoption of policies that ensure women’s equal participation in the oceans economy and in society thus creating an environment where gender equality is respected, and inclusion is part of the organisational culture.

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