Huriye Goncuoglu
Ashoka Fellow since 2018   |   Turkey

Huriye Goncuoglu

Fisherwomen of Turkey
Huriye and her team are working with fisherwomen to disrupt the rooted gender roles in the Turkish aquaculture sector. Through trainings, education and advocacy, Huriye is alleviating the…
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This description of Huriye Goncuoglu's work was prepared when Huriye Goncuoglu was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2018.


Huriye and her team are working with fisherwomen to disrupt the rooted gender roles in the Turkish aquaculture sector. Through trainings, education and advocacy, Huriye is alleviating the marginalization of women in the workforce, protecting coastal ecosystems and empowering women to be changemakers in their communities and their own lives.

The New Idea

Identifying fisherwomen as the critical agent to empower impoverished small fisherfolk communities and to shift the fishing industry’s norms towards more sustainability, Huriye is working together with fisherwomen to realize their potential towards improving their families’ conditions, providing new livelihoods for fishing communities and protecting coastal ecosystems surrounding them. This is the first organization of its kind bringing a previously invisible group in society to the forefront of the Turkish fishing industry.

Huriye is training women to be the center of economic empowerment and environmental preservation. She plans to enact system-wide change to the industry’s norms by positioning women to be visible in both the public and the private sectors. By providing women with networks of alike peers and trainings around their professional and personal development, Huriye is triggering a movement among fisher women to act for their rights and passions. This long-neglected group is now mobilizing their forces to act for the future of their job, not only for their own benefit but also for the next generation’s wealth and wellbeing.

Huriye positions fisherwomen to be the new, educated leaders in their communities. By locating strong female leaders for fisherwomen in each and every fishing village, Huriye and her team have built a self-managing community of leader fisherwomen in Turkey’s various coastal areas of inner and outer waters.

The Problem

Turkey is home to approximately 100,000 fisher families in coastal areas working in aquaculture. Producing over 1,000 tons of fishery products each year, the pre and post packaging aspects of the sector is creating one of the biggest labor force of the country. Due to environmental malpractice and poor support mechanisms, these communities are largely impoverished.

While women in these families have long worked in the sector, they remain an invisible group without equal pay or visibility. There are many cooperatives and platforms for fisher communities in Turkey, yet all of them exclude women. Agriculture cooperatives in the country also exclude fisherwomen, leaving them invisible and powerless. These women are largely disempowered and lack any public support from government institutions or civil society. Fisherwomen face a similar fate to women in agriculture: they do the hard work at all stages of aquaculture production from netting to packaging, but they lack visibility, basic work safety, equal pay or opportunities to take charge of their own lives.

Fishing in Turkey has historically been a sustainable source of income, fishing communities now finding themselves in a similar situation to that of farming families, in increasing states of poverty. Large corporations have begun to compete with local fisherfolk, contributing to the growing impoverishment of fisher families. Families find difficulty in sustaining themselves in a cycle of poverty and younger generations moving to urban areas for seeking low pay service sector jobs. Due to the urgency of making a living and lack of environmental awareness, fishing communities engage in harmful fishing practices and fish out of fishing seasons, resulting in damaging the very ecosystems their livelihoods depend on.

Systemically disempowered with lack of resources over the past years, fisher communities are now realizing their potential for creating an empowerment movement to be led by women of their families. Fisherwomen are now reclaiming their seats as the key source to reach to the accumulated knowledge of other rural movements, be it the gender movement or the rural development area.

The Strategy

Huriye’s holistic approach to the sector consists of three main pillars of strategy:

First, Huriye and Fisherwomen of Turkey are working to alleviate the marginalization of women and empower them to be leaders within their communities. With a team of volunteers, Huriye and her team give professional development, leadership and future design workshops to fisherwomen. These workshops provide vital education to women in aquaculture, allowing them to become changemakers of their own lives. In the rural development sector, women’s agriculture commissions and organizations have fallen short in including all groups in their work such as fisher women and seasonal workers.

Second, Fisherwomen of Turkey are sensitizing and education fishing families with the goal of educating children to increase their knowledge on ecologic conservation and alternative income generating models. By educating children, Huriye is encouraging intergenerational impact in aquaculture, as they will be taking over the family businesses in the future. This is also meant to discourage the growing migration among youth who often have to work in low paying jobs in urban areas.

Third, Huriye is filling the gap in the aquaculture field in rural by providing an inclusive solution, putting fisherwomen on the agenda of Turkey’s leading environmental and women’s organizations such as Support to Women’s Work Foundation (founded by Sengul Akcar, Ashoka Fellow 2000), and leveraging their resources and know-how to improve her work. Huriye and her team advocate for general public’s support of fisherwomen by and push for public policy change. Huriye’s short term plan is focusing on advocacy work to bring gender inequality in the aquaculture industry to the policy and public discussion.

She has recently built a fisherwomen commission under the roof of Turkey’s biggest fishermen’s cooperative which did not used to accept female members unless there is an extraordinary situation. Already started working with the management team of this cooperative, Huriye will be able to scale her trainings to many other regions thanks to the network and help provided by the cooperative.

To date, a total of 375 fisherwomen in 20 villages received the above-mentioned trainings and are showing significant changes in their employment, life skills and self-confidence. Natural leaders from the communities started to strike as they completed the trainings. Huriye has a couple of key contacts from each village and these women take responsibility for coordinating others, finding funds for their activities, and getting help from other NGOs if needed. More than 300 members of the fisher families have been included in the additional trainings. Fishermen are joining the movement with their moral support and network. Huriye will keep having at least one pioneering fisherman in each village to trigger community movement.

Huriye’s future plans include expanding her work to cover women in the pre and post fishing stages of aquaculture, expanding nationally by embedding her trainings in municipalities’ and public institution’s programs, and introducing value-added products to increase women’s income. Positioning fisherwomen as the leaders of their community, Huriye and the team are creating a better world for the generations to come both in terms of the natural conservancy and the economical opportunities.

The Person

Born on the Aegean coast of Turkey and raised by her grandmother, a strong and charismatic farmer, Huriye has always been passionate about the sea and fascinated with the role of women in agriculture in Turkey.

Her passion and love for the sea led her to study aquaculture and fisheries, where she grew curious about if and how women were involved in fishing, as they were in agriculture. While pursuing her education, Huriye chose to delve into the involvement of women in aquaculture for her PhD thesis. When she submitted her thesis proposal, it was received very unenthusiastically by faculty members who thought it was a frivolous topic. Despite their criticism, Huriye’s field study involving surveying fisherwomen changed her life completely. Upon entering their boats and homes, she found that she was not able to leave, and this opened a whole new chapter in her life.

She fought her way to get her research accepted, and her study did not only validate women’s involvement in fishing, but it also revealed the existence, great need and potential of women in local fisheries in the southern Aegean Sea region. She started using the university’s resources to develop and pilot her first support programs for fisherwomen. She also used her strong will to keep winning the trust of this rather traditional and conservative group. 5 years later, Huriye is the well trusted leader of fisherfolk in 3 regions, representing their interests in all possible platforms.

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