Why women are refraining from entering the shipping industry?

The foremost reason why women are not encouraged to enter the shipping are the perceptions that such jobs require skills more associated with men and subsequently they are meant only for men. Both families and society do not encourage women to choose seafaring as their career. Educators often do not provide the necessary skills and support to help young women while the absence of organizations and regional networks is yet another reason for less women seafarers.

Moreover, in many countries women are not allowed to be recruited to nautical courses, or even once trained, they may have to face prejudice from ship owners who won't employ them. And once employed, women seafarers may also face lower pay even though they are doing work equivalent to that of male seafarers.

Most women further fear to pursue such a career as they believe that they might have to deal with sexual harassment or even abuse while at sea, as well as low levels of support from co-workers.

Why shipping needs more women

Gone is the myth that ‘women are bad luck at sea’. This is an old saying but, living in the twenty-first century, we clearly understand that it is just a superstition. ILO is one of the organizations, who working along with IMO, has done important efforts towards strengthening women role in the shipping industry. ILO has outlined that having women aboard ships it gives a great advantage as it creates a more normal social environment. For example, it can reduce the sense of isolation felt by many seafarers.

Furthermore, labour surveys of the shipping sector have indicated an existing - and growing - shortfall of certain categories of seafarers, particularly officers. Therefore, women could be an underutilized source of maritime talent which we need to draw upon to make up this shortfall.

How could women tackle bullying or harassment?

Company hiring women seafarers have strict policies to protect and safeguard their rights and identity. It is of primary importance that a few maritime unions are making a concerted effort to help the industry move on. Thus, woman seafarers facing such discrimination must contact their trade union for support and advice.

WISTA is a networking organization for women at management level in the maritime industry. ILO brings together governments, employers and workers representatives of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. ITF also supports work for women seafarers.

Specifically, the ITF is calling on employers, the ILO and trade unions to prioritise the following issues that have been identified as vitally important for women seafarers:

  • Reducing gender stereotypes within the industry
  • Provision of sanitary items on board ships
  • Access to confidential medical advice and the contraceptive and morning-after pill
  • Consistent and improved approach to maternity benefits and rights
  • Development of sexual harassment policies and appropriate training, including within cadet training and education

Time Machine

  • In 2013 the ITF released best practice guide named “Winning a better deal for women“ which was developed off the back of a survey of affiliate unions around the world.
  • The same year, IMO produced a  film, entitled “Women at the helm”, showing how the work of IMO, and others, is beginning to promote change for the better for women in shipping, and highlights first-hand experiences from some of those who have already succeeded.
  • In 2014, the World Maritime University (WMU) and IMO published a book to highlight the achievements of women in the maritime sector, concluding the maritime industry needs more women, particularly in leadership roles.
  • On United Nations day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Nautilus International has welcomed guidance from the International Labour Organisation on how companies should prevent workplace violence.
  • On 2 August 2015, the UN issued position paper setting out UN Women’s suggestions for global indicators to effectively monitor how the SDGs are being implemented for women and girls. IMO continues to support the participation of women in both shore-based and sea-going posts, in line with the goals outlined under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls", under the slogan: Training-Visibility-Recognition.
  • In 2015, the IMO launched the video “Making Waves: women leaders in the maritime world” in support of International Women’s Day 2015. The video reports on continuing efforts by IMO and the World Maritime University (WMU) to promote the advancement of women in shipping.
  • From 4 April 2016, the Maersk Group implemented a new maternity policy that improves benefits during and after maternity leave for employees globally. The maternity leave, at full pay, is followed by a phased reintegration to work over the next six months, allowing new mothers the opportunity of four-day workweeks. This new policy also includes one week of paternity leave, in the first week following a birth or adoption of a new baby. Even in The Netherlands, where statutory maternity leave is extensive and among the most generous worldwide, this new standard represents an improvement over what is required by law.
  • In 2016, the BBC and BHP Billiton further took steps to ensure that moving forward women make up 50% of their workforce.
  • ICS, ITF and ECSA also updated the guidelines for all seafarers on how to eliminate workplace harassment and bullying which may aid women seafarers as well.

  • 1-2% of the seafaring population is women, and around 94% of them are working on passenger ships. (ILO figures (2003))
  • ILO issued the first book of its kind to focus on women seafarers at a global level in 2003, entitled  ‘’Women Seafarers: Global employment policies and practices’’. Find out more about ILO’s book here
  • Bermuda is the 40th country to join WISTA, whose members are women in management positions in the maritime transportation business and related trades worldwide. In 2016, female leaders of the island’s shipping industry launched a Bermuda chapter of the WISTA, the Bermuda Business Development Agency (BDA).                                                                  
  • Globally, the Maersk Group employed more than 23,000 women in 2015, with approximately 500 having taken maternity leave. A study on the retention of female employees after childbirth in 76 countries across the Maersk Group shows that between 2012 and 2014 the maternity retention rate was less than 70%. The company’s aspiration is to encourage 90% of female employees to return to work after childbirth.
  • In 2013 the first Hong Kong female mariner was further qualified as a Captain of ocean-going vessels, captain of Star Pisces.
  • Captain Radhika Menon, Master of the oil products tanker Sampurna Swarajya,is the first woman to receive the 2016 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea for her role in the dramatic rescue of seven fishermen from a sinking fishing boat in tumultuous seas, in the Bay of Bengal in June 2015.
  • The WMU has formed a Womens’ Association, and they have a female President, Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry.
  • CMA CGM Academy, a CMA CGM Group’s in-house university, offers training to develop women’s skills but also highlights their experiences. At CMA CGM, women represent 42% of the worldwide staff and 46% of the Marseilles Head Office. A progressive position in an industry generally seen as “masculine’’, CMA CGM says.
  • In 2015, researchers from Southampton Solent University received £70,000 funding from the ITF Seafarers’ Trust to examine why so few women choose a career at sea. Read the report here.
  • Led by Southampton Solent University’s China Centre (Maritime), the GEM project is examining the working conditions, attitudes and cultural behaviours on-board the worlds’ ships, many of which have multi-cultural crews.
  • In 2015, Courtney Hansen after having spent more than 10 years working on the ocean, was appointed as the first permanent female captain for cargo shipping company SeaSwift.
  • Celebrity Cruises’ was the first cruise company to let an American female take the helm of a mega-ton cruise ship. At 37 years of age, San Francisco native Kate McCue commanded Celebrity Summit- a 91,000-ton, 965-foot ship in the Celebrity Cruises fleet, sailing between the eastern United States and Bermuda.

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