Although women form 39.3% of the global workforce, women seafarers constitute only 2% of the total number of seafarers worldwide, creating a need for the shipping community to bridge this gender gap. Several organizations, unions and companies have set the ground in the last decade for creating a greater awareness to people generally and sensitize specifically the male seafarers towards acceptance of women onboard.

Why does shipping industry lack gender equality?

Social perceptions even today lean to indicate that such jobs require skills more associated with men. Both families and society do not encourage women to choose seafaring as their career. Absence of relevant educators and of organizations further contribute to the lack of stimulus for women.

Equally important is the most women 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.

In recent publication on gender equality in shipping, ISWAN, WISTA and Anglo-Eastern cite the following forms of discrimination a woman can encounter while at sea:

  • harassment: refers to constantly picking one member of the group. Even worse, this may include
  • sexual harassment: relates to making unwanted advances of sexual nature to someone
  • bullying: regularly joking about or shouting at one particular person
  • stereotyping: pigeon holing particular minority groups
  • insensitivity: dismissing concerns of persons who think they are victims.

Except from these, 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.

Did You Know? 

Despite these, international efforts are ongoing to minimize this inequality in the maritime. Herebelow, we provide the latest progress from 8 March 2017 to 8 March 2018:

    • Some shipping companies have tried to promote women in leading working positions:

-In 1 April 2017, Japanese NYK announced that a deck officer named Tomoko Konishi became the first woman in the company’s 132-year history to be promoted to the rank of captain.

-In late August, Celebrity Cruises announced partnership with the Regional Maritime University in Ghana, marking the first time in cruise industry history, in order female bridge officers to be openly recruited from a West African country, through a new Celebrity-RMU Cadet Program.

-In early March 2018, Nicole Langosch was appointed as AIDA’s first female captain, in the vessel AIDAsol. Currently, AIDA Cruises employs 14 female nautical officers aboard its fleet.

  • In late April 2017, IMO funded a discussion meeting held by the Pacific Women in Maritime Association (PacWIMA) in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, which focused on the regional commitment of the Pacific on the advancement of women and gender equality in the maritime sector.
  • On June 7, WISTA signed a MoU with the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, in London, to promote women's maritime education.
  • In October, in Alexandria, Egypt, 30 women from nine Arab countries officially launched The Arab Association for Women in the Maritime Sector (AWIMA), that joined the IMO family of regional WIMAs, giving visibility and recognition to the role women play as key resources for the maritime sector.
  • A respective women maritime network was launched in Central and Latin America by sixty two women from 18 countries in Valparaíso, Chile, in mid- December. It also joined the IMO family of WIMAs.
  • In early November, a regional conference took place in Dili, Timor Leste, under the theme: Transitioning from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals. Gathering members of the WIMAs, from 22 Asian countries, the conference looked at ways to implementation the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably SDG 5.
  • Saudi Arabia has revealed plans to achieve the ambitious Vision 2030, which envisages increasing the participation of women in the workforce from the present 22% to 30%.
  • In late November, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated $1.0 million to IMO to boost its technical cooperation activities, $50,000 of which were destined to support and strengthen the role of women working in the maritime sector in the Arab world.
  • The first three Emirati women graduated as captains of 24-Meters vessels from the Maritime Training Centre at Abu Dhabi Ports, in late August, boosting UAE’s vision to empower women in workforce.
  • On the sidelines of London International Shipping Week, in September, the UK’s shipping minister, John Hayes CBE MP was quoted as saying that encouraging more women into seafaring careers will help UK improve its skills base, especially amid general technological progress in the industry.
  • In early January, Maritime UK announced establishment of a Taskforce to address fairness, equality and inclusion within the maritime sector. The first meeting of the Taskforce was held in late February.
  • In late January, the India-based Anglo-Eastern Maritime Training Centre, ISWAN, and WISTA International released a new booklet on building and maintaining gender diversity onboard merchant ships.
  • The UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), along with IMO and other bodies, are developing a training course to be launched in Marrakech, Morocco, on 23 June, in order to deliver the training to women officials attending the next regional meeting of the network for women of maritime authorities in Latin America later this year.
  • Today, WISTA announced the formation of its Diversity Committee, to focus on providing practical solutions to increase opportunities for gender diversity in the maritime industry

The UK Chamber of Shipping issued an infographic on the celebration of IWD:

The great variety of efforts in the last years indicates the existence of a gender discrimination within the maritime industry, representing superstitions not equivalent with the first quarter of the 21st century. Even if it is not about diversity itself, it is notable that an industry is moving forward by diversified skills and aspects, and shipping is not an exemption.

In addition to this, labor surveys of the shipping sector have namely indicated an existing 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. As shipping innovates with adoption of new technologies, it is weird why it fails to fix its recruitment problem.