Although diverse opportunities exist for seafarers in the global maritime industry, opportunities for women have always been peripheral. Findings also show that women comprise only 2% of the entire global seafarers’ population, yet seafaring opportunities are capable of promoting the concept of gender and multicultural crew in shipping.
A number of constraints to seafarers’ opportunities however, have contributed to gender inequalities and impacted negatively on seafaring career. At the 2018 business luncheon of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria, the lead presentation was on Sustainable Opportunity for Seafarers in Nigeria and Globally: The Gender and Multicultural Crew Perspective.
While delivering the lead paper at the event, Mr. Amos Kuje, an astute researcher and Assistant Director, Maritime Labour at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) lamented the abysmal volume of seafarers in the globe with findings from a study conducted on gender and multicultural crew (GEM) research in Nigeria.
He compared the findings in Nigeria with China where Nigeria fared better as no women were recruited for seafaring in China and the United Kingdom which had more female representation in seafaring than Nigeria. He also made postulations and recommendations for consideration by WISTA.
“The GEM research for example, has generated keen interest from all over the world, and has demonstrated an appetite to bring about cultural change within the industry to empower, attract and to retain more women in maritime careers.
“The research has identified gaps in current knowledge and has gone some way to addressing these, improving understanding and raising awareness of the broader issues surrounding multicultural crews, so that women seafarers in particular can be supported in addressing those issues and in playing a fuller role on board ships and within the wider maritime industry” he said.
Meanwhile, some of the nation’s female maritime bigwigs also spoke passionately about the problem and possible solutions during a panel discussion at the event.
Irene Macfoy, an Assistant Director at NIMASA, and Head of Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) said;
“I want to say that kudos should be given to NIMASA because the agency was able to break a major jinx. When we took our students to the maritime academy in Egypt, they assumed that the cadets were all male but they later realized that the students comprised male and female; the Head of the Faculty came out straight to say madam, we can absorb women for shore-based courses like Transport Management and Logistics but we can’t place them onboard. It’s not possible. I told them that in Nigeria, women and men are considered the same and if he wasn’t willing to accept the female students, we would equally go away with our male students.
“It was Otunba Kunle Folarin that brokered that transaction because he had a relationship with the Academy. Otunba was very firm and he insisted that they either accepted the females or we walked away with all the students. The delegation of students was massive and we were ready to walk away with the huge sums that the Academy would be paid as fees. They had to bow to it and accept the female students. I’m also proud to inform you that some of the first class students were females. The women knew they were in a battle and they had to fight to win.
Also narrating the ordeals of female seafarers, Mrs. Rollens Macfoy who owns a seafarer’s training academy, said, “At OceanDeep Maritime Academy female cadets are doing fine. The academy isn’t only for females but when a female comes to the academy we give her special attention knowing that she has a lot of hurdles to face. As soon as I get to know that there is a lady that comes to the academy for anything, either employment, registration, schooling, whatever the case may be, I drop whatever I may be doing and welcome her in person.
Rollens Macfoy stressed that there was a standing instruction that if any lady comes on account of seafaring she would be the person to receive them. “This is because I know the challenges they are facing. I ensure that I speak with them and I have noticed that at the point they come in they are almost despairing. Probably they have gone round and found no jobs, no cadetship, no seatime, no mentors or hope for future for most of them. I make sure that by the time I finish discussing with them they are motivated again and over twenty of them are employed today” she added.
Meanwhile the President of WISTA Nigeria, Mrs. Mary Hamman, said that the event was strategic to highlighting the challenges and offer advice to the younger women in the industry.
“What we have been able to do is to bring the issues of female seafarers to the front burner to deliberate on the possible solutions to those challenges. This situation coupled with the fact that we are using the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman as the cover girl of the 2018 WISTA magazine brought most stakeholders to the event because of her accomplishments in the maritime industry.
“Usman is a model for upcoming females in the industry. Young women can look at her and aspire to head any position in the industry especially as Hadiza was coming from the non-maritime sector as she has been able to school herself about the maritime industry and make commendable contributions in the sector. The fact that she is scoring excellent in every field explains that if a woman is focused she can attain such heights.
She revealed that WISTA had been making efforts to enhance more female employment for seafarers is by approaching the shipping companies and convince them to employ more female cadets.
“We have trained these female cadets and mentored some of them and we are sure of their capacity and abilities. WISTA has taken up the responsibility to market these young ladies because we know that they are good enough. We also use these programmes to ensure that the employers know these female seafarers because sometimes the companies complain that they hardly find female seafarers. We have the record of the first female Nigerian master mariner sponsored by WISTA Nigeria. We have the record of these female seafarers looking for jobs and we have been able to source employment for some. Hajia Hadiza gave employment to one this year and it is something that she could do because she is a female at the helm of the Authority. So, we need more females to head maritime agencies that understand these challenges” she added.
Shipping companies’ unwillingness to take women onboard has also been attributed to some financial reasons such as having to adapt to gender-specific accommodation. Shipping companies awareness of the potential issues associated with mixing women and men on board contribute to their reluctance to take them on.
However, several shipping companies want to increase the number of women that work for them in order to improve their corporate social responsibility and inclusion policies
The role of women’s networks and support groups in this fight cannot be overemphasized and WISTA Nigeria deserves some degree of commendation for its efforts to get more female seafarers developed and actively engaged.
In a heavily male-dominated industry such as maritime, women are likely to remain a minority, if there is hope that the numbers do significantly increase then support groups and networks aimed at women in the maritime industry, such as the global operation Women in Shipping and Trade Associations (WISTA), can provide valuable support.
IMO’s new programme on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector (IWMS) is also doing good work to encourage ‘IMO Member States to open the doors of their maritime institutes to enable women to train alongside men and so acquire the high-level of competence that the maritime industry demands. These initiatives should be supported and encouraged by the industry and highlighted to the groups that are most likely to benefit from them.