The maritime working environment is dominated by men, the inclusion of women in the sector remains a challenge, and their participation in leadership roles an even bigger one. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), women account for only 2% of the world’s 1,2 million seafarers. Only 1% of them are sailors.
Data published by Spinnaker’s Maritime HR Association found that only 5% of maritime executive leaders are women.
Several factors have contributed to this situation, including cultural and structural barriers that have resulted in women have not being exposed to the industry.
Lungiswa Nyembezi, KZN Branch Manager for Marine at facilities management company Servest Marine says more needs to be done to expose girls and young women to the sector and the opportunities that exist in maritime, in order to bridge the current stark gender gaps in the sector.
“I have been in the marine industry since 2004, and this year is my 17th year in this sector,” she said, “I actually entered the industry by mistake, as I was looking for a job and I got a temporary position as a demurrage clerk with one of the shipping lines. I was fascinated by large ships and containers, and my interest in the industry grew. Prior to that, I had never really been exposed to the types of careers available in the sector.”
She noted that, while opportunities exist in the sector, the representation and inclusion of women remains shockingly low. “Very few women are working in the sector and very few young people are aware of or exposed to the opportunities that exist in the sector,” Nyembezi noted.
Of concern, the Institute for Security Studies’ 2020 Report (on Women in Africa’s Maritime Space) found that women have historically been prevented from meaningfully participating in the maritime sector, and this has led to the emergence of cultural and gender biases.
According to the report, responding to these challenges would require comprehensive cooperation between governments and businesses. The report also makes recommendations for women’s participation in the maritime environment, with a focus on the South African government.
Some of the recommendations include the launch of public relations campaigns focused on creating awareness of career opportunities in the maritime sector. The report also recommends, among others, that the government should encourage the development of gender-sensitive budgets as well as gender mainstreaming in policy development in order to improve the quality of working conditions for women in the sector.
More research should be conducted to highlight the positive contributions that women make to the maritime sector, the report suggests. There is a need to generate well-considered gender-specific data and evidence on women in maritime space. One method of obtaining such information is to include the maritime sector as a key component of data collection exercises in labour force surveys.
Furthermore, the report suggests that comprehensive changes through a holistic approach need to take place, not only within the maritime sector but also within society as a whole, to create conditions conducive for women’s meaningful participation in the sector.
“The maritime sector is vast and offers many opportunities for women, such as becoming captains, deck officers, stewards, marine engineers, and technical officers,” Nyembezi said. “It would be great to see more women become in these areas, and have young girls being trained into becoming strong leaders who contribute towards enabling the country to compete well in the international market in terms of skills, because at the moment we are still lagging behind.”
The Institute for Security Studies’ report highlighted that specialised training and mentorship programmes should be provided to women in the maritime sector to provide them with additional assistance to support in efforts aimed at driving inclusion of women in the sector and growing the pool of women leaders in maritime.
“Men continue to dominate the Maritime industry in all sectors. I am of the view that not enough has been done to promote the industry, particularly to young girls in high schools, to encourage them to choose maritime industry as a career of choice. More needs to be done in this area. We need to invite girls and young women to visit our port offices, including initiatives such as port tours to the vessels, to expose them to this work. There is definitely a need for more awareness about the industry among girls and young women to begin to create more avenues for their participation,” Nyembezi concluded.