The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the pressures facing women and girls in South Africa like never before, and has made the need for gender equality more evident.
As the country acknowledges Women’s Month this August, Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) reaffirms its continued commitment to the advancement of gender equality in the country.
The COVID-19 lockdown period magnified the issues facing women, including the increase in gender-based violence, disproportionate job losses especially in the informal sector, disruption to education and income and unequal division of labour within the home.
This year, South Africans celebrate the 64th anniversary of the 1956 Women’s March under the theme: “Generation Equality: Realising women’s rights for an equal society now”. A United Nations campaign, it demands equality for women across all sectors – pay, sharing of household chores, childcare and healthcare rights among others.
Despite significant shifts over the years, the maritime industry remains a largely male-dominated sector. Recent statistics from the International Transport Workers’ Federation show that while many strides have been made towards growth, women only comprise 2% of the global maritime workforce, while the International Maritime Organization says only 1 – 2% of the 1.2 million global work-force of seafarers are women, with the majority of female seafarers (94%) working within the cruise industry.
To combat the lack of female representation in its own maritime environment, TNPA implemented a deliberate marine transformation strategy spearheaded by the Chief Harbour Master, Captain Rufus Lekala, who is currently serving as Acting Chief Operating Officer.
“Since the establishment of the National Ports Authority 20 years ago we were intentional in our efforts to transform the marine operations environment by recruiting and developing women and other previously disadvantaged groups. Today we have many women tug masters, marine pilots and harbour masters within our port system and women can also be found in technical, engineering and operational roles that were previously the domain of men only,” says Captain Lekala.
TNPA Acting General Manager: Human Resources, Nandi Tyamzashe, added: “TNPA has taken a number of steps
to develop women in the industry through a combination of employment processes and initiatives such as the development of female maritime students at TNPA adopted schools, as well as a drive to ensure that the intake of trainees and bursary recipients for marine and engineering programmes includes women. Our participation in external programmes such as Take a Girl Child to Work Day demonstrates that TNPA has strategies in place to attract and develop women in the industry from grassroots level and up,” said.
At present, women make up 39.4% of mission critical jobs within TNPA’s port system. Their roles range from port managers, harbour masters and deputy harbour masters, to chief marine engineers and marine engineers, marine pilots, dredge masters, coxswains, tug masters, aviation technicians and helicopter pilots.
Of the eight commercial ports managed by TNPA, three have female port managers. Four of TNPA’s harbour masters are women (50%) as are six of the eight deputy harbour masters (75%).
The Marine Cadet programme that commenced in 2009, currently has 69 female cadets out of a total of 164 trainees (42%). Of eight Marine Operations Managers, four are women (50%), of 83 Tug Masters, 26 are women (31%) and of 88 marine pilots, 32 are women (36%).
Women are also bringing their unique touch to TNPA’s aviation department which manages its fleet of port helicopters. Of 26 port helicopter pilots, 20 were developed through TNPA’s own training and skills development programme and 10 are women (38%). TNPA also has 21 helicopter maintenance technicians, eight of whom are females (38%).
One of the most exciting sectors for TNPA is that, of the 150 engineers across the organisation, 40 are female.
This is an aspect TNPA continues to nurture and improve through structured learning programmes such as Engineers-In-Training and Young Professionals-In-Training with the aim of seeing an increase in female representation in this field.
Government’s transformation, skills development and employment agendas embodied in the New Growth Path and National Growth Plan, and TNPA’s own transformation agenda, are the driving force in the changing face of the country’s ports.
“During times of international strain and economic uncertainty, such as we are experiencing right now due to the pandemic, it is predominantly women and girls who are severely impacted. An absence of educational opportunities and economic instability are powerful obstacles and when combined with inequality, can seem insurmountable.
“This is why, our goal isn’t simply to make the odd space for women across our business. We want to ensure that representation and skills are increased at all levels and that an equal amount of mission critical positions is created for women and girls to thrive. This form of action can change the reality of not only the individual but of families, communities and society as a whole. Empowering a woman means empowering a nation,” said Tyamzashe.