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Editorial: Gender Discrimination at Sea

Chennai, 2 Nov 2022:

Today, women represent only 1.2% percent of the global seafarer workforce as per the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report. This represents a positive trend in gender balance, with the report estimating 24,059 women serving as seafarers, which is a 45.8% increase compared with the 2015 report.

There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.

Within this historically male-dominated industry, IMO has been making a concerted effort to help the industry move forward and support women to achieve a representation that is in keeping with twenty-first century expectations.

Within the framework of maritime development, and through its Women in Maritime programme, under the slogan: “Training-Visibility-Recognition”, IMO has taken a strategic approach towards enhancing the contribution of women as key maritime stakeholders. IMO continues to support the participation of women in both shore-based and sea-going posts.

IMO is strongly committed to helping its Member States achieve the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

IMO’s gender programme was initiated in 1988. At that time, only a few maritime training institutes opened their doors to female students. Since then, IMO’s gender and capacity-building programme has helped put in place an institutional framework to incorporate a gender dimension into IMO’s policies and procedures. This has supported access to maritime training and employment opportunities for women in the maritime sector.

WISTA International has released the results of a large-scale online survey on the prevalence of gender-based discrimination and harassment at sea, and the results are sobering.

Out of the 1,128 female seafarers who responded, 60 percent reported encountering gender-based discrimination aboard their vessels, and 66 percent reported witnessing harassment. This is higher than oft-cited statistics for women in shoreside roles; past studies indicate that the self-reported rate for workplace gender discrimination in the United States runs at about 40 percent.

About 25 percent of the survey respondents said that they had personally encountered onboard harassment, like overly familiar remarks or an invitation to a crewmember’s cabin. Another 25 percent reported indecent remarks, body shaming and uncomfortable persuasion. About 90 percent of these interactions were with male seafarers.

Despite near-universal company policies banning harassment on board (97 percent), only a small minority of the respondents said that they had reported incidents to their companies, either through a hotline or through their direct superior.

The survey drew the overwhelming majority of its data (90 percent) from women who serve aboard cruise ships, reflecting the high level of concentration of female seafarers within the cruise sector.

“The recent report revealed unacceptable figures with women facing gender discrimination, harassment and bullying on the sea. The shipping sector is at risk due to a lack of new talent,” said Sanjam Sahi Gupta, the founder of WISTA India and the co-chair of WISTA International’s Diversity Committee. “There is an urgent need to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable maritime community, with women seafarers deserving a respectful and safe working environment.”

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