Women have carved a niche for themselves in almost all industries. However, they had not been able to make an impact in the maritime industry. But now they have made a dent in this industry too as, for the first time in the history of world maritime industry, a ship with all women officers was flagged off last month. The day – March 6 – will definitely prove to be a turning point for not only the Indian, but the global shipping industry. This was the day when the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) vessel, MT Swarna Krishna, with all women officers, was virtually flagged off by India’s Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Ports, Shipping & Waterways, Mr. Mansukh Mandaviya.
The shipping industry is a male dominated industry. If one looks at the percentage of women seafarers, as compared to males, it is found that it is less than 2% .According to a study done by IMHA, ITF, ISWAN and Seafarers Hospital Society, only 1-2% of the world’s 1.25 million seafarers are women, serving on 87,000 ships, mostly in cruise sector. The research suggests that women seafarers face discrimination and that there are areas where women seafarers’ specific needs are often overlooked. Health is likely to be one such area.
One of the barriers for women seafarers is the misconception that women are not suitable for seafaring jobs and this is a common prejudice worldwide. However, international campaigns, , including the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 followed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, has brought to the fore the importance of encouraging women to be a part of the maritime sector. But the actual progress of encouraging women seafarers is limited. There are still some shipping companies which are reluctant to employ women seafarers.
There is also the societal pressure which prevents women from venturing into this field. Women generally do not receive adequate support from family and society to choose seafaring as their career. Deprivation of family support, which is essential for them to establish their own identity in the sector, could be one of the reasons for the low percentage of female seafarers.
One of the prominent seafaring females, who had been interviewed by this publication, described her journey with various ups and downs. She had stated, “Truthfully, I cannot present you with a very rosy picture because it was far from it. It was a journey full of challenges.” But, she had disclosed that this was a long time ago, at the start of her career. “Now,” she claimed, “the society has undergone a sea-change.”
Nevertheless the industry has still a long way to go for women seafarers to make a dent. The first step is to enlighten young women about seafaring as a career. They are not well informed about the opportunities this segment provides. They have little knowledge or are not aware of the prosperous careers that they can make in the maritime field.
Lack of workplace support keeps women out of this career. Aspiring female seafarers perceive little chance of advancing in their field. Many women feel that they will be subjected to difficulties such as performance pressures or face a hard time moving up in the company.
It is high time the companies, and others connected with the industry, came together to encourage and inform young women about the opportunities offered by this industry. The launch of the first ship with all female officers is a good beginning.
Let us hope it is the beginning of a new era and by next Women’s Day – March 8, 2022 – there will be many more such launches!