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More women joining shipping but hurdles abound, says UN

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Shipping & Logistics

Mbaraki wharf
An Indian ship at the Mbaraki wharf on September 18, 2018. More women are taking up roles in the shipping sector. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The number of women joining careers in the shipping industry is rising, a United Nations (UN) report indicates.

The United Nation Conference on Trade and Development(UNCTAD) on its ‘‘Review of Maritime Transport (2018)’’ said many women are getting into several marine categories such as seafaring and operations, chartering, insurance and law. More women are also enrolling in maritime-related studies, according to the report,

“It is attributed to efforts to advance the role of women in the maritime industry, including through IMO initiatives in global capacity-building and International Labour Organization and International Transport Workers’ Federation initiatives in standard-setting.

The report however noted several challenges that hinder the progress of women in the shipping industry. This explains why “the level of women’s participation in the maritime industry remains low, currently at an estimated 2 per cent, and patterns of job segregation exist,” the report said.

According to the 2017 Maritime HR Association survey, women who work in the shipping industry are paid on average 45 per cent less than men and fill solely seven per cent of management positions.

“Overcoming the lack of gender equality in the maritime industry may be a core element in addressing the shortage of skilled professionals in the sector, which could impact shipping operations in the future,” the UN report said.

UNCTAD has also cited the two main factors that brins about the low level of participation of women in the transport sector, namely working conditions and gender stereotyping.

“With regard to seafaring roles, working conditions refer, for example, to a lack of amenities on ships and to alternatives for accommodating interruptions that may occur due to childbearing and other responsibilities of care, such as through the provision of flexible working hours, maternity benefits and childcare facilities,” the report said.

Working conditions can also involve exposure to harassment and violence, a recurrent concern expressed in the seafaring sector.

Such elements lead to a lack of interest among women in pursuing a career in the maritime sector or to early departures from maritime industry careers.

According to the report, over 76 per cent of the women’s workforce operates at administrative, junior and professional level roles, with few reaching managerial levels or higher.

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“Only 0.17 per cent of women have places on executive leadership teams. The greatest challenge for women appears to be progressing from a professional to a senior professional level. In technical, marine, safety and quality-related functions, women represent 14 per cent of the workforce, likely linked to the low number of women seafarers moving to onshore positions,” the report says.

The report further adds “Women employees are heavily weighted at the junior level and 90 per cent of all other employees are men”, suggesting that there are currently few opportunities for women to progress in such functions.

In chartering functions, women represent 17 per cent of the workforce. Although the majority remain at the administrative and junior levels, the report says there is better representation at the professional, senior professional and managerial levels than in the previous category.

In commercial functions, women represent 33 per cent of the workforce, with better representation at all levels than in the other categories.

Countries with the greatest salary differences do not employ any women on executive leadership teams and hire few at the directorial level. Except at the junior and administrative levels, men are paid on average more than women.

The report further said the expected span of careers at sea among women was 10 years and that many contemplated leaving their positions during their early 30s.

“Gender stereotyping, that is, a cultural perception that women are less able to meet the demands of a career in this sector, is present with regard to physical roles in seafaring operations, as well as in other segments of the maritime industry, such as insurance and law, which can lead to workplaces that are unwelcoming or openly hostile towards women,” the report said.

Gender activists now want governments to make sure that there is an enabling environment for women workers in the sector.

Addressing participants during the Jumuiya Ya Kaunti Za Pwani (JKP) Agri-business and Blue Economy conference in Mombasa, Ms Qeen Katembo, a gender advisor at the UN said in terms of achieving the prospects of the Blue Economy, women must be fully involved and not sidelined.

“Women play an important role in the maritime and the Blue economic sectors. Therefore you must involve them in every aspect in contributing to the tapping of the resources. JKP therefore has an obligation in ensuring that the role of women in achieving the dreams of the Blue Economy are achieved,” she said.

“We cannot talk of sustainable regional economic development if we sideline women.”

The UN report, she said, is clear that we must find a solution that will enable more women venture into the maritime and the shipping industry to “tap into the dream of the blue economy agenda”.

According to Christopher Aura, an assistant director, Fresh Water Systems at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute(Kemfri), the number of women joining the maritime sectors has been minimal but it is now increasing.

“Generally it is true that more women are increasing especially in the marine and the value chain. Their number as been low because of traditional beliefs but things are changing now,” he said. “For example if you have to go into water, they have to wear trousers, short and other gadgets that seem unfit for a woman to wear,” Mr Aura said.

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