By Adiza Abu
When in 2010 the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) instituted the Day of the Seafarer, it was obviously an attempt to resolve an age-old economic irony. And when it chose gender equality as theme for the 2019 Day of the Seafarer, IMO apparently meant to attack an unfair workforce reality that seems even more intense in the maritime industry. The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has also been at the forefront of efforts to redress the imbalance in the traditionally male-dominated maritime industry, where women make up only two per cent of the workforce.
Seafarers are among the most unsung heroes of the global economy. Yet, the industry they man carry nearly 90 per cent of world trade. The United Nations, through the IMO, moved to resolve the seeming contradiction in 2010, when it established the Day of the Seafarer as an annual international event.
The event seeks to make the unique contribution of seafarers to the global economy and human progress, generally, a focus of especial attention. It tries to encourage governments, shipping companies, and everyone associated with seaborne trade to promote and uphold sea trade and the work of seafarers.
With the Day of the Seafarer, IMO has, undoubtedly, succeeded in bringing seafarers, seafaring, and the well-being of mariners into international public and official conversation.
On the occasion this year’s Day of the Seafarer, coming up June 25, IMO is taking a step further to highlight the contributions of women in the global maritime industry and raise awareness about opportunities for women in the maritime world.
IMO has chosen gender equality as its main campaign theme for this year’s event.
“Throughout 2019 there will be a strong emphasis throughout the maritime world on the importance and value of women within the professional ranks,” an IMO statement reads. “Much of this is being driven by the World Maritime Day theme (Empowering Women in the Maritime Community). It is already clear that this theme has a very strong and far-reaching resonance.”
IMO says the theme “provides an opportunity to highlight opportunities for women, as well as the contributions they are already making in a wide range of maritime careers and professions, but the focus will be very firmly on one aspect of that community — seafarers.”
An IMO report in 1992 estimated women seafarers worldwide to be between one and two per cent of the total seafaring population. This included those in service sections onboard ships, such as hotel and catering workers. In 2003, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) commissioned a study on women seafarers, which similarly estimated that the percentage of women in maritime was between one and two per cent of the total seafaring population. Women seafarers on cargo vessels were even found to be less – about 0.12 per cent.
The above were corroborated by the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), in their Manpower Report published May 2016, which studied the global supply and demand for seafarers in 2015. The report found that the percentage of women seafarers still revolved around one per cent.
Women’s participation in seafaring and the maritime industry has remained generally low. Though, according to a 2015 edition of Maritime Women: Global Leadership, a publication of the World Maritime University (WMU), women now make up about 30 per cent of workers in various maritime organisations. This includes organisations involved in merchant marine, cruise sector, and onshore maritime cluster.
Progress has remained generally slow in efforts to achieve greater gender equality in the maritime sector. And this has been attributed to an enduring perception that it is inappropriate for women to work onboard ships due to the nature of seafaring.
NIMASA has supported attempts to challenge this negative perception of seafaring. It has not only supported the women in maritime, but also tried to attract more women to the industry.
“NIMASA has been a blessing to us, because there is nothing we have asked NIMASA to support on that they did not avail us,” attests president of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), Nigeria, Mrs. Mary Hamman. “We just came back from a regional conference in Ghana and NIMASA sponsored about 10 of us to attend.
And anytime we have events, we just call on NIMASA and we get sponsorship. We get the NIMASA public relations to cover our events, which ordinarily is something very expensive. We get preference from the management of NIMASA. Dr. Dakuku Peterside has been very good to us, very supportive and encouraging.”
On male dominance of seafaring and the negative consciousness that tends to create among women wanting to go into the profession, Hamman, who is also an Assistant Director in the Shipping Development Department of NIMASA, says, “That is why we are there telling the women that we are also in the system and we are women, mothers, and married, and they can also come into the industry and perform just like the men.
“It won’t stop them from being mothers or getting married.
As long as they know their job and they are qualified, there is a place for them in the maritime industry.”
WISTA is an international organisation dedicated to promoting the interest of women in the shipping industry through networking and mentoring. The 45-year-old organisation got an Observer Status at IMO last year and it has a membership of about 3, 500 women in the maritime profession from across over 40 countries.
In keeping with the global focus on enhancing the role of women in the shipping sector, the Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, had in February announced the Agency’s readiness to support initiatives aimed at getting more African women involved in the industry. Dakuku stated this when the president of WISTA, Ghana, Jemilat Mahamah, paid him a courtesy visit at the NIMASA headquarters in Lagos ahead of the 6th WISTA Africa Region Conference held in Accra from April 2 to 4.
Interestingly, the theme of the conference, “The role of women in harnessing the potential of Africa’s blue economy,” coincided with IMO focus this year, which is “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community.”
Dakuku told the WISTA delegation, “It is interesting that this year is dedicated by the IMO to empowering women in the maritime sector, specifically, shipping. Your conference coincides with the thematic thrust of the IMO this year. Therefore, it is very easy for us to align with the global agenda of the international maritime community and support your initiative of hosting the continent in Accra.
“You can count on the support of NIMASA and, by extension, Nigeria. We believe and support everything that would give women a role in the maritime sector. There is no sector that would exclude 50 per cent of the population and expect that sector to thrive. If we exclude women, we are excluding 50 per cent of our population from benefitting in the economic activities in the maritime sector.”
Dakuku added that the focus of the WISTA conference also accorded with current efforts by African leaders to create economic activities in the continent by maximising the benefits of the blue economy.
According to him, “The blue economy is one critical sector that will create employment for our people, contribute to economic growth, and give opportunities to all our people, whether they be men or women. So it is timely and most appropriate that you are focusing on how to get 50 per cent of the continent’s population involved in the blue economy, be it fisheries, fishing, or underwater mining, aquaculture or any of the activities that go on in the blue economy. That totally aligns with our vision of making the blue economy play a greater role in the economic growth of our country and our continent.”
Last year, the Day of the Seafarer had the theme, “Seafarers wellbeing,” which tried to capture a strong drive within the industry to address seafarers’ wellbeing, particularly their mental health.
“By addressing the issue of seafarers’ wellbeing and particularly mental health, this campaign helped inform specific strategies to tackle stress and other issues affecting seafarers’ mental conditions – and make the tools available more widely known,” IMO had stated. “The campaign sought to highlight and showcase best practices and good examples but also, inevitably, brought out areas of concern and examples of shortcomings.”
NIMASA has trained many seafarers under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), which was conceived in 2008 to address the dearth of certified and qualified seafarers in the country, and their depletion due to age and the migratory instinct for greener pastures.
The scheme was launched in September 2009 to complement the full implementation of the Cabotage Act, 2003, which is geared towards strengthening indigenous shipping capacity.
Beneficiaries of the scheme have received the mandatory sea-time training on both Cabotage and ocean-going vessels under NIMASA’s sponsorship.
NIMASA recognises the vital place of seafarers in national development. The Agency joins IMO and the entire maritime world to mark this year’s Day of the Seafarer, which specially celebrates women in the maritime industry.
•Abu works in the Public Relations Unit of NIMASA.