Call for gender-inclusive policies

A safe work culture for all must start by addressing gender inequalities

By Carly Fields

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”, according to Sanjam Sahi Gupta, founder of WISTA India and co-chair of WISTA’s International Diversity Committee.

Gupta made her comments on the publication of the results of a public online survey designed to examine how female seafarers perceived “discrimination” and how it manifested on board based on their personal experiences.

The survey – with responses from 1,128 women seafarers from 78 countries – reported that 60% of women had encountered gender-based discrimination on board; 66% of the respondents said that male employees had harassed and intimidated female co-workers; and 25% said that in the shipping sector, physical and sexual harassment on board often involves intrusions into their privacy. This included uncomfortable persuasion, inappropriate remarks and body shaming.

“The recent report revealed unacceptable figures, with women facing gender discrimination, harassment and bullying on the sea,” Gupta said. “The shipping sector is at risk due to a lack of new talent. Over the next decade, there will likely be an even greater need for qualified seafarers. One of the best and most effective strategies to stop the growing disparity is adopting gender-inclusive policies within a safe work culture.”

Continuing campaigns

The report noted that ongoing campaigns from organisations such as the IMO, ITF and ICS could make a real difference in improving the issue and advised that those campaigns should promote the recruitment of more women seafarers while ensuring that women who are accepted on board join a safe and inclusive working environment.

The survey also collected data on company harassment and bullying policies, company and industry hotlines and the effect of the pandemic on women’s experiences at sea. In all, 97% of respondents agreed that their company had a harassment and bullying policy, although nearly 60% of the respondents acknowledged having experienced harassment. “Therefore, organisations must ensure that their Company Harassment Policies are extensively publicised to increase their visibility, the level of awareness, and stringent on-the-ground enforcement,” said the survey.

In terms of reporting, 73% of the respondents said they felt comfortable escalating their concerns to their senior officers, but only 13% reported such incidents to their superiors, while only 7% were satisfied with the outcomes.

Regarding helplines, only 13% of respondents reported the harassment they had experienced. “The efficiency of these helplines, their availability at all times and how the concerns of the seafarers are addressed at the source must all be seriously addressed,” said the report.

Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, President of WISTA International, concluded: “These figures should be a wake-up call to the maritime sector, and we will continue at every opportunity to raise the issues and bring about change.”