Greetings to all women on International Women’s Day! This day has been celebrated since March 19, 1911, when more than 1 million women and men attended assemblies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, seeking an end to discrimination against women. Specifically, they called for women’s right to work, to vote, and to hold public office, among others. In 1975,during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. This celebration is special to women of all sectors and all countries, but I send my special greetings to the women in maritime.
Scholars of ancient cultures have noted that feminine imagery dominated sea myths and legends. Their tales abound with goddesses or female mortals intervening with and for humans in their struggle with the unpredictable sea. This is why armed goddesses served as figureheads on warships inancient times. With the predominance of Catholicism in Europe during the Age of Discovery, the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as Stella Maris or Star of the Sea, became a popular figurehead at the bow of a ship.
By the 16th and 17th centuries, the practice of using female figureheads became prevalent, apparently to neutralize the superstition about women on board.
Yes, legend has it that there was a time when sailors believed in the nautical superstition that women on ships or boats brought misfortune; that they angered the sea gods and brought rough seas and violent weather conditions.Thus, women were discouraged from boarding vessels.
Today, the shipping industry has remained male-dominated. Women in jobs on board ships comprise only 2 percent of the total workforce, with most of them on board cruise vessels and domestic ferries.
In this day and age, it is imperative that the industry embrace the UN SDG No. 5 on Gender Equality. In order to create a robust pool of properly trained and certificated seafarers including equally competent women, the industry must provide a unique opportunity to enhance the maritime workforce.
In 1988, the IMO created a global program known as the integration of women in the maritime sector. The program introduced a gender dimension to ensure and enhance women’s access to maritime training and employment opportunities. They have encouraged the enrollment of women in IMO’s global institutions. Over the last 30 or more years, these institutions have been able to develop women maritime professionals who serve as role models to the younger generation.
IMO has also supported the creation of Women in Maritime Associations across seven global regions. For the Asian Region, I am proud to say that the Women in Maritime Philippines Association, which is now 12 years old, has served as the pioneer in the region. It has played a critical role in raising awareness on the importance of women in maritime associations and has spearheaded programs highlighting the role of women in the maritime sector. These programs include “She to Sea” which encourages young women to enroll in nautical school and pursue a shipboard career. For this program, the association works with the maritime administration and shipowners to consider the employment of women on board. It has also established the “Women on Watch” program which looks after the safety of domestic ferries at the forefront. “Citizens of the Sea” is its marine environment program, which includes various activities involving coastal communities. With the success of these programs, the association is looked up to as a role model for other aspiring national women’s maritime associations in the Asian Region.
Today, women have come in not just in the lower levels of responsibilities in the corporate ladder but also in key positions in the maritime administration, the port authority, in shipping companies, P&I Clubs, training institutes, educational institutions, ship management companies, logistics offices, and shipyards.
But we need more of them! As a noted American technology executive, activist and author said, “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” That author is Sheryl Sandberg, who also said, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”
To our women in the maritime sector who continue to help chart the course of our industry, my good wishes to you on International Women’s Day! May you prevail in all kinds of weather, for as Jane Austen said, “None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”