Seafaring, for centuries, has been a man’s world. With all the hard physical labor, hazardous environment and unglamorous tasks, this industry trails behind many others in the number of women employed, from blue-collar to executive positions.
Such could be the case for the maritime industry for the years to come had the International Maritime Organization (IMO) not intervened through awareness and education to break the traditional male-dominated mindset and social stigma that plagued this profession.
Indeed, the past decades have seen the advent of diversity in the merchant and military profession in terms of generation, gender, nationalities, sector and perspectives.
In this year’s celebration of World Maritime Day and National Maritime Week, the IMO led its member states to honor and highlight the important yet under-utilized contribution of women within the maritime sector with a theme “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community.”
Today’s movers and shakers in shipping, manning, maritime administration, education and training sectors include women from a wide variety of professions that finally tipped the scales of gender to its balance.
These women exude intellect, innovation, courage and passion toward the country’s maritime sector such that their names still ring inspiration even years after their triumphs.
Case in point is lawyer Vera Joy Ban-Eg, Maritime Industry Authority’s (Marina) deputy executive director for Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW).
While she is now spending her days pushing papers and managing the training and certification matters of Marina, many from the military and merchant marine sectors remember her as the woman who once jumped into the sea and tussled with the Chinese Coast Guard to plant the Philippine flag on Scarborough Shoal in time with Independence Day.
Ban-Eg’s action in 2016 was part of a peaceful protest of Kalayaan Atin Ito, a volunteer organization of 10,000 to promulgate youth awareness on the issues surrounding the West Philippine Sea.
Its peaceful protest initially earned the approval of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and then-President Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd.
A few days before Christmas in 2015, however, Kalayaan Atin Ito was banned from sailing to Kalayaan Group of Islands, accordingly due to rough seas and the provocation it may cause to the Chinese.
“The AFP exerted all efforts to stop us but we did not let our fears get over us; we did not think that it will even affect the pending case in the arbitration because our message is simple: we are watching, we are waiting for the decision, we need the help of other countries and we are taking the lead,” Ban-Eg said.
June 12, 2016. Funds are running low but hearts remain aflame for Kalayaan Atin Ito.
“There were only 17 of us who were financially capable of going.
We were talked off of going to Scarborough Shoal, though.
Their advice was simple: ‘Don’t die. Live so you can fight more for your causes.’
But that is where you’ll see the patriotism of a person, there is no longer a calculated risk.
We simply need to take the lead so the international community will help,” says Ban-Eg, a former legal officer of the Judge Advocate General Office (JAGO) of AFP.
“It was Independence Day and we wanted to celebrate it by planting our flag in Scarborough.
A hundred meters off the shoal, we were blocked by a Chinese speedboat with its crew demanding that we leave immediately. We remained in our place and there was a three-hour stand-off.”
Tired of waiting, Ban-Eg, a former active soldier with the AFP, jumped off the boat and swam hard toward the shoal with the Chinese patrol boats circling and chasing her away.
At one point, the Chinese Coast Guard caught and pierced her dry bag containing the Philippine and United Nations flags.
Their propellers sprayed seawater and blurred her sight.
Ban-Eg failed to reach the shoal.
But she was able to wave the flag in the face of the foreign intruders.
The daring woman, in her symbolic act of defiance, claimed the West Philippine Sea for her motherland.
“It was like a movie scene.
But sometimes I wonder whether they understood what was happening back then.
They seemed to be clueless and confused by what we did, they even had no reaction when we waved the flag.
I didn’t see an antagonized Chinese back then.
They were simply baffled by an unarmed, foreign-tongued group of youth who did nothing but wave flags and cheer.
The photo was widely circulated in social media and news outlets.
Kalayaan Atin Ito successfully claimed Scarborough Shoal figuratively for a day.
A month later, the Philippines won the case after the arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines, nullifying China’s claims over the majority of the West Philippine Sea.
“What I have is my love for my country.
We will enforce the law and it should be followed here in Marina. We offer a change that can be felt, seen and heard. There will be no corruption within our walls.
This will be hard at first, but this is all part of the change that we promised our stakeholders,” she concluded.