Challenges Faced by Women in Merchant Navy
Last updated on March 10th, 2023 at 11:14 am
In today’s era, women have made a significant mark in almost every field of work around the world. Yet, the shipping industry happens to be one of the few professions with the lowest number of working women. This is largely due to the lack of awareness, misconceptions associated with the field, and the traditional mindset of merchant navy being a male-oriented profession.
Life at sea is not easy for anyone irrespective of gender. It takes a toll on your mental, physical and emotional state. There are some really challenging days that can leave you absolutely exhausted physically and mentally. Life is not easy for anyone on board, everyone has to work hard tirelessly, facing all the challenges that the sea presents.
But, surviving on board can be a bit more challenging for women as it is a male-dominated profession. Most ships will only have 1 or 2 women onboard, hence it can take more time for women to adjust to the environment of a ship. This is one of the major reasons why many shipping companies are still reluctant to hire women onboard their vessels.
In this blog, we list some of the challenges faced by women in their journey of pursuing a career at sea.
Merchant Navy has always been a male-dominated industry, women were accepted in this industry a bit late and as of now according to the data released by IMO, there are only 1.2% women seafarers worldwide. Although in recent years a lot of discussions have started regarding the position of women in Merchant Navy and in 2019, The Maritime Day’s theme was declared “Empowering Women in Maritime Community.”
In spite of such initiatives, it will take time for the ratio of women to increase in the marine industry. Women are still a bit hesitant in joining this occupation.
Dealing With Sexism Onboard/During Training
As is the case with any male-dominated industry, women in this field have to face sexism onboard and even during their pre-sea training. They are often compared to their male counterparts when it comes to their physical capabilities. Whenever they interact with any of their seniors for the first time, the only question they get asked is the reason why they joined this profession. They have to answer the same every time they meet someone new on the ship till the time, they are completely exhausted.
Women also have to face casual sexist remarks while they are onboard. Sometimes they even have to push themselves harder in order to prove their worth in front of their male crew members.
Dealing With Small Minded People
Working onboard is not only limited to being skilled at your job but it also includes learning to deal with different types of people. It is one of the biggest challenges faced by women in Merchant Navy as they have to deal with colleagues and seniors with an orthodox mindset. While at other times, if women form friendly relations with certain male colleagues, then it may lead to development of jealousy among others and they might even be subjected to derogatory remarks from the rest of their crewmates. So, they have to maintain a balance and mix with everyone equally, trying not to give too much space and importance to anyone in particular.
Fewer Job Opportunities
Women get comparatively fewer job opportunities in this field compared to their male colleagues. There are many companies that are still reluctant to hire women seafarers and often recruit them in very limited numbers. Due to the limited number of opportunities, many women leave this field and search for jobs elsewhere.
Facing Social Prejudices
Sadly, our country is still lightyears away from gender equality and there is a preconceived notion that women are meant to look after their families, hence should therefore stay at home. Moreover, since the marine profession requires an individual to stay at sea for a number of months, women fail to get the needed support from their families to pursue this profession.
ISWAN, WISTA, and Anglo-Eastern cited in a publication on gender equality in shipping, that harassment, mostly sexual harassment is one of the biggest forms of discrimination faced by women onboard ship. In 2014, a survey was conducted on women seafarers’ health and welfare as a joint initiative organised by International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) and International Seafarer’s Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN). The survey revealed that 17% of women seafarers reported sexual harassment as an issue. This further discourages women from retaining their jobs onboard.
Limited Communication with Family and Loved Ones
It has been noted over the years that seafarers are the most vulnerable to feeling isolated as they are away from their family and friends for many months. Limited interaction with the outside world is an issue that affects all seafarers. Internet connectivity can help women cope with the pressure of being the only woman on board.
Coping Up with Physical and Mental Pressure
Life onboard can be physically and mentally exhausting at times. The erratic work hours during port operations, lack of sleep, and physical strain on the body during mooring operations are some of the challenges that can break you physically and mentally. Physical tasks such as mooring operations, handling lashing gears, cranes, other machinery on deck, and working in extreme conditions in the Engine Room can be really challenging for women as these tasks require a certain level of physical strength. Women being more fragile compared to men find it difficult to cope with the tasks that involve physical strength.
A career in Merchant Navy is not for everyone, it involves dealing with a tremendous amount of mental/physical pressure, fatigue, and hazards. An individual has to be really strong-headed and courageous to thrive onboard a ship irrespective of gender. However, with various challenges faced by women in the maritime sector, it is difficult for them to survive in this industry but yes, it is not impossible.
In the last decade, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has taken a very active initiative in promoting the participation of women in the maritime field. With the growing demand for skilled officers on ships, it is only inevitable that the employment of women in the shipping industry is going to increase in the coming decade.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow.”Mary Anne Radmacher