Women in focus for new maritime association
Over the last few years, the regional shipping industry has witnessed the slow, if steady, advancement of women in positions of leadership. However, while the sector is generally able to boast of a definite evolution in the representation of women, this traditionally male-dominated field may be hard-pressed to demonstrate that it has enabled the cracking of the proverbial glass ceiling.
This is something which the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) expects to change with the launch of the Women in Maritime Association (WIMAC) chapter in the Caribbean at its conference held in Jamaica from April 13-17, 2015.
In keeping with the IMO's gender programme which was launched some 27 years ago, WIMAC aims to establish formal regional linkages between women managers in the maritime and port sector by providing a permanent channel for networking through the hosting of conferences, seminars on gender issues and industry development.
This comprehensive support is timely, according to Corah Ann Robertson-Sylvester, the first female president of the Caribbean Shipping Association.
Addressing the inaugural meeting of WIMAC in Montego Bay, Robertson-Sylvester noted that approximately 1.5 million seafarers daily serve on a worldwide fleet of more than 100,000 ships that transport 90 per cent of world trade. Of these 1.5 million seafarers, 1.2 million are involved in ship operations, and of that number, women make up only an estimated two per cent of the world maritime workforce.
She quoted statistics from the International Labour Organisation showing that women in the cruise-line sector represent 17-18 per cent of the workforce. Ninety-four per cent of women are employed on passenger ships (68 per cent on ferries and 26 per cent on cruise ships) and six per cent on cargo vessels. Women are working mainly as hotel staff onboard ships. Of this, 51.2 per cent of women came from OECD countries - 23.6 per cent from Eastern Europe, 9.8 per cent from Latin America and Africa, 13.7 per cent from the Far East, and 1.7 per cent from South Asia and the Middle East.
Challenge Of Obtaining
A pioneer among women in the sector, Robertson-Sylvester, who is also chief executive officer of Seaboard Jamaica and Managing Committee member of the Shipping Assoociation of Jamaica, also shared data from the Caribbean Maritime Institute, showing that of the total officers trained by the institution, only 1.5 per cent are female. Very few, if any, she noted, enter the industry through the route of able-bodied seamen. More women are interested in this field but are limited by the challenge of obtaining sea experience for females. She was optimistic, however, that the shipping industry is opening up to women, and cited female dock workers, ship's engineers and ship's captains across the region.
"Occupying positions such as jurists, port executives, freight forwarders, shipping agents, and customs brokers, women can increasingly be found in almost every job. We have also made some inroads into posts that were traditionally the preserve of males due to their physically demanding nature," she noted.
"We are, therefore, heartened by CMI projections that as it trains more and more women for the industry, the gender balance on the land-based side will change significantly over the next five years to have at least 30 per cent of employees on the land side being women," she added.
Citing her own career path, which was fraught with gender challenges which included her having to juggle a hectic work and travel schedule with family and children, she urged women not to be daunted by the prospect of working in the sector which has evolved past the notion that brawn is the only job requirement.
"The truth is that in this current period of globalisation, mergers and digital technology, shipping has become a knowledge industry. Finger piers that depended on brawn are being transformed into container terminals and logistic hubs that depend on professional skills and cutting-edge technology," she added.
She urged women inside and outside of her chosen field to free themselves from what is often a self-imposed limitation on their abilities and a lack of belief in their abilities and right to occupy leadership positions. She also joined other presenters at the inaugural WIMAC conference in encouraging WIMAC's mandate.
Also presenting at the conference were Senator Sandrea Falconer, minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, who pledged the support of the Jamaican Government as the association seeks to promote and protect women's rights.
Sharon Folkes-Abrahams, minister of state in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, commended as both timely and appropriate, the establishment of this association as a means of deepening the integration of women in the maritime sector.
Commander Antoinette Wemyss Gorman, first female commanding officer of the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard, reminded the association of its urgent responsibility to strive to educate and facilitate the inclusion of women in all aspects of the maritime sector.