Challenges of women seafarers in a male-dominated  maritime industry

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | March 09,2021 - 08:00 AM

The word “seafarer” has replaced the word “seaman” in the male-dominated maritime industry, often considered as politically-correct word due to the increasing presence of women in the profession in recent decades.

In older times, the term “seaman” was widely used to describe anyone working at sea while the term “seawoman” was alternatively used.

The word seafarer came from the combination of the words “sea” and “farer” (from the Old English “farere” meaning to journey or travel). The Badjaos (men of the seas or sea gypsies) are sometimes identified as seafarers since members of this  tribal group are known to move with the wind and the tide on their small houseboats called vintas.

However, the term “seaman” has not totally been pushed into oblivion as some still call the Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book(SIRB) as ‘seaman’s book.

The SIRB is a document provided by the flag state for travel to or from an assigned vessel that  also indicates the continuous record of the seafarers while he is onboard a ship, and specifies the particular category or rating which the holder is qualified to serve.

The usage of seafarer as a politically correct word can partly be attributed to the actions of the United Nations (UN) in promoting gender equality. Women have been taking part in industries that once solely belonged to men, the maritime industry included.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) noted that women represent only less than two percent of the world’s estimated 1.2 million seafarers as 94 percent of them are working in the cruise industry and 6 percent are employed on cargo vessels, container ships or oil tankers.

Within the historically male-dominated industry, IMO stressed it has been making a concerted effort to help the industry move forward and support women to achieve representation in keeping with current expectations.

IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim earlier said the maritime industry needs more women because of the quality work they provide as they are very important human resources.

During the recent episode of the online show Amigos Marino, Merle San Pedro, Women in Maritime Philippines (WiMaPhil) president, pushed for better protection for women seafarers.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, she made the call  as part of their campaign not only to promote women as seafarers but also as part of the whole maritime industry — shipping, ports, maritime administration, maritime education and training, and logistics.

Women seafarers face not only the general challenges of weather, hard work and rough seas, but also inordinate amounts of discrimination, exploitation,  sexual harassment, violence and limited opportunities for promotion. These can affect their  dignity, security, health, and well-being.

San Pedro stressed that employers must have effective mechanisms and guidelines to promptly address sexual harassment and violence incidents committed against female seafarers and cadettes.

The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) called on industry stakeholders to prioritize a range of women seafarers’ issues, including (a) reducing gender stereotypes within the industry; (b) provision of sanitary items on board ships; (c) access to confidential medical advice and contraceptives; (d) consistent and improved approach to maternity benefits and rights; and ( e) development of sexual harassment policies and appropriate training, including within cadet training and education.

In the Philippines, the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has recorded 73,027 women seafarers —almost 10 percent of approximately one million Filipino seafarers issued with Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book (SIRB) as of December 2018. For the school year 2015 to 2016, there are 4,791 female students out of the 219,722 enrollees in maritime schools.

The growing number of female seafarers encourages a competitive environment for the ability of women to work at an equal footing with men in a purely male-dominated profession.

The Philippines is considered as one of the major suppliers of maritime labor globally as it is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five crewmembers on board a vessel at any time.

The sea-based sector’s remittances comprise at least 22 percent of the total dollar remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The estimated 519,031 deployed Filipino seafarers in 2019 (per Philippine Overseas Employment Administration data) remitted $6.539 billion or around P326.95 billion.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)

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