Being a male dominated industry seafaring presents unique and unusual challenges especially for woman seafarers. A significant number of women seafarers, however, have proven to be invaluable members of a ship’s crew, earning ranks and higher posts amid surging global demand for seafarers.
According to the International Chamber of Shipping, there are 1.65 million seafarers serving on internationally trading merchant ships but only two percent are women, making it even more challenging for Filipino women. But their quality of work and extensive knowledge and experience has been lauded by many international companies. Local and international agencies and organizations are working together to promote seafaring as a most attractive career option for women.
“Seafaring women are bolder and highly driven. They have a propensity for not backing down from offers for higher positions, unlike men, who may be large in number but do not want to be promoted anymore because they are already satisfied with their salaries,” says Marissa Oca, Founder and President of Gig and the Amazing Sampaguita Foundation, Inc. (GASFI), a non-stock, non-profit group that aims to promote well-bonded relationships within and among seafaring (and OFW) families.
Oca, daughter of late master mariner Gregorio S. Oca who was dubbed as the “Father of Filipino Seafarers”, and her team at GASFI are mounting the Seafarer Family International Congress on August 14 and 15, at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Foremost among the topics in the congress’ plenary session is “Role of Women in Seafarer Families and Maritime Careers”, which would discuss how female seafarers face the challenge of navigating social expectations, leading their vessels, organizations and families.
“Many Filipino women seafarers bear the social cost of their profession. After spending so much time at sea, the returning migrants feel isolated when they are home. They feel that their families do not know them. Or that they have no friends at all. Some of them have difficulty in keeping up with the long-distance relationships. We believe that these personal and emotional issues need to be discussed and addressed,” said Oca.
The Baltic and Maritime Council/International Chamber of Shipping (BIMCO/ICS) Manpower Report forecasts a shortfall of 92,000 officers in 2020. An additional 147,500 officers will be required by 2025 to service the world merchant fleet.
China, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are the five largest supply countries for all seafarers.
The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) continues to campaign for women to develop careers at sea and is actively involved in the promotions of equal rights for women in the maritime industry.
According to MARINA, there 73,027 women seafarers or almost 10 percent of approximately one million Filipino seafarers who were issued with Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book in 2018; a majority of whom however works in cruise liners.
There is a huge opportunity for women to fill officer positions. In the past, women on board cruise ships were confined to the housekeeping and food and beverage departments. In the last decade, more women have reached the ranks of chief engineers or master mariners.
Underscoring the need to uphold the rights of women in the seafaring sector, MARINA conducted a seminar-workshop on gender and development (GAD) earlier this year. During the workshop, MARINA reviewed its efforts to make its GAD-related initiatives and policies more gender responsive and developed measures to improve on them.
MARINA supports the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #5 which aims to achieve gender equality in the seafaring industry.
IMO is the United Nations specialized agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the preventions of maritime and atmospheric pollution by ships. For the 2019 World Maritime on September 26, IMO banners the theme “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community”.