New survey highlights the harassment and discrimination women face at sea

Results from a large shipping survey have laid bare the severe gender-based discrimination against women, as well as detailing onboard harassment and bullying.

The Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA International), Anglo-Eastern, International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) conducted a public online survey designed to examine how female seafarers perceived discrimination and how it manifested onboard based on their personal experiences. The complete findings from the survey and recommendations are published in The Diversity Handbook, being launched at the WISTA International conference in Geneva tomorrow.

These figures should be a wake-up call to the maritime sector

The survey included the thoughts of 1,128 women seafarers from 78 countries. The majority of respondents, approximately 90%, work on cruiseships. 60% of women reported encountering gender-based discrimination onboard. 66% of the respondents concur that their male employees had turned to harassing and intimidating female co-workers. 25% reported that in the shipping sector, physical and sexual harassment is common, occurring onboard and involving intrusions on their privacy.

Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, president of WISTA International, said: “These figures should be a wake-up call to the maritime sector.”

Interviewed for the October issue of Splash Extra, due to publish tomorrow, Theodosiou discussed her five-year tenure at the women’s shipping organisation, and the ongoing need to bring greater diversity and equality to the industry.

“There is still a lot that needs to be done,” Theodosiou conceded, something made all the more stark by this latest survey.

Sanjam Gupta, founder of WISTA India and co-chair of the WISTA International Diversity Committee, commented: “There is an urgent need to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable maritime community, with women seafarers deserving a respectful and safe working environment. The recent report revealed unacceptable figures with women facing gender discrimination, harassment and bullying on the sea. The shipping sector is at risk due to a lack of new talent. Over the next decade, there will likely be an even greater need for qualified seafarers. One of the best and most effective strategies to stop the growing disparity is adopting gender-inclusive policies within a safe work culture”.

Creating the right environment onboard to get more women working at sea was discussed at the Maritime CEO Forum held earlier this month at the Monaco Yacht Club

René Kofod-Olsen, the CEO of shipmanagement giant V.Group, told delegates that shipping had failed to get women to work onboard, and this could be critical as the industry faces up to a potential manpower shortage in the years ahead.

“How do we figure out to get a more inclusive crew?” Kofod-Olsen mused. “We have not been good enough to ensure as an industry that life onboard is safe.”

This May marked the the International Maritime Organization’s inaugural International Day for Women in Maritime. The IMO partnered with WISTA to produce another survey, which showed women account for only 29% of the overall workforce in the general industry and 20% of the workforce of national maritime authorities in member states. Women make up just 28% of the board member seats of the more than 5,000 organisations surveyed.

The Mission to Seafarers charity published a report earlier this year called Beyond the 2%, Women Seafarers and their Lives at Sea: Reflecting on Our Call to Care. The report is intended to act as a discussion document for the charity and other maritime welfare providers. It considers the unique challenges faced by women at sea and how organisations can tailor their support to contribute towards a better future for female seafarers.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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