It's a man's world? Sheafarers in the shipping industry

Women in seafaring talk about their life and work on board a ship - in a masculine world. Click on their names to read their stories.

Saga Forsman                 Jolanta                 Billur Bahar                 Tamara Gau

Is it still just a men’s world? Even the shipping industry & maritime labour are receiving their female touch…Female seafarers are existing in this traditionally men’s world, in 2016 just 2% of the seafarers where women, obviously it has not been increasing since then.

Since I am a female Port Chaplain & a Social Worker in a predominantly male dominated work field, I might pay other attention to the marginalized minorities on board. What I have to stress is in this nearly one year serving in the Port of Le Havre France, my encounters with ShEAfarers were already many more than in my former position in Douala, Cameroon. So, it looks like the number of seafaring women in Europe is higher, one might think surely more female Europeans…that is not exactly my experience: On the vessels where I met them there were from various nationalities: Filipina, Indian, Sri Lankan, Ukrainian, German, Swedish, Polish and Seychellois. On one tanker, I encountered four ShEAfarers from the Seychelles which I found pretty impressive and asked if it was a famous profession over there, the AS replied: “No, they are representing 4 out of 12 female seafarers in the whole country.” Wow! That left me speechless…they were also physically looking very differently, the one I talked the most with was short and slim and the one that was doing her duty on the watch was tall and corpulent, so no obvious physical difference to the male seafarers.

I discussed about the topic of women on board with some captains, of course male, they were having very diverse opinion on that, the German Captain said, the more women on board the better for the crew spirit, then our vessel turns into a normal society, the feeling is more like ashore, men tend to be giving more effort than they do in a just men crew…a Greek Captain said that his company is promoting female seafaring and that once he had 7 ShEAfarers in a crew of 21, he found it very stressful, too many women are creating an unknown dynamic on board that a male Captain sometimes cannot understand nor predic. Another Captain from Hapag Lloyd said about his female Officer still in training that she has the “puppy protection” for 3 weeks but then she has to stand up in cases of conflicts against her colleagues or dockers and “show” her strictness and assertiveness like her male mates.

Often when I met ShEAfarers on board, we clicked immediately and they were happy to meet another woman on board, cos after months with the guys alone, they were happy to have an exchange with another woman. It might be a bit the same if you are the only British in an Indian crew or the only Filipino in a crew from Montenegro. This feeling of “odd Woman out”, all the time for months…

What is the difference for a ShEAfarer?

According to ITF Seafarers, once employed, female seafarers may face lower pay even though they are doing work equivalent to that of male colleagues. A recent ILOSTAT analysis showed that the median gender pay gap for 115 countries with available data is 14% in favor of men, while male-dominated occupations have even higher wage premiums for men.

Latest EU data also showed the gender pay gap stands at 16%, meaning women work around 2 months “for free” each year, compared to men. These figures have only changed minimally over the last decade.

What is more, women may also be denied the facilities or equipment available to male workers, which is also a form of discrimination.

All these experiences and data show that there is still a long way to gender equity…and therefor it is an interesting topic to pay a deeper look at:

There are interesting projects like the Indian one where they man ships with just female seafarers. I am not sure if this is the best idea to go from one extreme to the opposite, but I guess the ShEAfarers who participate can judge it better. I hope I can interview the Indian Captain Suneha Gadpande soon who is actually working on a fully female armed tanker…To be followed!

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