Maritime Industry is one of the few industries which has the least amount of women workforce, not because women are incapable, but because the mindset of people says so. It is one of the male-dominated industries which still needs a revolution to make it normal for women as there is no ship which a woman can’t sail.
As per the BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Report, women represent only 1.2% percent of the global seafarer workforce. Though, in the past few years, the industry has put efforts in changing the traditional ways and encouraging women in the field, this represents a positive trend in gender balance, with the report estimating 24,059 women serving as seafarers, which is a 45.8% increase compared with the 2015 report.
In the historically male-dominated industry, courageous women like Captain Radhika Menon, Suneeta Bala and Sharvani Mishra from the community, who achieved exceptional heights in their careers as seafarers have made their efforts in the direction of women empowerment and creating a safe environment for females in Maritime Industry through their organisation International Women Seafarer Foundation- IWSF.
Ms. Suneeti Bala, currently working as Quality Manager in Danish Giant Maersk Line, is first Indian lady Chief Engineer and first lady field surveyor. She continued, “I always wanted to do something different from the normal profession,” while talking about her journey with Littoral Communications. She mentioned that the sea-faring industry is mentally demanding and requires working on machinery and equipment . As a woman in the male-dominated industry, she says it’s not easy to gain acceptance in the initial days. You are always on their radar and under observation.” She added, “At my senior level where I was in a leadership role, I had to prove to my coworkers not only in leadership but also technically to gain trust from my juniors and coworkers. Therefore, being good at my work always helped me excel in my career”
Bala started her sailing career at Chevron shipping. She believes that anybody who has passion to change the world and is ready to fight every obstacle in their journey can do whatever they want, when asked about her message to the women folk wanting to join the sea-faring community, She said, “It’s not always easy and rosy when it comes to work here, it is a very demanding job but is also quite exciting, adventurous and highly paying at the same time. It teaches a person life lessons and a lot more than just few work skills”
Capt. Radhika Menon, first woman Captain of Indian Merchant Navy and the first Indian woman to command a foreign owned ship shared her journey with Littoral Communications, she said, “She didn’t want to pursue a regular degree neither she was captivated to do a 9-5 office job. She started her career as a Radio Officer in Shipping Corporation of India in 1991.
As a woman entering the male-dominated industry she was ready to bring an enormous change in the industry. She started her career in 1991 in The shipping Corporation of India Ltd as an RO. Opted for conversion to Deck and rose up in ranks and took command in 2012 on MT Sampurna Swarajya. She made history in 2012 as the first woman to captain a ship of the Indian Merchant Navy. Later in 2015, she was the leader of the vessel MT Sampoorna Swarajya and carried out a successful operation in the stormy weather of the sea and saved the lives of seven fishermen in the tempestuous Bay of Bengal.
Capt. Menon became the first woman to receive the gallantry at Sea award by NMDC (National Maritime Day Celebrations Committee) and IMO (International Maritime Organisation) award for exceptional bravery at Sea in 2016. She was honoured with Indian express Devi awards for women of innovation and Dynamism in 2016, Panna Dhai award by Maharana of Mewar in 2017, Seafarer of the year from Lloyd’s list South Asia ,middle East and Africa in 2017, WISTA international personality is of year 2017. She is the first woman to receive an achievement award from the President of India in 2018. She has also featured in the Bharat Ki Laxmi campaign by the Prime Minister of India and has served as the Vice president of Maritime Union of India for the tenure of two years. She is an ex- Elected warden of CMMI and Vice President of Human Rights protection Mission for Women’s Wing Kerala.
“I believe that women who want to join the industry need to have a strong mindset as life here on ship is completely different from what we see in a regular job. You need to decide what you want to do. It took me time to break the barriers as a woman in the industry, it’s different from normal,” she said while addressing the women who want to join the industry. She added, “I accepted the challenges, moreover, I knew that being on board is what makes me happy and this is what I want to do. I was clear about my vision. Women who want to join the industry need to plan out things, like when they want to start a family.”
Sharing her journey she said, “I didn’t expect a warm welcome, instead I joined with a strong mental frame. There were no girls when I joined but now more than 500 girls are serving at various ranks. I focused on my work and proved my efficiency.”
Speaking about the challenges, the captain said, “Staying away from family and sailing for straight five to six months is difficult but I transcend swimming upstream.”
Talking about the initiatives taken by the industry to improve the number of women employees in the sailing industry, Both the founders mentioned IWSF, the organisation which is constantly working towards creating a better work environment for women.
“Stakeholders in the maritime industry need to change the very basic mindset towards the female workers. Once they start seeing us as co-worker rather than women who joined the industry, it will bring out a change. It’s not women who feel different but it is actually men who make them feel different about the fact that they have joined the industry and are the odd men out .” Suneeta Bala added.
She shared that at her time only two companies were hiring women employees. “I take pride in the IWSF initiative and work as the number of companies hiring has considerably increased with 50% effect.” She added. IWSF works with Maritime Industry stakeholders towards bringing gender neutral work practises, gender sensitisation, making the process normal for women, and puts forward issues like maternity leave and a safe work environment.
“I am thankful to the government of India and Director General Shipping, Mr. Amitabh Kumar for supporting IWSF and releasing MS Notice 7 of 2019 for providing a conducive work environment for women seafarers onboard,” said Suneeta Bala.
When Captain was asked about the initiative that government and industry should make to bring out more women in the profession she said, “Time has positively changed today, awareness among young women is what we need. Parents are now supporting their daughter joining on board.”
IWSF works for the benefit of the women seafaring community and largely focuses on creating a safe work environment. The organisation works on bringing proper gender sensitisation, better work policy, laws against bullying and focus on hiring more and more women and creating better employability.
Capt. Menon added, “Women should make a conscious decision and should decide how long they want to stay in the industry. We are always there to mentor them.”
For the encouragement of Women’s participation in the Maritime Domain, the IMO had declared 18th May as International Day for Women in Maritime. To commemorate this occasion, Littoral Communications, India’s leading Maritime Knowledge Provider has planned an event on 18th May, 2022 in Chennai to celebrate the Women workforce in the Maritime field. This event is expected to be represented by the stakeholders of the industry.