Training, visibility, and recognition: Supporting a barrier-free working environment for women in maritime

To fully harness the potential that the Pacific Ocean holds for the well-being of pacific islanders, it is crucial that all relevant sectors of the Pacific economy are given an equal opportunity and footing to contribute to maritime activities.

“In the Pacific, women were the best marine engineers of traditional navigation weaving the sails of the great traditional canoes that traversed our vast ocean. The sails of these canoes had the best nautical aerodynamics of any sailing craft. They allowed our ancestors to swiftly navigate large canoes that could carry up to three hundred people at once. These sails also informed the modern-day sails, so the connection to women in maritime in our Pacific is personal”, said Mereseini Rakuita, Principal Strategic Lead at the Pacific Community (SPC).

This year marked the first International Day for Women in Maritime, a day dedicated to highlight, and celebrate the role of women in a historically male-dominated maritime industry and support work to address the current gender imbalance in the industry. The International Maritime Organization adopted a resolution in December 2021 designating May 18th as the International Day for Women in Maritime.  

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In the Pacific, State Women in Maritime Associations (WIMAs) including Cook Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu joined hands to celebrate the first International Day for Women in Maritime. These State WIMAs play a critical role alongside parallel national efforts to ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life in the Pacific maritime sector.

Head of Asia and the Pacific Section, Technical Cooperation Division at IMO, Bekir Sitki Ustaoglu in his keynote address on May 18th said it is great to see women bringing diversity in the maritime sector, but that the voice and representation are not up to par. “For example, offshore, women globally represent only 2 per cent towards 1.2 million seafarers,” he said. “The celebration of the day like today is not something we want to honour on its own but to eventually strive towards every day slowly breaking down the proceedings or real obstacles that potentially prevents women’s participation in all areas of the maritime sector”, he added.

“It is estimated that in the Pacific, less than 11% of people working in the maritime sector are women. They are employed predominantly in support, administrative, and mid-level management roles. Of this 11%, 5% are employed in shipping companies, agents, supply, and freight supply chain companies; less than 2% are employed as female seafarers serving in national fleets, and less than 1% serve in foreign going vessels,” said Mereseini Rakuita.

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This year's Day of the Seafarer

This day also aligns with the Day of the Seafarer which is celebrated every year on the 25th of June recognizing the valuable contribution seafarers make to international trade and the world economy.  

This year's Day of the Seafarers, we celebrate 'Your voyage - then and now, share your journey', looking at seafarer voyages, what they include , how has they have evolved over time and what remains at the heart of seafarers' reality.

The Pacific Community will continue to prepare women to be future maritime leaders, providing access to leadership opportunities, promoting gender equality, and enabling gender parity for women in maritime onshore and offshore through training, visibility and recognition. It is only by working together that we can make maritime more welcoming and inclusive through dedicated individuals, time and resources to build a community of practice and foster champions and drivers of change in the maritime sector.

About SPC: 
The Pacific Community (SPC) is an international development organisation gathering 27 Member Countries and Territories. SPC harnesses science, knowledge and innovation for sustainable development, benefiting Pacific people, since 1947.

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