Women seafarers experience onboard gender-based discrimination, harassment and bullying are key report findings

An in-depth survey into the maritime industry has revealed shocking figures in gender-based discrimination against women, onboard harassment and bullying. The Women’s International Shipping and 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 itself 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, Switzerland, on 26 October 2022.

The key findings
– 1128 women seafarers from 78 countries were involved in the survey;
– 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 on board and involving intrusions on their privacy.

The majority of respondents, approximately 90%, work on cruise ships, with the remainder employed on cargo ships, gas and oil tankers, container ships (>8000 TEU), general cargo/geared vessels, chemical tankers, bulk carriers and tugs.

The survey also made it possible to collect data on company harassment and bullying policies, company and industry hotlines and the effect of the pandemic on women’s experiences at sea and provided insights into how businesses may operate in the sector to promote gender diversity and dispel prejudice.

Presence of discrimination onboard
– The majority of respondents (60%) reported encountering gender-based discrimination onboard, while just 40% of respondents said there was no such discrimination.
– 34% of the respondents acknowledged feeling alienated or neglected due to their gender, while 29% of the respondents had encountered harassment and bullying on board. A resounding 66% of the women seafarers concur that their male employees had turned to harassing and intimidating female co-workers.

Onboard harassment with personal questions and other ways of intruding on privacy
– 25% of the respondents admitted to having encountered onboard harassment, including being approached with personal questions, overly familiar remarks or being invited to meet in the cabin on a private basis. This indicates a widespread issue with onboard harassment when the victim is subjected to numerous threats. The statistics show that the vast majority of those engaging in such crimes are male seafarers (88%), while other instances (11%) involve both men and women co-workers, and only about 1% involve women.

Uncomfortable persuasion, indecent remarks and body shaming
According to 25% of respondents, it occurred on board and involved intrusions on their privacy, such as uncomfortable persuasion, inappropriate remarks and body shaming. Once more, an overwhelming 90% of those involved were male co-workers, while 8% were male and female and only 2% were female seafarers.

Harassment and bullying policy
– 97% of respondents agreed that the company had a harassment and bullying policy, though nearly 60% of the respondents acknowledged having experienced harassment. Therefore, organisations must ensure that their Company Harassment Policies are extensively publicised to increase their visibility, level of awareness, and stringent on-the-ground enforcement.
– 80% of the female seafarers reported that their immediate superiors had spoken with them about the company’s anti-harassment policy. Again, it is important to note that 60% of these acknowledged experiencing harassment while on board and admitted that they were unsure of what to do in such circumstances.

Incidence of reporting discriminatory behaviour
– Although 73% of the respondents felt comfortable escalating their concerns to their senior officers, only 13% reported such incidents to their superiors, while only 7% were satisfied with the outcomes. 59% of all the respondents have faced gender-based discrimination, while 66% felt ignored.

Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Founder of WISTA India and co-chair of the WISTA International Diversity Committee, said: “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”.

Ongoing campaigns from organisations, including IMO, ITF and ICS, could make a real difference in attempting to improve through in-depth research into the issue and by consistently engaging with employers and reputable maritime universities. The campaigns should promote the recruitment of more women seafarers while ensuring that women who are accepted on board will have conducive, safe and inclusive working environments.

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