Over 18 per cent of women seafarers globally have decried sexual harassment by men on-board, according to a 2015 survey jointly carried out by the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association, the International Maritime Health Association, the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network, the International Workers’ Federation and the Seafarers Hospital Society.
The President, WISTA Nigeria, Mrs. Mary Hamman, has also highlighted some challenges faced by women seafarers.
She said, “Five hundred and ninety-five responses were received from women seafarers from a range of nationalities, ages and positions on board ships. The survey said that joint/back pain, stress/depression, anxiety and headache, seem to be the most common symptoms reported by women seafarers and that 55 per cent felt that they are related to their work.
“Forty eight per cent stated that they have problems with seeking medical care and offer suggestions to improve this. Significantly, 37 per cent of women seafarers also stated that they did not have access to sanitary bins within the toilet, while 18 per cent say that sexual harassment is an issue.”
She also lamented that some employers were often reluctant to appoint women cadets/qualified seafarers because of a “misled belief” that women work at sea for less time than men.
“Women are often paid less than men doing the same work. Women may be denied the facilities/equipment available to men on-board,” she said.
Also, in a 2015 study by the International Labour Organisation, titled “Women Seafarers: Global employment policies and practices,” women represent only about two per cent of the world’s 1.25 million seafarers.
The Director of the ILO Sectoral Activities Department, Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, said she was concerned that even though many maritime training institutions were actively encouraging women to enrol, once on-board vessels, women often experience problems in being initially accepted, sometimes having to “prove themselves.”
She added, “Sexual harassment is a reality for many women at sea. This can range from persistent verbal harassment and inappropriate comments, to physical assault.
“As concerns other issues, such as maternity benefits and availability of certain products required by women, it seems we have a long way to go. Sexual harassment policies are, of course, important. Trade unions should take up these matters and other issues such as maternity benefits, when negotiating collective agreements.”
Even though Section 17(1)(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says that “every citizen shall have the equality of right, obligations, and opportunity before the law” and Section 42 states that “no Nigerian citizen shall be discriminated against because of a particular sex, religion or ethnic group,” it has not been easy for women seafarers in the country.
Abdullahi Kangiwa, in his article, “Gender discrimination and feminism in Nigeria,” said it was unfortunate that women are under-represented in almost every sphere of social and political life in the country, including in the maritime sector.
In order to address this situation, he said, “The government should put an end to all forms of gender discrimination in both public and private sectors, including in education, employment, housing, and property and inheritance rights. Additionally, anti-discrimination legislation and affirmative action should be pursued, and there needs to be legal protection for the fundamental rights of the girl child on religious, social, and economic life.
“The structures that prop up patriarchy by giving men ascendency in inheritance, authority, and decision-making should be discouraged through education, enlightenment, and national awareness.”
The spokesperson for the Marine Professionals of Nigeria, Oluwasegun Akanbi, said female seafarers are encouraged to report cases of sexual harassment to the female captains on-board, while raising the alarm over the “gradual extinction of female seafarers in the maritime sector.”
He said, “Presently, there are no policies by NIMASA to guard against sexual harassment and gender discrimination of female seafarers. Even if there are, some of these policies are just theoretical. There is no implementation.
“NIMASA needs to make it mandatory for companies to employ female seafarers. Provisions should also be made for females on-board. Also, procedure for reporting, investigating and disciplining must be clearly stated to checkmate sexual harassment. The gap of communication between the seafarers and NIMASA is too wide. They should create a feedback forum with us to identify some problems we are facing so as to create a continuous improvement.”
The spokesperson for NIMASA, Mrs. Lami Tumaka, said women seafarers experiencing any form of sexual harassment and gender discrimination should not hesitate to report to the agency.
“We already have policies guarding against these practices and they are being effected,” she said.
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