International Day for Women in Maritime

18 May 2022

Women in the maritime industry: we certainly need more of them. That’s why May 18 has been designated as International Day for Women in Maritime. Here Brigit Gijsbers (Deputy Director-General for Civil Aviation and Maritime Affairs at the Dutch ministry for Infrastructure and Water Management) and Karin Orsel (Chair of the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners) explain why the percentage of women in the maritime industry must be raised.

In 2021 the IMO (International Maritime Organization) expressed its support for promoting recruitment and opportunities for women in the maritime industry. By doing so the IMO contributes to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5: gender equality and support work to address the current maritime gender imbalance.

 A dedicated international day for women in this sector was one of the measures taken. The day focuses attention on realizing a safe and favorable working environment for women in the maritime sector. The day is also intended to keep the conversation on gender equality going, adding to achieving effective change by setting goals, such as additional room for women in training and maritime education.

Why is a separate day needed for women in the maritime sector?

As a seafarer you’re away from home for long periods, which is fairly tough when you have a family,Brigit Gijsbers points out. ‘This makes the maritime world a predominantly male environment, and the culture aboard ships is often not very appealing to women. Changing that culture isn’t easy. But leaving it the way it is means that we miss out on a substantial labor potential. That’s why we are committed to getting more women, young people and people with a non-western migration background interested in the maritime sector, together with the Dutch Maritime Network and the IMO. Because it’s a great sector, not only aboard vessels, but also on shore.’ 

As chair of the Diversity Committee of the International Chamber of Shipping, and retired Chair of WISTA, the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association, Karin Orsel also supports the IMO measure. ‘It goes beyond just increasing the talent pool due to current shortages in the labor market,’ she notes. ‘A different team composition leads to a different onboard dynamic. I’m convinced that women add value to any organization, including aboard ships. We encourage companies to create room for diversity within their strategic human resources policies. Not just in attracting more women, but also for those who may be distanced from the labor market, and for increased cultural diversity.

Currently women only make up two percent of the seafarers worldwide, and 21 percent of the maritime sector in the Netherlands – most of them working on cruise ships or ferries. ‘There are few women in technical or nautical positions, probably because many think that these are physically tough jobs,’ Karin continues. ‘But these days this is not really the case, given new techniques.’

What needs to be done to achieve gender equality?

Karin believes it needs to be demonstrated that it’s possible. ‘For example by showing photos on a website, use of language and role models. We need to make it clear to the next generation that having women in high positions is normal. I’m not an advocate of legislation, but the 30-percent regulation of the Dutch Social Economic Council is a fine incentive for seeking employees outside the familiar paths.’ Adds Brigit: ‘Fortunately the Directorate of Maritime Affairs employs many women. I’m proud of the fact that the first Dutch female chief mate spent the final years of her career at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

IMO - International Day for Women in Maritime