International Conference 2013 Proudly Empowering Women in Maritime

By MarEx 2013-06-06 09:08:00

An international conference on empowering female maritime workers brought together over 100 academics, union representatives, merchant navy and naval officers and representatives of international maritime organisations in Barcelona on the 23rd of May.

The International Conference Proudly Empowering Women in Maritime was organised by the Department of Nautical Science and Engineering of the Technical University of Catalonia, with the collaboration of the Barcelona School of Nautical studies. It was supported by many organisations, including the ITF and the IMO, which is stepping up worldwide efforts to promote change for women in shipping business.

Karine Langlois, from the International Maritime Organization presented the  film ‘Women at helm’, which highlighted first-hand experiences of some successful stories of women in maritime.

Besides the high participation in the event and the excellent assessment obtained by participants and visitors, we should emphasize the relevance of the agreements reached, and the conclusions drawn.

Proposals to strengthen the presence of women in the maritime included the creation of the "International Women's Day Aboard" (under a first attempt to date it on the 8th of May, which will be evaluated by the IMO). This proposal was put forward by Olga Delgado, Conference Director and Lecturer of DCEN, and supported, through previous meetings, by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Institute of Women in Spain, the Spanish General Directorate of Merchant Marine, the Spanish Fishing Directorate and the Spanish Army. The other institutions and organizations represented at the conference also showed their support for the event whose opening is expected in 2014.

According to Rosa Maria Marina, Head of European Programmes Service of the Institute for Women's Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality "the initiative of encouraging women to hop on aboard a ship during that day, and experiencing  “being at helm", under the slogan "Hop on aboard for equality" will contribute to raise awareness not only of equal opportunities between women and men in the maritime sector but also of a greater presence of women in all areas of life. Women are more than half of the population and as such, measures pretending to boost any sector should consider the potential of the entire population and provide equal opportunities for women and men, removing any potential barrier.” IMO and the Directorate of Fishing agreed to propose a first presentation of the day during the International Seafarer’s Day, which will take place next 25th of June. The public uniformed bodies (the Army, the Civil Guard and the Customs Surveillance Service) proposed the possibility of opening the doors of their ships on that day to women, so that they could discover a career option that does not arise frequently.

It was also agreed that greater unity, coordination and cooperation among women in the shipping business would be provided in order to join forces, create synergies, achieve greater visibility and catalyse a positive development, enhancing existing platforms such as WISTA (Women's International Shipping and Trading Association), whose functions were presented by Laura Ferrario, the new national director of the association, or the community "Mujeres en la mar" with wide activity on social networks, created by Olga Delgado in collaboration with the cultural association Foro Naval and participants from several organizations such as the Spanish Society of Maritime Medicine, Corporación Marítima and Rideport, for which an English version,"Women at sea", is being planned.

The implementation of the agreements has the potential to mark a before and an after in the history of women in the maritime sector, and this event becomes a milestone, important and visible, in the way that has already started and that will continue to be.

Speakers included an international perspective from Luz Baz, the first woman to be an ITF inspector in Spain. She spoke about the impact of the flags of convenience system on women seafarers, using research data and exploring common problems, and discussed ITF and affiliate proposals for action. She also mentioned the new ITF publication: ‘Maritime Women’s Best Practices’.

Maria Carolina Romero Lares from the World Maritime University (WMU) gave an overview of the United Nations development goal on gender equality and empowerment of women in the maritime sector.

Delegates discussed a range of topics affecting women working in the maritime sector, including the merchant marine, the cruise tourism, fishing, inspections, public uniformed services, integration into shipboard life, working in the Spanish, the Argentinian and the Venezuelan merchant marine industry, the use of social networking, the peculiarities of female leadership, a comparative analysis of psychosocial risks during shipment, etc.

Baz commented: “There was great energy at the conference, with delegates sharing their experiences, contributing their ideas and developing solutions to common problems.”

Alison McGarry, coordinator of the ITF's women transport workers’ department, commented: “The conference brought together a wide range of maritime women workers around some pressing issues of common concern. We hope it will lead to women getting a better deal and playing a more important role in shaping the industry future.”

Speakers at the conference pointed main problems that women in the maritime are facing, highlighting the attitudes of discrimination, both negative and positive, the difficulty of getting access to jobs and professional development, which often met illegality, hard situations regarding family conciliation and the lack of consideration towards pregnancy and motherhood in the industry, both on board and ashore. The most remarkable strengths of women in this sector were also presented, considering the advantages for companies and benefits to society of having women in the maritime world. The importance of a good education for men and women in leadership was emphasized in order to ensure a better experience on board for everyone, including women and other minorities.

Karine Langlois expressed her satisfaction regarding the outcomes of the event and asked for further collaboration.

Momoko Kitada, from the WMU, whose research interests lie in women seafarers and their identities, was pleased with the chance of making new contacts at the conference for future research and collaboration.

It should be noted the intervention of Núria Obiols Vives, Coordinator of Maritime Security and Inspection (Ministry of Development) together with Raquel Quiroga, Inspector in Germanischer Lloyd, both former students of the FNB, whose contributions were very constructive when it comes to planning ways to leverage the presence of women in the industry. Them, along with the rest of conference participants represented a valuable example of the fact that it is possible that men and women have a successful career and a well cared family at the same time, in line with the vision of Sheryl Sandberg: "The more women in power positions, the easier for the rest to reach an ideal status, as there will be a greater effort to achieve greater work flexibility through flexible solutions, without compromising performance, adapting to individual situations. Talking, listening, and exposing the problems openly and jointly will contribute to their solution. And because there are more examples of prominent women in raising their voice: visible, tangible cases of competent professionals and happy mothers, or happy mothers and competent professionals, which is the same, but in reverse." According to the chief operating officer of Facebook the worst enemy of the XXI century woman is not the man, nor the economic system or the education that women receive, but the brakes that each woman puts on herself and all women are able to break down. Women systematically underestimate their own abilities. If you test men and women, and you ask them questions on totally objective criteria, men get it wrong slightly high, and women get it wrong slightly low. This is consistent with the results of Olga Delgado’s doctoral work about leadership among merchant marine officers, according to which women need to rely more on their leadership skills, which have proven to be higher than they believe. Hopefully this conference will serve as a boost to many of them.

According to Santiago Ordás, Dean of the Faculty: "We can conclude with pride and satisfaction that the conference was a success, and we see a horizon of hope for the future of women in the Maritime thanks to all the efforts that are being carried out internationally, and the attitude of the younger generation as well, for which education and training is crucial."

There were many moments of great emotion, especially every time women shared their personal testimonies explaining the difficulties that had overcome. A especially emotive testimony was from the first Spanish women sea officer who sent a letter explaining her story, which was read by a young student who recognized the admiration that all their predecessors deserve and expressed her gratitude for the legacy of men and women who have led the way, and commitment by all students to strive for not having gender differences in the future and making it easier for women to pursue and achieve their dreams.

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