Challenges and barriers faced by female seafarers on specific vessel types are explored in a new report compiled by The Mission to Seafarers to aid understanding of diversity in maritime.
The Women Seafarers 2022 report puts the spotlight on the specific challenges that women may encounter on cargo ships, cruise ships and on superyachts.
The report looks 'beyond the 2%' of women said to be working among the 1.2 million seafarers globally and was released as a discussion document in support of the first UN observance day for women in maritime on 18 May 2022.
It acknowledges that both male and female seafarers experience a range of challenges when working at sea but says there are some challenges that are specific to women. 'Long contracts, months apart from family and friends, loneliness, isolation, job insecurity, risk of injury, and abandonment are issues that affect all seafarers, but women seafarers also face challenges that arise from the predominantly male working environment of the shipping industry.'
On cargo ships where women are more often in the minority, the report found there are key issues around the use of space on ships and how women may find that their access to such space is limited. For example, women seafarers may be uncomfortable using gym equipment at the same time as male colleagues and they may not use shared spaces such as mess rooms.
The report suggests that there is evidence of more sexual activity onboard cruiseships compared to cargo vessels, but that in this sector 'some women report that they engage in these onboard relationships as a way of protecting themselves from sexual harassment'. All seafarers working on cruise ships should be given advice and support about engaging in relationships onboard, it says.
The grey areas of life on superyachts meanwhile are outlined as having 'aspects of liminality', reflecting a very real gap between life on board and life on shore. Challenges for crew welfare in the yacht sector have been well documented by the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN), according to the report. ISWAN found similar challenges for both genders including long hours, a drinking culture, as well as sexual harassment and the need to be aware of the impact of this on both physical and mental health.
Regional director Europe for The Mission to Seafarers Revd. Ijeoma Ajibade said: 'Women seafarers around the world are doing incredible work despite the challenges that they encounter. All seafarers work in a complex and difficult environment, but women seafarers face additional difficulties because of who they are.
'At The Mission to Seafarers, we are making a clear and firm commitment to women seafarers everywhere, that we will respond to their needs and find ways of supporting them through our network of chaplains, volunteers and seafarers' centres. This publication marks the start of a conversation about how we can care for the many dedicated women who work on our oceans today.'