Advancing Gender Equality in the Maritime and Ocean Professions

On 14 September, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), was a keynote speaker for Women in Leadership in Marine Technology, Engineering and Science for the Marine Technology Section (MTS) of India. The event was a prelude to the “IEEE/MTS Oceans 2022 Conference”, which will contribute to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.

In her remarks, Dr Doumbia-Henry cited that STCW-certified women represent only 1.28 percent of the total STCW-certified seafarers, an estimated 24,059 women seafarers worldwide. Approximately, 94 percent of the women seafarers are working in the cruise industry. She noted that while women are taking up increasingly challenging responsibilities at sea and ashore, the role of women in the maritime industry is constantly evolving. 

Regarding ocean science, Dr Doumbia-Henry referred to the Global Ocean Science Report, 2020 that revealed that women continue to be underrepresented in ocean science, particularly in the highly technical categories. More importantly, the level of female representation in ocean science varies significantly from State to State – ranging from about 7 percent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to 72 percent in Ireland as a proportion of all ocean science personnel.

She stated that despite advances for women in both maritime and ocean professions, “We are still very far from providing and ensuring equal opportunities for everyone -  men, women and other genders –  and particularly with respect to women in leadership positions... I firmly believe that education and training, especially in science, technology and engineering is a crucial tool to achieve our collective goal.”

Dr Doumbia-Henry highlighted that 2021 is a particularly important year for the WMU community. The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development has begun to develop scientific knowledge, build infrastructure and foster relationships for a sustainable and healthy ocean. WMU is fully committed to making a unique contribution to the Decade of Ocean Science, through education and research, in maritime, and ocean sciences. Further, as part of WMU’s contribution to the Decade, WMU is also promoting gender equality in ocean science. 

With generous support of donors, WMU is already engaged in a research and capacity building Programme on Empowering Women for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. This programme was officially endorsed as an Ocean Action by IOC-UNESCO during the official launch of the Decade. WMU is committed to contributing and facilitating the empowerment of women in the conduct of ocean science, as well as in delivering science-based decision-making processes in ocean governance systems.

Also in support of advancing women in the maritime and ocean professions, in 2019, WMU organized the Third International Conference on Empowering Women in the Maritime Community. The Conference, which was attended by 350 participants from 70 countries, identified 17 actions that could be taken to advance gender balance in the maritime and oceans sector. The key conclusions included promoting women role models, engaging with children in primary and secondary education to raise awareness of career opportunities in the industry for women and securing priority funding for gender research. 

As WMU continues to improve gender balance in maritime and ocean-related fields in science education and research, female student representation at WMU has improved significantly from 3% in 1983 to a third of the intake in the MSc programme delivered in Malmö, Sweden, while the WMU MSc programmes delivered in Shanghai and Dalian, China, have already achieved milestones for gender parity. Through recruitment strategies and support from fellowship donors, the proportion of female students and faculty continues to increase.

“At WMU, we firmly believe that education will create a lasting impact on capacity building in the maritime and ocean industries and we cannot afford to stop this important mission, no matter the difficulties. Investing in people, especially women in science and technology, means investing in the future we want. The future is in our hands – to design, and to innovate,” said Dr Doumbia-Henry. 

To watch the video for the MTS India Section event, click here.

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