Survey: 60 percent of female mariners report onboard discrimination

Sex Harassment 2

(LONDON) — An in-depth survey in the maritime industry revealed shocking figures in gender-based discrimination against women, onboard harassment and bullying, according to WISTA International.

WISTA International, Anglo Eastern, the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) conducted a public online survey designed to examine how female seafarers perceived “discrimination” and how it manifested on board based on their personal experiences. The complete findings from the survey and recommendations are published in The Diversity Handbook, being launched at the WISTA International conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on Oct. 26.

Among the findings:

• Sixty percent of women reported encountering gender-based discrimination on board.
• Sixty-six percent of the respondents concurred that their male employees had turned to harassing and intimidating female co-workers.
• Twenty-five percent reported that in the shipping sector, physical and sexual harassment is common, occurring on board and involving intrusions on their privacy.

The first gender diversity handbook was launched in January 2018 and received an impressive response. The new survey, also initiated by Sanjam Sahi Gupta, founder of WISTA India and a WISTA International Executive Committee member from 2014-2021, was completed by 1,128 women from 78 countries. The Philippines (399) had the largest proportion, followed by the United States (98), the United Kingdom (57), South Africa (51), Brazil (47), India (41), Peru (36), Columbia (35) and Indonesia (35).

The majority of respondents, approximately 90 percent, work on cruise ships, with the remainder employed on cargo ships, gas and oil tankers, containerships, general cargo/geared vessels, chemical tankers, bulk carriers and tugs.

The survey also made it possible to collect data on company harassment and bullying policies, company and industry hotlines, and the effect of the pandemic on women’s experiences at sea. It provided insights into how businesses may operate in the sector to promote gender diversity and dispel prejudice.

Presence of discrimination on board

The majority of respondents – 60 percent – reported encountering gender-based discrimination on board, while just 40 percent of respondents said there was no such discrimination.

Thirty-four percent of respondents acknowledged feeling alienated or neglected due to their gender, while 29 percent had encountered harassment and bullying on board. A resounding 66 percent of the women seafarers concurred that their male employees had turned to harassing and intimidating female co-workers.

Offensive approaches via several media

Thirteen percent of the surveyed seafarers mentioned that they have been offensively approached via different media, while a majority 70 percent of these women seafarers claim that it was their male colleagues who perpetrated such offensive harassment on board.

Onboard harassment with personal questions and other ways of intruding on privacy

Twenty-five percent of respondents admitted to having encountered onboard harassment, including being approached with personal questions, overly familiar remarks or being invited to meet in the cabin on a private basis. This indicates a widespread issue with onboard harassment when the victim is subjected to numerous threats. The statistics show that the vast majority of those engaging in such crimes are male seafarers (88 percent), while other instances (11 percent) involve both men and women co-workers, and only about 1 percent involve solely women.

Uncomfortable persuasion, indecent remarks and body shaming

In the shipping sector, physical and sexual harassment is common. According to 25 percent of respondents, it occurred on board and involved intrusions on their privacy, such as uncomfortable persuasion, inappropriate remarks and body shaming. Once more, an overwhelming 90 percent of those involved were male co-workers, while 8 percent were male and female and only 2 percent were female seafarers.

Harassment and bullying policy

Ninety-seven percent of respondents agreed that their company had a harassment and bullying policy, though nearly 60 percent of respondents acknowledged having experienced harassment. Therefore, organizations must ensure that their company harassment policies are extensively publicized to increase their visibility, level of awareness, and stringent on-the-ground enforcement.

Eighty percent of the female seafarers reported that their immediate superiors had spoken with them about the company’s anti-harassment policy. Again, it is important to note that 60 percent of these acknowledged experiencing harassment while on board and admitted that they were unsure of what to do in such circumstances.

Incidence of reporting discriminatory behavior

Although 73 percent of respondents felt comfortable escalating their concerns to their senior officers, only 13 percent reported such incidents to their superiors, while only 7 percent were satisfied with the outcomes. Fifty-nine percent of all respondents have faced gender-based discrimination, while 66 percent felt ignored.

Regarding helplines, only 13 percent of respondents reported the harassment they had experienced. The efficiency of these helplines, their availability at all times and how the concerns of the seafarers are addressed at the source must all be seriously addressed.

Regarding the opportunities for training, although 82 percent of women seafarers agreed that they had received instruction on adapting to the ship’s environment, this percentage has to be far higher, given how vital adaptability to the ship’s environment is.

“There is an urgent need to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable maritime community, with women seafarers deserving a respectful and safe working environment,” Gupta said. “The recent report revealed unacceptable figures with women facing gender discrimination, harassment and bullying on the sea. The shipping sector is at risk due to a lack of new talent. Over the next decade, there will likely be an even greater need for qualified seafarers. One of the best and most effective strategies to stop the growing disparity is adopting gender-inclusive policies within a safe work culture.”

“WISTA International, through its diversity committee, is working hard to highlight the need for the maritime sector to move from equality to equity,” said Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou, president of WISTA International. “This is an essential distinction because equity ensures everyone has a fair opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents according to their circumstances. This should apply the same at sea as on land. These figures should be a wake-up call to the maritime sector and we will continue at every opportunity to raise the issues and bring about change.”

– WISTA International

By Rich Miller