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Women at Sea: Rights & Challenges

The maritime industry, historically dominated by men, has seen a significant increase in the number of women choosing a seafaring career. Despite this positive trend, women seafarers often face numerous challenges. This article explores the rights of women seafarers, the obstacles they face, and potential solutions to these challenges.

Rights of Women Seafarers

1. Equal Opportunity:Women have the right to have access to the same job opportunities as their male counterparts. This equality should span across all ranks and roles, including leadership positions.

Implementation:Employers must actively work to dismantle barriers to entry and promote equal hiring practices. Advertisements, recruitment, and hiring practices must be free from gender bias.

-International Labour Organization (ILO) Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006) emphasizes equal opportunities and fair treatment in employment for seafarers.

2. Non-Discrimination:Women should work in an environment that is free from any form of discrimination based on their gender. They must be treated with respect and equality in every aspect of their job.

Implementation: Regular training and workshops about gender equality and the consequences of discrimination should be conducted. Employers must enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination.

-ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) opposes all forms of discrimination, including gender-based discrimination.

3.Safety and Security:The physical and psychological safety of female seafarers should be guaranteed. Employers must ensure that women are provided with adequate safety training and protective equipment.

Implementation:Safety drills and training should include scenarios and considerations specifically relevant to women, ensuring they are fully prepared and protected.

4. Fair Wages:Women should receive equal pay for performing the same job roles as men.

Implementation:Regular audits and reviews of salary structures should be conducted to ensure fairness and equality in pay.

-ILO Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) focuses on the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value.

5. Maternity Protection:Pregnant seafarers should be granted reasonable maternity leave, and their right to return to work must be protected.


Companies should have clear, written policies regarding maternity protection, including leave, benefits, and non-discrimination.

-LO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) outlines the minimum standards for maternity protection for all employed women.

Challenges Faced by Women Seafarers

1. Gender-Based Discrimination:Despite laws and regulations, women may still face discrimination onboard, which can hinder their job performance and mental well-being.

Solution:Enforcing strict anti-discrimination policies and providing avenues for women to report discrimination without fear of retaliation.

2. Harassment and Bullying:Harassment and bullying can create a hostile working environment for women.

Solution:Proper channels for reporting harassment and guaranteed protection for whistleblowers are essential.

3. Limited Career Advancement:

Biases and stereotypes can prevent women from advancing to higher-ranking positions.

Solution:Promoting mentorship programs and leadership training for women can help break this barrier.

4. Inadequate Facilities:Lack of proper facilities can make life onboard uncomfortable and inconvenient for women.


Ship designs must include facilities that cater to the needs of both men and women.

5. Work-Life Balance:The demanding nature of seafaring can be a hurdle for women seeking to balance work and family.

Solution: Implementing flexible working arrangements and providing support for family responsibilities can alleviate this issue.

Other Legal Considerations:

1. International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW):

Ensures that women seafarers receive the same high-standard training and certification as male seafarers.

2. United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW):

Commits participating countries to end discrimination against women in all forms, ensuring their equal rights in all areas including employment.

3. International Maritime Organization (IMO) Guidelines:

The IMO has guidelines and strategies in place to improve the participation of women in the maritime sector.

The inclusion of women as seafarers is not just a matter of equality but a necessary strategy for the growth and sustainability of the maritime industry. Addressing the challenges faced by women and ensuring their rights are protected are essential steps toward creating a more inclusive and productive maritime workforce. The industry, regulatory bodies, and shipping companies must work collectively to implement the solutions outlined, ensuring women seafarers are respected, supported, and given equal opportunities to thrive in their careers.


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