Gender in maritime: Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, SAN

05 Jun 2023
Joy Dimka


Her profile and advocacy for achieving gender equality in the male-dominated maritime sector.

Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, SAN


Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, SAN, was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1981 and was elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2019. She acquired a Master of Laws from the University of Lagos in 1986 and, as a British Chevening Scholar, a Master of Arts in International Peace and Security from King’s College London, University of London. During her masters’ programme at the University of Lagos, she studied International Law subjects including International Economic Law and International Law of the Sea and became even more aware of the resources of our oceans and the need to economically harness same.

In pursuit of knowledge in maritime/shipping, she embarked on the Anatomy of Shipping Course at the Sea Trade Academy, Cambridge, England, in 2008. And as her interest in developing maritime dispute resolution in Nigeria grew, in 2005, Rhodes-Vivour and some colleagues set out on the mission to advance and encourage professional knowledge of maritime arbitration/alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Nigeria, with the vision that the country will become recognised worldwide in the field. The Maritime Arbitrators Association of Nigeria (MAAN) was born out of this vision; and Rhodes-Vivour served as the pioneer President of the MAAN. She was also an Ex-officio Executive Member of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association, and past Council Member of the Nigeria Chamber of Shipping.

Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour is a supporting member of the London Maritime Arbitrators Association, Court Member of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Court of Arbitration (founded in 1923 with supervisory functions over arbitral proceedings and awards). She is also a member of the World Bank Group Sanctions Board, the independent administrative tribunal that serves as the final decision maker in all contested cases of sanctionable misconduct occurring in development projects financed by the World Bank Group. She was also recently designated as a member of the Panel of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).


Joy Dimka: Why do we have significant gender imbalance in maritime, and from your experience – and knowledge – what initiatives can foster gender equality in the industry?

Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour: The maritime industry has historically been male-dominated, with women significantly underrepresented in various roles, including as seafarers, port managers and maritime engineers. The gender imbalance can be attributed to a combination of historical, social, and cultural factors, as well as existing gender stereotypes and biases.

One of the key causes of gender imbalance is the perception that maritime jobs are for men, reinforcing the notion that women are not suited for such careers. The industry has traditionally been viewed as a masculine domain, with gender stereotypes preventing women from exploring maritime opportunities. For instance, the misconception that women are not suitable for seafaring jobs has persisted worldwide.

Fortunately, this prejudice has been refuted by Turkish women seafarers who have excelled in their roles. Additionally, old myths such as the belief that women bring bad luck at sea has decreased onboard opportunities for women over the centuries. Women in view of their nurturing nature, tend to be perceived as suitable for "caring" jobs like hospitality and catering, while physically demanding or managerial roles are considered more fitting for men. Thus, women are often excluded from seafaring positions and instead relegated to supporting roles. As a result, less than 2% of women make up the maritime workforce, with female seafarers comprising only 1.2%.

Unfortunately, the underrepresentation of women in the maritime industry created a lack of role models, making it harder for young women to envision themselves in maritime-related careers and finding mentors and support. Many young women did not consider the maritime industry as a viable career option due to a lack of exposure or the absence of female role models. Apart from this, some employers do not offer family-friendly policies such as flexible working arrangements or parental leave, making it difficult for women to balance work and family responsibilities.

Concerns about the safety and well-being of female employees, especially in hazardous environments, often lead to a reluctance to hire women in certain roles or provide them with the necessary support and resources for their safety. The working conditions and cultural norms within the maritime industry can also be challenging for women, including the denial of facilities or equipment available to male workers and the lack of accommodations on board ships tailored to the needs of female crew members.

To address this imbalance, the maritime industry should ensure policies are put in place to support women's equal participation in the workforce. Indeed, domestic and international regulatory bodies including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), as well as maritime associations such as Women in Maritime Africa (WIMA), Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA), and the Nigerian Women in Maritime Association (NIWIMA) with their commitment to global best practices, including gender equality, are bound to ensure that all forms of gender discrimination and barriers against women are eradicated in the maritime sector.

Addressing gender imbalance in the maritime industry requires efforts to challenge stereotypes, promote equal opportunities, and foster a supportive and inclusive work environment for women. It involves implementing policies that facilitate work-life balance, providing necessary resources and accommodations, and actively combating any form of abuse or harassment. Other key initiatives should include awareness and advocacy campaigns, education and training, networking and mentoring, and adopting gender-inclusive policies.

By promoting diversity and inclusion, the industry can tap into a broader talent pool and benefit from the valuable contributions of women in maritime careers. Data collection and analysis is a useful tool to identify and monitor gender gaps and disparity in maritime industry. Analysing the data can also track progress, identify any gaps, and assist in putting in place evidence-based policies and initiatives.

Thankfully, we have organisations such as WISTA and NIWIMA who have played a great role in encouraging women participation in the industry and giving a platform for women to network and interact.

Joy Dimka: What role can men play in promoting gender equality in the industry?

Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour: Men need to understand that gender equality is not only a basic human right, but essential to achieve the most favourable socio-economic outcomes. All genders have to do away with biases, implicit or explicit.

Equality for women does not equate to favours being accorded to women, nor is it about unhealthy competition between the different genders or about sacrificing merit on the altar of a notion of equality. The emphasis is on equality for all gender on equal opportunity basis with no discrimination whatsoever. According to Elpi Petraki, the President of Women in Shipping and Trade Association, removing gender inequality is not about women replacing men, but about working together to empower women and acknowledge they have the skills and experience to lead effectively, make decisions, and address the challenges facing the industry.

Men do play a significant role in promoting gender equality in the industry and the need for their contribution cannot be overemphasized. Men promote gender equality in various ways including being aware of the need to eliminate all forms of biases, conscious or unconscious, as well as providing opportunity for equal education/training, supporting mentoring initiatives, advocating the end of all discriminations, appreciating and understanding the special needs of women including with respect to child rearing and the home, recruiting/promoting women into leadership roles, and advocating equal opportunities.

Men can promote policies that support gender diversity and inclusion, such as flexible work arrangements and family-friendly policies. They can also work with their colleagues and superiors to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture that encourages and supports women to succeed.

Challenging biases and stereotypes is another way in which men can promote gender equality in the maritime industry.