Joy Dimka, Senior Legal Officer, Nigerian Shippers' Council.

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Subjects of Interest

  • Energy
  • International Trade
  • Law and Society

Gender in maritime 07 Jun 2023

Gender equality has been a persistent challenge across various industrial sectors around the world. Global maritime and shipping, and the sector in Nigeria, are no exceptions. Against the backdrop of the International Day for Women in Maritime this year, it is important to shed light on the progress that has been made and the barriers that persist in achieving gender equality in the industry. Equally important is identifying the solutions for fostering gender diversity in maritime.

In 2021, trade accounted for 56.5 percent of global GDP estimated at $96.3 trillion. More than 80 percent of the $54.4 trillion total value of imports and exports of goods and services was carried by sea, according to data by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). This highlights the vital importance of the maritime transport sector.

But the maritime and shipping industry has historically been dominated by men. Amongst the issues of concern in the industry, including its substantial contribution to carbon emissions and ageing fleet, gender imbalance in labour supply in the industry is considerable. Less than 2 percent of the workforce in the maritime sector is made up of women. Of the estimated 1.5 million world’s seafarers, only 1.2 percent are women. In Nigeria, where the maritime sector also plays a crucial role in the economy, the labour contribution of women has also been abysmal.

The role of women in addressing some of the issues in maritime logistics in developing countries, which include technology, infrastructures, and low productivity, has been identified. For instance, the UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2022 report advised port authorities on attracting more women workers and increasing female participation in the sector to reduce its labour shortages.

Furthermore, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) chose "Mobilizing Networks for Gender Equality" as the theme for the 2023 International Day for Women in Maritime. This theme emphasises the importance of collaborative efforts, networking, and partnerships in advancing gender equality in the industry. It encourages stakeholders to work collectively to create an inclusive maritime environment where women can thrive and meaningfully contribute.

It is imperative that these global recommendations are locally implemented, too. To advance this agenda, I decided to devote my column this month to promoting gender balance in the Nigerian maritime industry. To the credit of this publication, and to exemplify its dedication to advancing development discourses, the subject of my column was promoted to the cover feature of this edition. The next 10 pages of Financial Nigeria magazine feature the interviews of five of the foremost women leaders in Nigerian maritime.

I present the professional profiles of these women giants in an industry that is male-dominated to inspire women – especially the younger women – on the heights that we can attain in the industry, if we are unfazed by the extant gender imbalance in the Nigerian maritime space. I also posed two questions to these accomplished professionals, namely Adedoyin Rhodes-Vivour, SAN; Jean Chiazor Anishere, SAN; Dabney Shall-Holma, OON; and Mfon Ekong Usoro. I asked, “Why do we have significant gender imbalance in maritime, and from your experience – and knowledge – what initiatives can foster gender equality in the industry?", and, “What role can men play in promoting gender equality in the industry?”

Their responses are separately and holistically presented because of their detailed presentations of the issues and the solutions. I observed the overlap in their thoughts, which suggests that there is good consensus at that level on the gender issues in the maritime sector. Also, there is commonality in a number of the solutions they proffered. This means stakeholders in the sector can focus on these solutions to close the yawning gender gap in the industry.   

The enthusiasm of these highly accomplished women in participating in this special feature at a short notice, despite their busy schedules, speaks volume about their commitment to gender advocacy and achieving the goal of parity in gender representation. Their accomplishments are matched by their insights, offering younger women the right orientation in our quest for gender parity in various spheres of professional life where women are marginalised by norms, practices, and lack of consideration for the value we can contribute to the economy.

The wealth of knowledge, experience, and perspectives of these women leaders should be instrumental in shaping the discourse around gender equality in the Nigerian maritime industry. Their invaluable insights will serve as a catalyst for inspiring change and fostering an environment where women are empowered to excel.

With each passing year when the International Day for Women in Maritime is celebrated, it is crucial to recognise the significance of mobilising networks for achieving gender equality in the Nigerian maritime industry. By embracing diversity, fostering inclusion, and supporting women's empowerment, we can unlock the full potential of the maritime and shipping sector. The discussions with the esteemed women leaders featured in this edition will illuminate the path towards a more equitable future for all stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime industry.

Joy Dimka is a Legal Officer at the Nigerian Shippers' Council.