Empowering Women in the Maritime World
Address by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, International Maritime
Organization (read by Mr. R. G. Jones, Vice-President (Business Development),
World Maritime University), 3 April 2008)
Ladies and gentlemen,
Although I am unable to be with you today at the World Maritime University -
owing to an important meeting of IMO's Maritime Environment Protection Committee,
which is scheduled to agree and develop further, among other matters, global
standards and measures to reduce shipping's contribution to atmospheric pollution
and greenhouse gas emissions - I am, nevertheless, extremely pleased to be able
to share some thoughts with you in a conference which is both timely and far-sighted
in its choice of subject.
The integration of women into all levels of political, economic and social development
has been a major objective within the United Nations system for more than a
quarter of a century. The years 1976 to 1985 were designated the United Nations
Decade for Women and, during this period, many organizations of the United Nations
system sought to implement programmes to achieve the advancement of women and
promote gender equality. More recently, the concept was enshrined in the Millennium
Development Goals adopted by the world's leaders in 2000; one of the eight specific
targets they agreed to was to "Promote gender equality and empower women".
IMO has always endeavoured to play its part in working towards these ambitious
and important objectives and that is why I am particularly pleased to be able
to lend my support to this conference and associate myself fully and unreservedly
with its spirit and its message.
During the course of this event you have heard and will hear more about a plethora
of different initiatives in many parts of the world, and in many facets of the
shipping industry, to integrate and empower women. There is clearly a groundswell
underway, and I think it is important to place this movement in its broader
The full and equal participation of women in civil, cultural, economic, political
and social life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the
eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of gender, are, and must
remain, priority objectives of the international community.
In global terms, women represent an increasing share of the world's labour force.
However, there is no doubt that women remain at a disadvantage when it comes
to securing paid jobs. Wage differentials, occupational segregation, higher
unemployment rates and the disproportionately high representation of women in
the informal and subsistence sectors serve to limit women's economic advancement.
Social and cultural attitudes, employment policies and a lack of options for
balancing work and family responsibilities, or for controlling the timing and
spacing of births, contribute further to inequality in the labour market.
Back in the 1990s, two major world conferences - the International Conference
on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, in 1994, and the Fourth World
Conference on Women in Beijing, in 1995 - revolutionized the global view of
international standards for the rights and empowerment of the world's women.
The ICPD put issues such as family planning, reproductive and sexual health
care and women's empowerment squarely in the context of development, and underlined
their critical importance to any social and economic progress. The Beijing Conference
went further, forging international commitments to promote equality, development
and peace for, and with, all the women of the world.
Both international agreements stressed that equality between women and men is
a human rights concern, and that empowering women ensures the development of
a sustainable and equitable society - no society can reach this goal without
taking the productive role of women and their economic and educational empowerment
into account. Both aimed to ensure that policies and programmes at all levels
incorporate a gender perspective and properly address women's lives and women's
The Beijing Conference identified a number of critical areas in which action
was needed to empower women and ensure their human rights. Among them were women
and poverty; the education and training of women; women and the economy; women
in power and decision-making; and institutional mechanisms for the advancement
of women. All of these remain relevant today and I have no doubt that the programmes
and initiatives you are discussing during the course of this conference have
a positive impact in all of these areas, and others besides.
Investing in women means removing all barriers that prevent women from realizing
- or even exploring - their full potential as vital and valuable members of
society. Education and training, as this conference has repeatedly emphasized,
are essential in this. As a strong advocate for the equal participation of women
and men at all levels, IMO has supported both governmental and non-governmental
institutions in taking steps to bring about appropriate changes.
Education should be seen as a basic human right and an essential tool for achieving
the goals of equality, development and peace. Equality of access to, and attainment
of, educational qualifications are necessary if more women are to become empowered
in the labour market and agents of change for a more civil society. Education
and training are catalysts for change, and they enable women to realize their
full potential. Support for the education of women and girls is critically important.
Non-discriminatory education for children benefits both girls and boys and thus,
ultimately, contributes to more equal relationships between women and men.
Yet education is a human right that is often curtailed for, or even denied to,
women in much of the world. If women are to be fully empowered and if society
as a whole is to reap the benefit of that empowerment, we must work to ensure
equal access to education; eradicate illiteracy among women; improve women's
access to vocational training, science and technology, and to continuing education;
develop non-discriminatory education and training; and promote lifelong education
and training for girls and women.
Despite progress in many of these areas, women still face discrimination because
of ingrained cultural attitudes, early marriages, pregnancies, lack of accessible
schools, and inadequate and gender-biased educational materials. And they continue
to be denied quality education in science and technology.
Such continuing obstacles compromise women's ability to achieve economic autonomy
and to ensure sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their dependents. Women's
economic dependence and, often, lack of rights to property or access to finance
have also long hindered their ability to take care of themselves and their families.
That is why it is so important that we should support efforts to promote women's
economic rights and independence, including access to employment, appropriate
working conditions and control over economic resources. We need to facilitate
women's equal access to resources, employment, markets and trade and can do
this by ensuring that business services, training and access to markets, information
and technology are freely available.
By bolstering women's education and their active participation in the economy,
society as a whole will benefit. This is the essence of the United Nations Women
in Development initiative, which has been taken up across the United Nations
system. IMO produced its own strategy for the integration of women into the
maritime sector in 1988 and began implementation of the IMO Women in Development
Programme in 1989, concentrating on equal access to maritime training through
both mainstream programmes and gender specific projects. The increased percentage
of women students here at the World Maritime University (up from 6 per cent
to 30 per cent in the last ten years) and at the IMO International Maritime
Law Institute, Malta, serves to illustrate the programme's wider influence at
the highest level of maritime training.
IMO places the human element and capacity-building high on its agenda, regardless
of gender. In doing so, we recognize that the shipping industry must also reach
out to every sector of the community if it is to attract the very best people
to pursue a maritime career. IMO, therefore, takes specific measures, through
its strategic planning and at the operational level of technical co-operation,
to promote the increased participation of women in the maritime sector. This
is reflected in the Organization's Strategic Plan and through its High Level
Action Plan, which refer, notably, to "strengthening the role of women
in the maritime sector", while, at the operational level, IMO's global
Programme for the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector is the primary
vehicle for our support of the aforementioned Millennium Development Goal number
3: to "Promote gender equality and empower women".
The IMO programme I have just mentioned aims to: integrate women into mainstream
maritime activities; improve women's access to maritime training and technology;
increase the percentage of women at senior management level within the maritime
sector; promote women's economic self-reliance, including access to employment;
and consolidate the integration of women in the maritime sector as an integral
element of IMO's technical co-operation activities.
One of its principal drivers has been the establishment of formal regional linkages
between women managers in the maritime and port industries, to provide a permanent
channel for the exchange of information relating particularly to the effective
implementation and enforcement of global shipping standards. These associations
also provide a springboard for developing regional training opportunities, to
match the specific needs and requirements of women, taking into account the
socio cultural elements which determine access to training and to career development.
The Pacific Women in Maritime Association (PacWIMA) was the first network to
be launched with support from IMO's glogal programme, in Fiji in February 2004,
and it has generated regional co operation and operational linkages for the
women employed in the maritime sector throughout the Pacific Island region.
The Network for Professional Women in the Maritime and Port Sectors of the West
and Central Africa region was subsequently established in Benin, in February
2007, followed by the Arab International Women's Maritime Forum for the Middle
East and North Africa and Africa as a whole, established in Alexandria, Egypt,
in July 2007. A similar initiative has been undertaken in Mombasa, Kenya, to
launch a formal association for professional women in the maritime and port
sectors in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.
Turning for a moment to the shipping industry itself: it has long been acknowledged
that, in many countries, shipping offers a way out of poverty for many workers.
Employment in the industry provides access to foreign currency and a regular
salary with a direct impact on the economic viability of seafarers and their
There is no intrinsic reason why women should not participate in, and benefit
from, employment within the shipping industry. However, the shipping industry
has been traditionally regarded as a male preserve and it is still only a small
percentage of the global workforce of seafarers that are women - a committed
and dedicated workforce that I salute wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, the relevance
of sea experience to many shore-based jobs means that the resource of women
with appropriate skills is limited and will continue to act as a long-term constraint
on the representation of women in the maritime sector as a whole.
And, while there may also be cultural resistance to women working outside the
home, the principal objections to employing women at sea would appear to centre
on the lack of adequate separate facilities for women on board and the physical
requirements inherent in the work. The traditional perception that seafaring
is a man's job can lead to lack of training and work-experience opportunities
for women, compounded by employers' reluctance to appoint those women that are
trained. To break the cycle, proper training has a critical role in the integration
of women into all spheres of professional life, with special emphasis on improving
accessibility at all levels to potential women applicants.
Moreover, just as society as a whole benefits from the full and active participation
of women in the work environment, so does the shipping industry as a whole stand
to benefit from their large-scale integration into the labour force. Female
seafarers are an under-utilized, underdeveloped but valuable resource that could
provide part of the solution to the increasing problem of finding sufficient
adequately trained personnel to manage and operate the world's growing and sophisticated
However, it is clear that, to achieve this, there is a need for changes in attitude
towards employing women as seafarers; recruitment of women in the shipping sector
generally; and increased maritime training opportunities for women.
And so to conclude: we all recognize that women's rights are universal, indivisible
and inalienable human rights that must be protected and promoted. Only by supporting
and advocating for women's full empowerment at all stages of their lives can
gender equality be achieved, and this applies in the workplace as much as in
any other arena. We must strive to eliminate occupational segregation and all
forms of employment discrimination and we must recognize that these goals are
prerequisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural and environmental
security among all people.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.