The importance of collaboration and networking in achieving gender equality in the maritime sector was centre stage at the Global Conference of the IMO Women in Maritime Associations (18-19 May) held at IMO Headquarters in London.  

The need to tackle a lack of visibility of women in the maritime industry; the need for individual women and organizations representing them to work in partnership to achieve more; the importance of having men as allies; and the need to engage with girls during their school years to attract them into roles in maritime were issues raised repeatedly across the two days. 

Members of the IMO’s eight Women in Maritime Associations (WIMAs) from around the world and international partner organizations came together to explore the theme of this year’s International Day for Women in Maritime (18 May), “Mobilizing networks for gender equality”.  

Opening the conference, IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, described gender equality as “a prerequisite for a thriving and resilient maritime industry” that would bring with it, he said, innovation, creativity and sustained growth. Mr Lim continued:  

“We need the best talent. And that means embracing diversity and ensuring that any barriers to participation are broken down. By investing in the future of women in maritime we unlock a wealth of talent that will drive our industry forward.” 

A video entitled “Women in Maritime Can!” which highlights the diversity of roles held by women in the sector was launched at the conference as part of an IMO social media campaign designed to increase the visibility of women who work in maritime.  

An agreement on the SMART-C Women Project (SMART stands for Sustainable Maritime Transport Cooperation), the aim of which is to enhance gender equality in developing countries, was signed by IMO Secretary-General, Mr. Kitack Lim, and His Excellency Mr. Yoon Yeocheol, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the IMO. The agreement provides funding worth $3 million for five years. 

Ambassador Yeocheol said he hoped the accord would be a milestone and pledged the Republic of Korea’s continued support to women in the sector:  

“I sincerely hope that the agreement...will promote more participation of women in the maritime sector and lead to a more diverse and inclusive culture in the maritime industry.  

The conference heard from all eight WIMAs about their objectives, achievements and plans for future initiatives. Associations have been established in Africa (three WIMAs), Arab States, Asia-Pacific (two WIMAs), the Caribbean, and Latin America to challenge some of the institutional barriers and the cultural stigma facing women who enter the maritime industry. (Read more here about IMO’s work on gender equality, including more information on the WIMAs.) 

In a session on the work of WISTA International, its President, Ms. Elpi Petraki, spoke of empowering women “to claim what they deserve” which, she said, would benefit both women and men. She also highlighted continued challenges that face women working onboard ships. “Full equality onboard is a long way off,” Ms. Petraki said. She announced a follow up next year to the 2021 IMO-WISTA Women in Maritime Survey which she hoped would give a more accurate picture of gender diversity across the sector. 

Other sessions included one on the IMO GENder Network and how networks of the IMO training institutes, the World Maritime University (WMU) and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI), and mentorships can be used to best effect. There was a remote presentation from Canada by Mr. Humberto Carolo, Executive Director of White Ribbon, which describes itself as the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls. He spoke about the need for society to challenge the propagation of male stereotypes that ensure women continue to be underrepresented in management roles. 

During a panel discussion called "Breaking the glass ceiling", African’s first female dredge master, Capt. Londy Ngcobo, Ship navigator, and founder of Global Maritime Youth and Director of Womaritime Experts, said she had decided to make a visible statement about her success in the maritime industry: 

“I wore my uniform today. I have claimed my captaincy. To a young star looking at me - she comes with natural hair and brown skin: I too can become a captain. It’s not rocket science.” 

The conference ended with a working session on the development of a draft Global Strategy for the IMO WIMAs. It was agreed that work on the Strategy would continue by correspondence and would be finalized ahead of the Technical Cooperation Committee’s 73rd session (16-20 October) for its endorsement at that meeting. 

Mr. Xiaojie Zhang, Director, Technical Cooperation Division at IMO concluded the conference by thanking those present for their “unwavering commitment to gender equality in the maritime industry". He continued:  

“Our work does not end here. The progress we seek is not to attend in a conference room alone – it is a journey that extends beyond these walls. It requires commitment and determination to break down barriers...The road ahead may be challenging, but each step brings our industry closer to being one that is fairer for all.” 


See more about International Day for Women in Maritime here. 

Photographs of the conference are available here.