5 December 2019

A glance at the maritime economy from a women perspective

The year 2019 was established by the IMO International Maritime Organization as the year of recognizing the importance of the role of women in maritime economy. Ensuring adequate development and employment opportunities, striving for safe, ecological and sustainable shipping in ’17 + 1′ countries can benefit everyone who works in the global maritime community. The current changes and the growing importance of the Polish maritime economy create new perspectives for women in the maritime industry.

Contrary to popular opinion, women have been inspiring and stimulating maritime economy for years. Although the maritime industry is difficult for women and dominated by men, their modest presence (the share of women is only 2% of employees at sea) has strongly marked the history of many maritime economies. It is their names that ships and naval vessels are given One of the most famous ships of Christopher Columbus was called “La Santa Maria” in honor of the Virgin Mary. Since ancient times, women have been sea goddesses, figures of Mother Earth, patrons playing a protective role in the care of sailors and ships. Male sailors simply “love them”.

The International Maritime Organization is increasingly noticing and appreciating the participation of women in shipping. Recently, IMO awarded its most prestigious award – For Special Courage in the Sea – to Hindu captain Radhice Menon, who saved seven fishermen from a sinking fishing boat. As it turns out, there are many brave female sailors in the maritime industry. They are women – champion, real heroines – officers, pilots, engineers, captains.

a shot from movie „Maiden”, source: spidersweb.pl

In China, at the beginning of the 19th century, Ms. Ching Shih became one of the most dangerous women in the entire South China Sea. Despite the difficult pirate past, she was knighted by the imperial decree. Although she started from scratch, under her command the Red Flag Fleet grew in strength. As a female pirate, she began by raking traditional coastal cities and plundering smaller vessels. She was unbeatable. Eventually, in exchange for peace and abandoning piracy, she received  total amnesty from the Chinese government, maintaining her riches and influence.

In Chinese shipping, women such as: Qingfen Kong – the first captain, Jieying Xie – the first deck officer, Yatu Wang – the first female engineer, Zhengrong Li – the first female pilot marked their presence in a special way. Chinese women were also officers aboard the world’s first Chinese cargo ship Fengtao.

In Europe, in the 1950s female captain Danuta Kobylińska-Walas broke the male sea hegemony. The Polish woman became the first woman in the whole Eastern Bloc and the world’s second female captain of the ship. However, in order to get her and swim on the great sea, she had to work hard first. The men didn’t want to let her on board, they didn’t take her seriously.

The captain was not one of those who gave up easily. When I passed the exam for the Grand Navigation Captain with the first place, the men’s jaws dropped – says Kobylińska – Walas. After some time, the impasse was broken and the future captain went through subsequent career grades: she sailed as a third officer on “Szczecin”, second officer on “Kalisz”, and finally as a first officer on “Tczew” and “San”. Danuta Kobylińska-Walas commanded 11 ships, proving each time to be a good and demanding commander. In 1975, officials under the influence of the charismatic captain opened maritime colleges for women. Interest in this direction among women exceeded all expectations, which caused considerable confusion among Polish authorities, which is why in 1977 women’s access to maritime universities was closed. Captain Danuta Kobylińska-Walas, who broke the women’s route, is now retired, but the memory of what she did for women who want to work at sea will always be alive. Thanks to her determination, women today are not being faced with formal obstacles already. And women with officer skills are no longer a sensation.

What connects most feamle sailors is that they have all gone all the way from the so-called “Shoe Shainer to the Millionaire.” From an early age they had to face adversity. Nevertheless, the women who took up the fight showed that they were doing just as well as men. Psychologists and practitioners agree. When it comes to acquiring seafarer’s professional qualifications, it is women who match men, and in some skills they even surpass them, e.g. in relationship-building skills, creativity, readiness to constantly expand horizons as well as courage to explore new areas of knowledge. There is also no doubt that women care more about the ship’s aesthetics, ecology and safety. They introduce iron discipline, they are creative, they have great power to change the world! Thanks to their understanding of sensitivity and empathy, the economy has a chance to grow in the right direction!

During the World Economic Forum in Davos the so-called competences of the future among which, apart from solid knowledge, included some of the abovementioned women’s abilities. In a few years, such competences will be most desirable for employers. Marine engineering, requires mixing of genres, conventions and variety. It is worth ensuring that the teams include people with different characteristics and different predispositions who will have a different view on the problems arising during the implementation of tasks.

The Simens report for the industry noticed that mixed teams allow not only to react quickly, but even to overtake changes. Women increase the creativity and productivity of teams. It can even be said that only teams with women’s participation are able to accelerate the technological development of the economy. Mc Kinsey analysts also note in the “Why diversity matters” report that companies that employ women not only achieve much better financial results, but also they themselves become billionaires of the world!

According to the latest Women Forbes ranking, it is easier for women to succeed and have a creer in countries  undergoing strong economic transition then in those with stable economies. In countries that are chasing the West and developing twice as fast as the EU average, it is easier to break the “glass ceiling” and get to the top.

In Poland and Romania, women more often than in other European countries obtain the diploma of engineer or producer. According to the World Bank, Romania has the lowest gender pay gap in the European Union, 5.2 percent, compared to an EU average of 16 percent. The women of this region are leaders in Europe in terms of involvement in professions traditionally dominated by men, such as exact sciences, mathematics and computer science.

Poland is also at the forefront of countries that can boast of highly qualified staff with unique specialties. Over 1/3 of students at Polish maritime universities are women. Women in Poland are increasingly choosing the profession of engineer, IT specialist or technologist. Ladies often serve on warships and units that are part of the NATO Permanent Defense Team and perform the duties of deputy commander of the ship. Women not only study in large numbers at maritime colleges, but also are increasingly recognized academic teachers. In total, there are 70 women out of 260 scientific and didactic employees, and there are many indications that the number of women, both among students and lecturers at maritime universities will grow. This even means that in the coming years we may be dealing with a progressing feminization of the seafarer’s profession. Developing their passions related to the maritime industry, women are already an important pillar of many design teams. They often support the development of the shipbuilding industry with their knowledge and skills.

In the dynamically developing Chinese economy, women are more often achieving fortunes. worth billions. Chinese women dominate the currently growing number of billionaires. Today they are becoming a model in achieving success and reaching the tops of the professional career. China is dynamically committed to improving the employment of women in the maritime sector and is consistently making efforts to educate and train female seafarers. In 2000, the Shanghai Maritime University was the only one to introduce the first specialized training program dedicated to women. The ‘Women Seafarers’ project has made a historic breakthrough. 365 women have been trained. For the first time in history, women have been given the opportunity to conduct advanced research in the maritime industry. Since 2016, the country has offered women 3600 places in maritime schools. Data from the Chinese Maritime Bureau show that the total number of female captains and officers is 239,000, which is over 15 percent of all maritime personnel in China.

Highly qualified women who managed to gain their place on the maritime labor market showed their strength, qualifications and determination in gaining a high professional position.

The current UN Sustainable Development Goals, trends of the International Maritime Organization and the emerging new formula of the maritime  sustainable, safe and ecological shipping, seem to be an opportunity to increase the participation of  high qualified women on the maritime labor market.
Without highly qualified women, shipping – a global trade engine – will not work well said Cao Desheng, director of the maritime office at the PRC Ministry of Transport.


Publication: Patrycja Zając