Gender equity is more than a cliché – says SAMSA, marking International Women’s Day 2021

Pretoria: 11 March 2021

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide – and in its wake, the devastation both of economies as well as social development as the world knew it until December 2019 – should not be used as another excuse to dampen or delay the critical advancement of women both in the workplace as well as in society generally.

According to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in Pretoria this week, this is particularly true of especially the maritime economic sector globally and domestically – a sector in which only about two (2) percent of the global workforce is constituted by women.

The viewpoint surfaced strongly on International Women’s Day as the State agency under the Department of Transport, joined the global community for the first time in marking the event on Monday, 08 March 2021.

Leading the charge was newly appointed SAMSA acting Chief Executive Officer, Ms Tsepiso Taoana-Mashiloane on a secondment basis until month-end or such other time as a new CEO is appointed. Significantly, on her secondment recently from the Department of Transport, Ms Taoana-Mashiloane became the first woman ever appointed to lead SAMSA in its 21 years of existence.

Noteworthy also, SAMSA’s new Board of Directors appointed in 2020 is also chaired by a woman, Ms Nthato Minyuku.

This year’s IWD21 theme was #ChooseToChallenge and its overall message stated: “A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world?”

  • Celebrate women’s achievement.
  • Raise awareness against bias.
  • Take action for equality.

In SAMSA’s inaugural marking of International Women’s Day 2021 this week at her urging, Ms Taoana-Mashiloane along with three of her colleagues; Captain Pretty Molefe, a principal officer for SAMSA’s Richards Bay office, Captain Antoinette Keller, also a principal officer for SAMSA Cape Town office, and Ms Zamachonco Chonco-Tladi, a chief financial officer for SAMSA since late last year, set aside time to reflect on the significance of the event on Monday to themselves personally and collectively as women both at SAMSA, as well as the general maritime economic sector in South Africa and globally.

Summarily, in the 20-minute video below, Ms Taoana-Mashiloane says while her recent appointment to lead temporarily the organisation is highly significant for women advancement generally, she is currently simply not impressed either by SAMSA or the country that women advancement and empowerment through gender equity centred policies and practices is being taken as seriously and meaningfully as it should, and for this, she says, there is absolutely no excuse.

Twenty-seven years since the dawn of democracy in South Africa and against the backdrop of a plethora of legislative reforms inclusive of a National Policy Framework for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality, women advancement through gender equity still lags very much behind, she says.

As for the maritime sector and role-players therein including SAMSA, she says; South Africa as a Member State of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and related institutions, has a vast wealth of support to draw from in efforts towards purposeful women advancement.

Ms Tsepiso Taoana-Mashiloane. Acting CEO: SAMSA

It is a strongly held view she first shared with SAMSA staff in an internal memo on Monday, wherein she stated: ““I join the IWD 2021 #ChooseToChallenge by expressing my sentiments as a woman in maritime transport. I am an empowered woman and I strive to always empower other women.

“We are SAMSAítes women and we are changing to rise to the challenge by celebrating all women in maritime/shipping. The gender split in SAMSA Executive level stills shows an organization stuck to the old saying that this is a ‘man’s world’.

“Women Can! And with the right skills set, education and empowerment, now is the time for SAMSA to embrace gender diversity, harness our energy and creativity to make a contribution to SDG#5 Gender Equality,” said Ms Taoana-Mashiloane.

In the video, Ms Taoana-Mashiloane strongly suggests that women, in fact, should be in the leadership of women advancement themselves.

In marking IWD21 internally, SAMSA developed a set of posters featuring some of the agency’s women. In addition, video interviews were arranged for some of the employees in order for them to also freely express their views on the subject. Two of these additional video interviews are shared below, here along with Ms Taoana-Mashiloane’s.

Crucially, the two SAMSA female employees interviewed, Captain Keller and Ms Chonco-Tladi – both holding senior ranking positions at SAMSA in administration and operations, shared much in common with the agency’s acting chief executive officer.

I don’t like to be placed in “a box”. I don’t like stereotyping, for example; the stereotype of women as the carer. Through hard work and determination women are just as capable as men to excel in the workplace.

Captain Antoinette Keller. Master Mariner and Principal Officer at South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

Both Captain Keller and Ms Chonco-Tladi felt there was far more expressed intent – alternatively, “too much chit-chat about it’- than actual meaningful action in advancing women within both at SAMSA and the country in general.

Captain Antoinette Keller. Principal Officer: SAMSA (Cape Town)

In the video below, Captain Keller – South Africa’s first female Master Mariner as well as the first female Principal Officer for SAMSA – states: “It was through hard work and determination that I was able to work through the ranks and I believe that I opened the door for many other women pursuing a maritime career.”

Captain Keller, also the 2020 SAMSA’s CEO Excellence Award overall winner in recognition of her work contribution beyond the call of duty, states; “I do support gender equity strategies. However, I think it is sad that strategies such as these are required to be established in the first place. I don’t like to be placed in “a box”. I don’t like stereotyping, for example; the stereotype of women as the carer. Through hard work and determination women are just as capable as men to excel in the workplace.

“South Africa is a diverse nation and we should embrace the diversity by allowing fresh and dynamic perspectives based on who is most capable for the job. I do support gender equity. However, the tools must be given to allow success. There should be confidence in the person fulfilling the role otherwise it can open ways for one to be undermined in the workplace.

“Both genders bring strengths to the table. In the maritime industry, it is not that women are not given opportunities, however there is scope for a lot more that can be done. More focus and awareness should be placed on possible career opportunities in the maritime sector and we need a big behavioural change. Not many people are aware of what the maritime industry can offer or who SAMSA is and the role we play in the maritime sector,” says Capt. Keller.

For more on this, click on the video below.

Ms Zamachonco Chonco-Tladi. Chief Financial Officer: SAMSA

Meanwhile, Ms Chonco-Tladi, a Chartered Accountant with a relatively long professional service history, yet virtually a beginner in the maritime sector after having joined SAMSA in the second half of 2020, concurred with both views that the subject of women advancement was getting tired for being talked about for years, with little action to advance it; but also pregnant with opportunity for all members of society to work together to bring about transformation and justice for women.

She said she was among those prepared to roll up their sleeves and get into action for women empowerment and advancement. A mentor of note, quite keen to readily share her knowledge and experience, Ms Chonco-Tladi said more awareness through focused campaigns was crucial. Click on the video for her full views.

In Richards Bay, Captain Pretty Molefe, yet another pioneer in her own right for also being among the first batch of black females to qualify as Master Mariners in South Africa, as well as being the first black female Principal Officer, in acting capacity for SAMSA, shared her views in writing this week.

People always expect men in certain positions and often get surprised when a female pitch up. In general, it is a job that is predominantly perceived as a male job and one has to work extra hard than a male counterpart

Captain Pretty Molefe. Acting Principal Officer at SAMSA (Richards Bay)

She also remarked on the significance of marking IWD21 relative to the poor and painfully slow progress being made in the country and precisely the maritime sector towards women advancement through gender equity centred policies, several of which have long been in existence in a variety of forms.

Captain Pretty Molefe. Acting Principal Officer: SAMSA (Richards Bay)

“I generally love what I do. The ship and shore aspect of it. I like being part of a team and learning new things all the time. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have only had male mentors in my career path as there are not many females that come before me. Some of those that came before me, I, unfortunately have had to admire from a distance; but one or two have made an indirect impact in my career path.”

“Many people often ask about challenges that one has faced in this career as a female. There are a lot, both at sea and on the shore side. People always expect men in certain positions and often get surprised when a female pitch up. In general, it is a job that is predominantly perceived as a male job and one has to work extra hard than a male counterpart,” says Captain Molefe.

According to Ms Taoana Mashiloane, SAMSA will continue to be among progressive State organisations to scale up efforts towards meaningful women advancement in the country’s maritime sector, at least if she has anything to do with it. She lists a set of initiatives she envisages should receive priority towards this end, among which is the formal re launch of a women in maritime structure whose rebirth last year was hampered by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Awareness campaigns conducted jointly with other organisations in the sector, including the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), Transnet and others are also in the planning, she sad.

By this time next year, said Ms Taoana-Mashiloane, there should be a comprehensive report in place reflecting on progress being made towards women advancement in the country’s maritime economic sector

End.

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