Pretoria: 29 May 2023
The strengthening of women’s grip and hold onto Africa and global maritime affairs is set to receive yet another boost in South Africa with the relaunch of the country’s chapter of the Women in the Maritime Sector in Eastern and Southern Africa (WOMESA) at Gqeberha, Eastern Cape, this week.
Leading the relaunch of WOMESA South Africa chapter during the event on Tuesday will be South Africa’s Minister of Transport, Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga, accompanied by the Eastern Cape Province Premier, Mr Oscar Mabuyane, the province’s Transport MEC, Mr Xolile Nqatha, Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor, Mr Gary van Niekerk, along with several women of different occupations in the region’s maritime economic sector.
WOMESA, founded in Mombasa, Kenya in 2007; has membership in about 25 countries within the East and Southern African region including Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Thirteen of these countries have formal domestic WOMESA structures or chapters, in the Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
WOMESA projects its vision as one focused on development of the body to be ‘…a key partner for gender inclusivity in the sustainable development agenda of the maritime sector in Africa.’ Towards the goal, WOMESA’s mission is to “…promote active women participation in the maritime sector and contribute to the growth of the industry in Eastern and Southern Africa through pursuance of activities aimed at promoting gender equality.”
In its strategic aim for the five years 2022-2026, WOMESA says it is pursuing 11 objectives, among them the enhancement of training and capacity building, strengthening of mentorship programs, identification and mobilization of fundraising approaches, establishing and nurturing smart partnerships and networks, intensifying the fight against Gender Based Violence (GBV), identifying new opportunities for women in the Blue Economy, operationalizing its regional secretariat, establishing new national chapters, enhancing research and development, promoting visibility, intensifying advocacy and awareness as well as undertaking corporate and social responsibility activities.
Undergirding WOMESA’s drive is the IMO’s program on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector (IWMS) launched in 1989, with a ‘primary objective is to encourage IMO Member States to open the doors of their maritime institutes to enable women to train alongside men and so acquire the high-level of competence that the maritime industry demands.’
The relaunch this week of the South Africa chapter of WOMESA in Nelson Mandela Bay, occurring during the month of May on which Member States of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) celebrate a Women in Maritime Day (18 May), is a culmination of efforts by various players in the maritime sector, including the Department of Transport, the Association of African Maritime Administrators (AAMA) and others over the last five years, to resuscitate the structure following a collapse of the initiative in the country a few years earlier.
Organisers of this week’s relaunch event, over two-days, on Tuesday and Wednesday; described the resuscitation of the South Africa WOMESA chapter as crucial towards advancement of the body’s vision and mission. “The relaunching of WOMESA (in South Africa) is of paramount importance in harnessing benefits from the IMO and the broader maritime community to empower women in the industry.
“The South African Chapter of WOMESA has been inactive and did not participate in the Strategic Plan 2014-2019. This has left a vacuum in terms of accessing benefits from the IMO and other support partners such as World Maritime University (WMU), United Nations, Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA), etc.
“South African women have therefore not been able to benefit from scholarships and training opportunities offered by the IMO and other women empowerment initiatives.,” said the organisers in a statement. Broadly however, a most fundamental issue, they said, was that the role of women in the maritime sector globally was still very narrow as evidenced by their dominance of only one sub-sector: the cruise industry.
“According to the IMO, women currently represent only two percent of the world’s 1,2 million seafarers in a largely male dominated sector, and 94 percent of female seafarers are working in the cruise industry. This shows that a lot more needs to be done to increase the number of female workers across all areas of maritime professions – both shore-based and sea-going,” said the organisers.
Fraternal organisations rendering support to the initiative in both the public and private maritime sectors include South Africa’s Department of Transport (DoT), the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Transnet National Ports Authority (TPNA), National Ports Consultative Council (NPCC), South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), eThekwini Maritime Chamber (EMC) African Maritime Solutions (AMSOL), Oceana, Heron-Marine and the local (South Africa) chapter of the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA).
Among other highlights, the WOMESA event will also see a new local chapter leadership elected on the second day of the gathering, and a Memorandum of Understanding finalised with WISTA, on Wednesday.
Proceedings at the Southern Sun Marine Parade Hotel in Humewood, Gqeberha on Tuesday and Wednesday are scheduled to begin a 9am, with the first day punctuated by speeches and statements of support, led by Ms Chikunga, Mr Mabuyane and Mr Van Niekerk.