Pretoria: 07 December 2021
Technological advancements in global shipping and related activity in the maritime sector, along with the global impacts of the rampant unseizing spread of the Covid-19 may remain central to discussions of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 175 Member States General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session currently on – in a hybrid format – from London; however, women empowerment in the sector also remains central.
That’s at least according to the immediate past president of the Assembly, Ms Nomatemba Tambo – currently South Africa’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the country’s permanent representative at the IMO.
According to the IMO, citing a BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report, women represent only 1.2% (or 24,059) of the global seafarer workforce. However, the IMO says that while this may seem miniscule in comparative terms, in actual fact, “..this represents a positive trend in gender balance” as it reflects a 45.8% increase compared with 2015 figures.
Currently, the IMO working in conjunction with the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA International) is conducting a global maritime industry survey intended to “obtain baseline data on the number of women in maritime and oceans fields and the positions they occupy.”
The plan, say the IMO and WISTA; “…is to repeat the survey every three years…..our aim (being) to support implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by having comparable data that will assist us in creating programmes and proposing policies that will increase the participation of women in maritime.
“This will help promote a more diverse and inclusive environment in our sector. We will publish a report on the aggregate numbers that will be available to all interested parties.”
In her final presidential speech reflecting on work of the IMO over the past two years, on Monday Ms Tambo applauded the international organisation for formally endorsing the establishment of a dedicated day to celebrate women directly, annually, in the maritime sector, beginning next May.
She said: “I ….commend the IMO for declaring 18 May as the International Day for Women in Maritime. This is a great step in celebrating women’s efforts and their contribution to the maritime and shipping industry. I believe that this initiative will succeed in raising the profile of women, removing the barriers of entry and addressing gender imbalance faced by women in the maritime and shipping sector.”
The IMO Council agreed on the establishment of the dedicated day for women in maritime at its November 2020 meeting and now, it’s due for formal adoption as a resolution by the General Assembly currently gathered in London for its 32nd Regular Session, beginning Monday this week through to Wednesday next week.
From a South Africa pespective, the development is partly a direct result of the IMO’s inclusion of more female officials in its governance structures, as exemplified by Ms Tambo’s ascendancy two years ago to the presidency of the organisation’s General Assembly.
South Africa, one of several southern and eastern African countries involved in an initiative to relaunch the Women in Maritime Sector in Eastern and Southern Africa (WOMESA), but rescheduled due to South Africa’s inability last October (2020) to host the IMO General Assemby Parallel Event billed for Durban owing to the global oubreak of Covid-19, views Ms Tambo’s contribution in the maritime sector as pioneering.
Ms Tambo’s two-year reign ended on Monday with the election of Philippines’ permanent representative to the IMO, Mr Mr Antonio Manuel R. Lagdameo as the successor. However, his 1st Deputy is yet another Southern Africa woman, Ms Linda Scot of Namibia.
Effectively, this means that two women, both of Southern Africa will have been at the helm of the IMO General Assembly for a combined four years both as President and deputy President respectively and successively – a historical record to date.
Ms Tambo remains South Africa’s permanent representative at the IMO.
On the establishment of a dedicated maritime women’s day, last November, the IMO Council’s explanation of its decision was that; “Once adopted by the IMO Assembly in December 2021, the observance will celebrate women in the industry, promote the recruitment, retention and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector, raise the profile of women in maritime, strengthen IMO’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) and support work to address the current gender imbalance in maritime.”
The development immediately received praise from the IMO’s Secretary-General, Mr Kitack Lim. “I welcome the Council’s adoption of this proposal. Not only does it further efforts to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality, but it is a perfect follow-on action to the IMO Assembly’s resolution and call to achieve a barrier-free environment for women, so that all women can participate fully, safely and without hindrance in the activities of the maritime community, including seafaring and shipbuilding.” said Mr Lim at the time
After being formally endorsed this week by the General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session members, the day will feature prominently among the global maritime sector’s annual calendar that already includes a Day of the Seafarer (June) and a World Maritime Day (October).
In the meantime, in his opening remarks of the IMO General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session in London on Monday, Mr Lim confirmed that the 2022 World Maritime Day will be “New technologies for Greener Shipping”. This year’s World Maritime Theme was: “Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future“