IWD 2023: Leaders strive for ‘equal opportunities’ in the maritime industry

Seafaring has no gender. 

In time for the International Women’s Day (IWD), Filipino leaders expound the life of women seafarers and the challenges that they continue to face.

Women on board

SHEfarers is a term used by Norwegian Ambassador to the Philippines Christian Halaas Lyster to describe women on board or the minority of maritime workforce. Although many are expressing interest to join the field, the Seafarer Workforce Report showed that the global average of women seafarers is only at 1.2 percent. 

“Recruitment of more women over the last years has been a focus area for many shipping companies. What they might have failed to realize is the fact that the environment on board, the design, and the daily life has been made to cater to men,” said Norwegian Training Center (NTC) Managing Director Jo Tomren.

To further delve into this, the NTC invited maritime experts in a symposium to discuss difficulties on board. 


Various Filipino leaders on Wednesday, March 8, tackled the hurdles faced by the majority of women seafarers. These include pay gap, persisting health issues, discrimination, exploitation, sexual harassment, violence, and limited opportunities for promotion. 

In 2015, a survey on women seafarers’ health was conducted. This showed that stress, anxiety, depression, back pain, and headache were the most common issues reported by the respondents. 

During a panel discussion, Dr. Christian Angelo Didoy explained that 48 percent of the respondents said they have problems seeking medical care on board; 37 percent stated that they do not have access to sanitary bins; while 18 percent raised sexual harassment as an issue. 

Backing this data, Rosemelyn Boongaling, a seafarer since 2008 and also one of the panelists, opened the discussion on the harassment and bullying experienced by most women seafarers. 

“Most women, especially cadets, encountered such avoidable circumstances. I, myself, unfortunately experienced such treatment,” said Boongaling. 

What needs to be done

While the leaders already made it clear that women should be given more space in the maritime industry, they also stressed that this does not entail giving preference for women. This, the panelists reiterated, is only to ensure that women can also be competent in the field. 

“We [need to create] an environment [where] everybody is at par. From there on, seafarers – both male and female – can have a leveled playing field where they excel. It’s only up to them how they perform and how they excel,” said Head of Nautical at NTC’s Research and Development Rodcyn Yumang. 

The fight for gender equality in the maritime industry is still long, but this cannot undo the changes and progress that has already been made. According to Didoy, from 2015 to 2021, the number of women seafarers grew by 45.8 percent, which means that female seafarers are being recognized and more are getting the opportunities. 

“We are in the right direction. The more we talk about it, the more [it will be accepted] and eventually it will become a culture,” said Didoy.