Challenges faced by women seafarers

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is celebrating 18th May as the International Day for Women in Maritime to recognize the significant contributions of women in the maritime industry and promote gender equality within the sector. Today, women represent around 1.2% per cent of the global seafarer workforce, it is estimated that there are around 24,059 women seafarers.


The idea to dedicate a day to Women in Marine stems from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goal 5, which primarily focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. IMO recognizes the need to address gender imbalance as the maritime industry has traditionally been a male-dominated maritime industry. Hence it is essential to take active steps to enhance women’s participation in the maritime sector. Therefore, this day is being celebrated to promote women’s participation and involvement in maritime activities.

Every year, for this day a specific theme is decided, and these themes often revolve around promoting gender diversity, fostering women’s empowerment, and enhancing opportunities for women in maritime professions. The theme for 2023 is “Mobilizing networks for gender equality”.

The International Day for Women in Maritime serves as a platform to recognize and showcase the achievements of women in different maritime roles, such as seafarers, engineers, naval architects, port workers, and maritime administrators. Overall, it plays a crucial role in promoting gender equality, empowering women, and encouraging greater participation of women in the maritime industry. It serves as a reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the sector, ultimately contributing to a more sustainable and equitable maritime industry.

In order to achieve equality in the real sense, protecting the Human Rights of women seafarers should be the priority. This piece will highlight various challenges faced by women seafarers and the position of India in defending the Human Rights of Indian Women Seafarers.

Human Rights of Women Seafarers:

Owing to the lesser representation of women seafarers in the maritime industry, their rights are often overlooked. Prejudice against women professionals is accepted this often runs a risk of their rights being denied to them. Women seafarers face a series of gender-related challenges while working in a male-dominated maritime industry.

These challenges include stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, loneliness and occupational injuries. It is important to note that the list of challenges is extensive and cannot be fully explored in detail at this stage. Women find themselves simultaneously dealing with gender-based challenges while adjusting to a gender-biased job in the maritime sector. Maritime welfare support was traditionally developed to respond to the needs of male seafarers. Now that we are witnessing a greater presence of women in the maritime industry, now the welfare agencies need to ask themselves, what more can be done to identify and meet the support needs of women seafarers.

Sexual harassment at the workplace is also a major concern and firm action needs to be taken from all sectors of the maritime industry. Sexual harassment or intimidation can occur in various manner, ranging from what might be perceived as inappropriate remarks, to actual physical threats, violence and all of these have great impacts on mental health of the victim. It should be a priority to make all the vessels a safer space for women in maritime.

Like all individuals, women seafarers are entitled to the protection and enjoyment of their rights. Here are some fundamental human rights considerations for women seafarers:

1. Equality and Non-Discrimination

Women seafarers have the right to equal treatment and opportunities in the maritime industry without any discrimination based on gender. They should have equal access to employment, training, promotion, and fair remuneration, regardless of.

2. Health and Safety of Women seafarers

They have the right to work in an environment that promotes their health and safety. This includes adequate accommodations, appropriate sanitary facilities, access to medical care, and measures to address specific health needs, such as reproductive health. It should be the responsibility of flag states to make sure that a healthy environment is being offered to all women seafarers. Right to health is an inherent and inescapable part of a dignified life. In the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre V. Union of India, it was held that the right to health and medical aid to protect workers’ health is a fundamental right under the Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

3. Maternity leave

Women seafarers have the right to maternity leave as well, the possibility to start a family and keep their career is vital for gender equality. Protection against unfair dismissal during pregnancy, and access to necessary healthcare services is an important human right that must be protected. Employers should provide adequate support and accommodations to ensure the well-being of pregnant seafarers and facilitate their return to work after maternity leave.

4. Protection from Harassment and Abuse

Women seafarers have the right to be free from any form of harassment, abuse, or violence, including sexual harassment. They should have access to mechanisms that allow them to report incidents of misconduct and seek appropriate redress. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013 mandates that every organization employing women, including maritime companies, must establish an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to address complaints of sexual harassment. The ICC is responsible for receiving and investigating complaints, conducting inquiries, and taking appropriate action against the offenders. The DG Shipping has established a Complaint Committee for addressing the Sexual Harassment of women seafarers at the workplace on 30th January, 2023. Only the time will tell the effectiveness of the steps taken by the concerned authorities.

5. Access to Education and Training of Women Seafarers:

There is clear evidence that women continue to face discrimination while seeking maritime education and training. Women seafarers have the right to access education and training opportunities that enable them to develop their skills and advance in their careers. Efforts should be made to address gender disparities in training programs and ensure equal access for women. Also, on the occasion of the previous International Day for Women in Maritime, A.P. Moller – Maersk’s (Maersk) announced India’s first seafarers’ cadet programme dedicated to young women who wish to choose a career in maritime. This is definitely a very positive step to encourage women to take up seafaring.

6. Freedom of Association:

Article 19(1) (c) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens the right to form associations; therefore the women seafarers should have the right to freely associate and participate in trade unions or other associations that protect their rights and interests. They should be able to collectively bargain for better working conditions and voice their concerns without fear of reprisals.


    The above-mentioned human rights issues are not exhaustive, but all of them are significant and applicable to all women seafarers, regardless of their rank, nationality, or type of vessel they work on. Ensuring the protection and promotion of these rights is essential for creating a fair, inclusive, and sustainable maritime industry.

    Further, women seafarers should have greater participation in decision-making processes, especially on the issues affecting their lives and working conditions. They should be included in policy discussions, industry initiatives, and programs aimed at improving the maritime sector.

    Way forward:

    • Efforts should be taken to eliminate the social stigma attached to women seafarers, this can be done by spreading awareness about this field and career opportunities available in maritime industry for women. And for spreading social awareness and gender sensitization, regular workshops/ seminar/ training programme may be organized at the Government level as well as institutional level.
    • Specific knowledge/ awareness about their rights/ do’s & don’ts at sea is essential for women seafarers; therefore a comprehensive handbook may be prepared and made compulsory module of training.
    • A strong and efficient redressal mechanism is required to resolve the issues of women seafarers, and strict timelines to be drawn and timely disposal of the matters.
    • Appointment of mental health experts/ clinical psychologist should be made compulsory at ships and regular sessions may be conducted for seafarers.


    As blog of the week, this article is shared by courtesy of Deepansh Tripathi.

    For more news about women in maritime, click here.


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