Women today, have left no stone unturned. There’s no professional field where women haven’t proven their worth. They’ve shouldered all kinds of responsibilities with astounding success. Women entering the seafaring trade is a small but ever growing notion. Women sailors population remains low, however, it does exist.
Seafaring as we know it is conventionally a man’s world, but with a strong sense of determination, nothing is unachievable. Even something as arduous as seafaring can be made possible with mental, physical and emotional strength and courage.
Still, it’s rare to find women sailors at sea. However, thanks to the trade unions, more women are confronting the prejudice and becoming valuable members of ships’ crew.
Being an overwhelmingly male dominated industry, shipping industry does provide some unique and unusual challenges for women sailors. Some of these are highlighted below:
Being accepted in a group majorly dominated by men is the first and foremost challenge that women sailors face. Feeling left out or being ignored is common. Although, with time as you continue working together as a team, you earn respect of fellow crew members and the problem can get diluted. Being strong and showing active participation is important. Eventually people learn to live together inspite of their differences.
2. Prejudice & Stereotypes
Every female Seafarer is going to encounter the question why they chose to enter Merchant Navy. It can be very discouraging and disconcerting. Most Seamen have a common belief that women have no business on-board a ship. Seamen have different ways to convey their bitterness toward fellow women seafarers. They may advise them to quit the career and look for jobs ashore. Some force the women sailors to think that she’s too weak and incompetent to do a man’s job. Willpower is essential to overcome such prejudice.
3. Lack of basics
The masculine domination is also reflected in the ships culture. Most ships have neither the uniforms nor the shoes to fit women sailors. Everyone on-board takes it for granted that no women will ever work with them. Talking openly with senior officers and requesting them to look into this matter can solve this problem.
The basic design structure of the ship is built with an assumption that the environment of the ship is male territory. However, with time shipping building companies are over coming these assumptions and designing ships which are better equipped for female staff.
4. Assumptions & Narrow-mindedness
Good relationships with few male colleagues can give rise to jealousy and also lead to a sort of favoritism. This can disrupt the unity. It is better to mingle with all equally than to give space and importance to anyone in particular.
5. Coming out of the comfort zone
During the initial days of training there may be many arduous tasks. These can include lifting heavy weight, working under the scorching sun, extreme weather conditions etc. The fellow mates might be more versatile while doing tasks single handedly. Women are often looked at with askance questioning their competency. Coming out of your comfort zone plays a vital role here. With persistent and diligent efforts your confidence will begin to burgeon.
We hope this article encourages young women to face the challenges and make a promising career in the field of Merchant Navy, increasing the percentage of women Seafarers in the industry. For some inspiration, read the story of Capt. Radhika Menon, the first female to receive ‘Bravery at Sea’ award.