Gender discrimination at sea, are we doing enough?
How can shipping companies support the mental well-being of seafarers and eradicate gender discrimination – and are they doing enough? These are some of the topics that Sophia Onken, partner and clinical psychologist at Mental Health Support Solutions (MHSS), discussed during the “Wellbeing For Women In Shipping” webinar on May 14th.
The event organized by the MHSS – which provides professional mental health support and advice in the maritime sector – explored the challenges faced by female crew members, such as sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination based on sex and the stress of life on board a ship. It also covered women’s resilience strategies in the maritime transport sector, ways to improve their well-being and issues to be addressed to improve their working lives.
“When it comes to boating, it seems women are often treated like outsiders,” Onken said. “Typical reasons for this are being perceived as inferior to men, receiving unequal treatment compared to their male counterparts, and suffering from verbal or physical sexual harassment.”
Onken added that the lack of women in the maritime industry – accounting for only 2% of the workforce – was a major obstacle for women at sea. “There is a low ratio of women to men. on the bridge, which could partly explain why their problems are not resolved at work, ”she said. “For this reason, more female jobs should be encouraged in the maritime sector.”
Although boating is one of the leading causes of stress-related suicide in men, studies show that mental health issues are a concern for their female counterparts as well. “Some women experience work-related stress and physical problems aboard a ship, which can lead to suicide attempts,” said Christian Ayerst, CEO of MHSS.
Research over the past few years highlights some of the problems that seafarers face when working. According to a survey on the health and well-being of seafarers, 18% of the 595 female crew members who responded said they had experienced sexual harassment on board.
“The study clearly shows the need for public awareness as many women experience unfair treatment at work,” Ms. Onken said. “An example is the fact of not having access to sanitary bins or to products specific to women.”
The main symptoms among women with physical or mental health issues at sea were joint / back pain, stress / depression / anxiety, and headaches, with 55% attributing these issues to their work.
A separate study of women working at sea for Greek-owned shipping companies found that men viewed their female counterparts as equals when it came to professional success. However, only a minority of men felt that the women could play as well as the crew men. The “Employment of Women at Sea” report also found that most men were unwilling to accept a woman as superior in the ship’s hierarchy or as port captains ashore.
“This study shows the persistent belief that seafarers are inferior to their male counterparts,” said Onken. “While most respondents (63%) believed that women should be given the opportunity to work at sea, only 19.6% believed that women could be as competent as men. This fuels the belief that women are not employable, discouraging them from entering or remaining in the maritime industry. We need to change that. “
Onken added that studies have highlighted the discrimination women face in the “male-dominated” shipping industry. “These issues include, but are not limited to, sexual harassment and limited access to resources specific to women,” she said. “Encouraging women to join the sector will go a long way in reversing, or at least reducing, these problems.”
Sea News, May 17