International Women’s Day 2017

March 8, 2017

March 8 is annually recognized as International Women's Day (IWD), a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day is also a call to action for accelerating gender parity. WMU marked IWD at events in both Sri Lanka and at the University’s headquarters in Malmö, Sweden.

President Doumbia-Henry spoke at the Women in Shipping and Trading (WISTA) Sri Lanka IWD event with remarks focused on Maritime Education and Women in the Maritime Sector – A Global Outlook. “This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Be Bold For Change. This is a driver for change and progress for women. The bold objectives are achievable. We now have an incredible opportunity to make them a reality, moving from promise to action, from lofty goals to concrete outcomes and effective implementation. Governments, industry, academia and civil society all have a role to play,” stated Dr Doumbia-Henry.

The President emphasized the WMU’s commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and utilized the occasion to focus on the University’s efforts related to Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. She noted that the percentage of women seafarers is as low as it was 25 years ago and remains at only one per cent.

The President highlighted the rapid progress WMU is making in supporting gender equality in the maritime industry by achieving a 14 per cent increase of female students within the last three years. In 1995, WMU had less than eight per cent of women enrolled in its Masters of Science programme. To date, out of the total of 4,359 graduates, 857 are women equating nearly 20 per cent of the alumni and two out of the 12 PhD graduates are women. The Malmö Class of 2017 surpassed last year’s record of 32 per cent female students. Of the 134 students currently enrolled in Malmö, 48 are women comprising nearly 37 per cent of the class.

President Doumbia-Henry also spoke in Sri Lanka at the Graduation of the first corps of Sri Lanka Women Crane Drivers. Over 90 per cent of global trade is carried by sea and in her extensive career at the International Labour Organization, Dr Doumbia-Henry contributed significantly to the improvement of the working conditions of all seafarers, fishers and port workers, and in particular those of women. A milestone result was the adoption by the ILO of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006) that was designed as a gender sensitive international treaty seeking to ensure that the maritime workplace is free from bias and discrimination. Dr Doumbia-Henry stated, “One of the best-kept secrets is that the MLC 2006 is the most gender sensitive International Convention of over 100 pages that you can find outside of instruments specifically dedicated to gender equality and non-discrimination.” She encouraged the graduates to remember the leaders who blazed the trails for women and to never be afraid of pushing boundaries for a better world. “Together we will contribute to the sustainable development of the maritime sector, one that is gender sensitive and provides opportunities for both women and men,” she stated.

At WMU, the World Maritime University Women’s Association (WMUWA) hosted an IWD programme for students and staff entitled Be Bold for Change, reflecting the official IWD 2017 theme. The objectives of the WMUWA are to connect, educate and inspire women in the maritime industry and to promote the interests of female maritime professionals through the creation of an international network for women from the WMU and women involved in other internationally recognized female associations in the maritime sector.

Opening remarks were delivered on behalf of the President by Susan Jackson, WMU Registrar. She emphasized that as part of the United Nations family, WMU students are expected to directly and personally play their part in helping to achieve the UN SDGs. She stated, “Together, talent and technology can deliver sustainable economic growth and innumerable benefits to society. But if half of the world’s talent is not integrated—as both beneficiary and shaper—into the transformations underway, we will compromise innovation and risk a rise in inequality...Education is the engine of sustainable economic growth – and so also the engine of social justice. It is an immensely powerful tool to make change happen and happen well.”

The guest speaker was Dr Inger Lindstedt, Professor Emeritus of Media and Communication Studies K3, Arts and Communication at Malmö University. She spoke about the evolution of gender parity in Sweden and noted that significant advances were achieved in the 1970s when, based on a public movement, the Swedish government made public daycare available and affordable to all enabling women to play a larger role in the work force. She advocated for further significant change stating, “Seeds can grow in the most unfriendly places. Just a small amount of soil and the seed can start growing. A small plant grows bigger and can break up stones and move things.”

Dr Lindstedt highlighted the IWD theme of Be Bold For Change and proposed four necessary points to affect change that include analyzing what you can change, being where the decisions are made, knowing what you want to do and the importance of a professional network. She emphasized that it is essential to make your voice heard, recognizing that it may not always be easy, but that if you don’t speak up, there will not be change. She proposed that in affecting male attitudes about gender equality, the place to start is within our own families, with our brothers and sons.

The final presentation of the event was by Ms Grace M Vaye, a current WMU MSc student in the Maritime Safety and Environmental Administration specialization. Ms Vaye came to WMU from the Liberia Maritime Authority where she served as the Chief of Maritime Operations and Quality Management. She has worked as a seafarer and spoke of the challenges she faced not only in gaining the opportunity to train as a seafarer in her home country, but also the challenges she faced on ship. She encouraged her female classmates not to wait for opportunities, but to create them. “We are humans and we deserve a seat at the table, but if we want a place at the table, we must be prepared for it,” she stated, adding a word of caution, “Do not lose your identity trying to fit into a man’s world, let your identity redefine the maritime profession to be a globalized profession, as it should be, where women and men are equally represented. Remember that the actualization of your goals depends on the degree of your determination.”

WMUWA President, Emma Metieh Glassco, announced the launch of the WMUWA website and the Association’s plans to establish a mentorship programme in the latter part of 2017 to enhance WMUWA’s existing relationship with the International Maritime Organization’s seven regional support networks for women. She further noted that the WMUWA is exploring partnership opportunities with other maritime-related women’s associations in the region and emphasized that men are welcome to join the WMUWA as affiliate members.

IWD has been observed since the early 1900s and was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. To learn more about IMO's and WMU's efforts to promote gender equality click here.