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European Shipping Week- WMU Promotes Enhanced Participation of Women in Maritime Professions


Participation of Women in the European Shipping Industry was part of the focus during European Shipping Week 2020 that took place in Brussels 17-21 February. Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU), delivered remarks at the Gala Dinner as well as setting the scene for the session on 18 February with a keynote address on Gender diversity: Better for People, Better for the Profession, Better for the Industry.

President Doumbia-Henry pointed out that in the last 27 years, the percentage of women seafarers has remained as low as one to two percent. She noted the importance of education, but also referred to significant barriers facing women entering the workforce, including institutional arrangements, tax systems, social justice issues such as lower and unequal pay, violence and harassment in the workplace, a weak voice and low representation of women. 

WMU is committed to supporting the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 that is focused on gender equality. President Doumbia-Henry highlighted the Third International Women’s Conference on Empowering Women in the Maritime Community that WMU held in the spring of 2019. Over 350 participants from more than 70 countries adopted conclusions identifying 17 actions that could be taken to advance gender balance in the maritime and oceans sectors. “WMU bridged various maritime, ports and ocean sectors together to discuss our common challenge – gender equality. This attempt by itself was quite innovative since the maritime industry tends to work with the people in the same sector and not beyond. WMU’s mandate includes developing maritime, ports and ocean leaders; our position is unique in this sense that we can connect people across different maritime and ocean sectors,” she said.

WMU recorded female student representation at 3% in 1983. Today, this number has significantly improved to 34% (one third) in 2019 in the Malmö-based MSc programme. In the Shanghai MSc programme, gender parity has been achieved with 50/50 male-female student ratio. President Doumbia-Henry emphasized that partnership and collaboration are the key in achieving a critical mass of female representation in the maritime community. 

“If we all work together, we will be able to achieve a sustainable future for maritime and ocean communities that is gender sensitive in all its dimensions,” said President Doumbia-Henry. She highlighted WMU’s major, 3-year, research project titled “Empower Women for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development”. Sponsored by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the research aims to remove barriers to women’s participation in both the conduct of ocean science and within science dependent governance systems. 

In her speech at the Gala Dinner, President Doumbia-Henry emphasized the indispensable nature of the maritime industry to world trade, the importance of sustainable development, the rapid advancement of technology, the increased need for partnership and cooperation as well as the importance of leadership for the future we want. She led a toast :“To healthy and clean oceans; To responsible stewardship of the seas and a sustainable and productive industry; To ethical and socially responsible ship ownership and operations; To an optimistic, collaborative and sustainable future for the maritime and ocean industry.”

European Shipping Week is a platform where EU policy-makers can meet and engage with European shipowners and other stakeholders from the maritime sector. The focus is on shipping, in all its different aspects, including the participation of sectors linked to the shipping industry

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