Empowering women leaders for a sustainable maritime industry

It is high time to shift the maritime industry’s culture by providing opportunities for women to reduce inequalities 


WOMEN’S leadership in the maritime industry is a controversial subject, and the trend of women’s rights has become a fascinating topic for debate, particularly in professions that are still male-dominated. 

It has been a longstanding practice in the maritime community to perceive sailing and other searelated occupations as a male-only realm. 

However, in today’s maritime community, such a norm is no longer regarded as “logical”. 

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) launched the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector (IWMS) programme in 1988, which is credited with establishing fair recognition of women’s contributions to the maritime industry. 

Indeed, “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community” was chosen as the 2019 World Maritime Day theme. This provided an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of gender equality in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as to highlight the significant contribution of women worldwide to the maritime sector. 

There have been several women leaders who have gained recognition in the maritime profession. Among them is Commander Maritime Dr Suzanna Razali Chan, who was recognised as a global women’s icon in the field of maritime search and rescue by the International Maritime Rescue Federation. 

Datuk Dr Nor Aieni Mokhtar, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) distinguished research fellow, is among the 15 experts appointed to the Decade Advisory Board of United Nations (UN) Decade of Ocean by the IOCUnesco. The Decade Advisory Board is an advisory body to Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission tasked with coordinating the Ocean Decade that will provide strategic advice on Decade implementation. 

Next is Dr Yasmin Mohd Hasni, the Malaysian Women in Maritime Association (MyWIMA) president. MyWIMA serves as the national chapter of WIMA to implement IMO’s IWMS programme in Malaysia. 

For the future maritime community, workplace diversity and gender diversity in leadership are critical. The lack of female leaders is the biggest barrier to female leadership. People need to be encouraged, and leadership is all about that. It necessitates transformational leadership, in which a female leader encourages and inspires her people to go forward. 

Although the number of women graduating from universities and other educational and training institutions with ocean and maritime programmes has increased rapidly in the last few decades, the empowerment of women in leadership in the maritime sector in Malaysia has fallen short. 

Women presently account for less than 2% of the maritime industry’s workforce (according to International Transport Workers’ Federation estimations). 

Thus, Malaysia must continue to proliferate gender equality in the maritime sector by ensuring future maritime leaders have access to education, training and capacity-building in support of UN’s SDGs, particularly Goal 5 (Gender Equality). 

It is critical to have coalitions that are making a deliberate effort to assist the women’s leader in the maritime industry in moving forward. There are three notable associations that support women’s involvement in the maritime industry so far: MyWIMA, Women in Logistics and Transport, and Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA). 

Furthermore, efforts should be focused on identifying and removing the physical and social barriers that prevent women from participating in maritime professions. 

Certainly, increasing gender tolerance requires a wider array of innovative insights from people from many facets of the maritime community. 

The importance of advancing women’s participation in the maritime industry has attracted tremendous attention and interest. For this reason, the IMO Assembly has adopted a resolution declaring an International Day for Women in Maritime, to be marked annually on May 18. 

It is high time to shift the maritime industry’s culture by providing opportunities for women to reduce inequalities. 

Dear ladies, you are never too small to make a difference. Always aim high, put in the effort and be passionate about what you believe in. Roll the dice, make a difference by arming yourself with knowledge, expertise and leadership skills to take a seat in the maritime field and race with men. 

  • Dr Izyan Munirah Mohd Zaideen is UMT’s Faculty of Maritime Studies senior lecturer and WISTA Malaysia committee member 

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.