EMMA OKELLO: It’s time women steer maritime sector to achieve blue economy gains

This year’s celebrations emphasize the need for women to be more visible.

In Summary

•The proposal to establish an International Day for Women in Maritime was approved by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Technical Cooperation Committee (TCC) in September 2021 and endorsed by the IMO Council in November 2021. 

•Kenyan women in the maritime appreciate efforts made by the gender to spur the maritime sector in high waters.

MV Jinan anchored one kilometre off the Mombasa port.
FILE MV Jinan anchored one kilometre off the Mombasa port.
Image: BRIAN OTIENO

The celebrations for International Day for women in Maritime will be first marked today (May 16, 202o).

Kenyan women working in the Maritime sector are particularly a happy lot taking into cognizant the first theme of the celebrations “Training – Visibility – Recognition: Supporting a barrier-free working environment”.

The proposal to establish an International Day for Women in Maritime was approved by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Technical Cooperation Committee (TCC) in September 2021 and endorsed by the IMO Council in November 2021. 

In Kenya, the celebrations shall take place in Kisumu which is considered a blue economy hub.

Kenyan women in the maritime appreciate efforts made by the gender to spur the maritime sector in high waters.

This takes the recognition of the tides that women are continuously experiencing even as they navigate the sector that is otherwise dominated by men.

This year’s celebrations emphasize the need for women to be more visible and mainstreamed in the maritime community.

Taking stock of various development undertaken by women in the maritime include the establishment of a regional association that seeks to champion the growth of women in this sector.

The Association of Women in the Maritime Sector in Eastern and Southern Africa Region (WOMESA) was launched in the year 2007 here in Kenya.

WOMESA was formed as a Regional organization in line with SDG 5 on gender equality under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Women in Development (WID) Programme.

The main objectives of the Programme are to advocate gender equality in the maritime sector, integrate women into mainstream maritime activities, improve their access to maritime training and technology and increase their percentage at the senior management level.

Others include promoting women’s access to quality employment in the maritime sector, and enhancing the inclusion of women in the maritime sector through partnerships and collaboration with development partners.

In Kenya, women contribute to the larger workforce even despite the fact that they are increasingly being left out in key decision-making positions.

Though there are noticeable milestones, this year’s celebrations should be a wake-up call that more is yet to be done to ensure women's inclusivity in the sector’s decision making.

This is the reason why I applaud the Government of Kenya for particularly appointing Ms. Nancy Karigithu, a special envoy for maritime and blue economy affairs. This indicates a renewed focus on an area official initially ignored.

The former Principal Secretary, State Department for Shipping and Maritime in the Ministry of Transport will hold the new docket that will also develop policy for utilisation of Kenya’s maritime resources as well as its inland waters.

This is a step in the right direction that should see more openings for Kenyan women to rise up the maritime ranks.

This comes in the backdrop of recognizing that despite their large contribution to the labour force, women often lack access to natural resources and receive benefits that are disproportionately low compared to their male counterparts.

This is despite the fact that in various blue economy sectors, women are directly and heavily involved even as their contribution is considered invisible.

Women are also noted to be the lowest paid even when undertaking work equivalent to that of their male counterparts.

Many females hold back from entering the sector due to lack of industry information regarding career options for women.

Gender equality is recognized as a key platform for a sustainable future.

It is enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal 5 - one of the 17 goals that underpin the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda, which countries all over the world have pledged to implement.

For more than three decades, IMO has been supporting gender equality through our women in the maritime programme, seeking to empower women in the sector through training, visibility and recognition.

As we look forward to brighter days ahead, let us borrow lessons from experiences as the world marks this special day.

Let us celebrate and recognize women who are contributing to the future of maritime.

WOMESA is committed to ensuring women's contributions go a long way in not only spurring the maritime sector but also to mentor young women to join the movement.

The writer is a member of WOMESA and comments on Maritime issues