middle-aged dark-complexioned man in his office on Victoria Island,
Lagos, Sarah Abiodun, a marine engineer, thought she had secured a job
with the shipping company.
felt good. I also knew I did. I was well prepared for the interview. I
have what any shipping company could be looking for. I have the needed
quality, skill and certification to excel on the job,” she said.
interview, her optimism turned sour. She would later learn that getting a
job at the company was not just about performing well at an interview.
spend one weekend with him at a posh hotel in Lekki. I asked him what
that was all about. He replied, ‘Don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m
asking for. You are not a kid. You have all it takes to work here.’ I
was heartbroken. I knew I had lost the job right there because I
wouldn’t sleep with a man to get any job in my life.”
few days later, she got another call for an interview at a shipping firm
in Apapa, where there are a number of ports and terminals operated by
the Nigerian Ports Authority and commercial offices of many shipping,
clearing and transportation companies.
wanted us to have sex right there in his office. I had to take to my
heels immediately,” she said.
the Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport,
Alexandria, Egypt, has been worried whether she would be able to
practise her profession.
they would employ me and I’m tired. I have friends who are experiencing
the same thing,” she lamented.
said she had also been facing gender discrimination by some shipping
companies who said they wouldn’t employ her because she is a woman.
to, they told me it was their policy not to employ women. This gender
discrimination started when I was in school. Some lecturers treated us
as equals to men. However, I was surprised that while doing some courses
and certifications, some lecturers asked us what we women were doing in
my mind was why did they admit us in the first place? Didn’t they see
that we were women? While going for job interviews, I am surprised that
this question always comes up. Why do shipping firms discriminate
against us? If I don’t work, my certificate will expire in January 2017
and I have to renew it. But how can I renew it when I have not yet
started working and don’t have money?”
even though she has not yet started working, she has started facing
sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
worked longer and harder than her male colleagues, it wasn’t because she
liked it. It was a way of being punished for refusing to date her male
harassment on-board. It is not something to wish for, but it’s something
you cannot escape. In 2009 when I experienced it, I resisted it. To
punish me, my boss who asked me out gave me more work to do. I was
supposed to finish work by 4am daily, but he would extend it by two
hours to make me work longer. But I wouldn’t complain.
to the ship captain because he too was interested in me. I told my
female colleagues and they encouraged me not to succumb to the pressure.
If I wanted to date my captain or any other boss, I could have, but I
would lose my virtue and wouldn’t be able to use my initiatives again.
want to give me work to do and I would just be idle on-board, but in the
long run, I would not improve on my career. When I’m on-board, I’m not
here to look for men.”
a ship captain, Akunna said if she had not stood her ground, she would
not have been able to be who she is today. However, gender
discrimination is another challenge she has been facing.
been there. When I was looking for job, among all the applicants, only
two of us were females. When it was time for the interview, the company
officials looked at us annoyingly as if we were dumbheads. One of them
even asked us, ‘Are you sure you’re going to pass this interview?’ But
we proved them wrong.
till now, we ladies do more to prove them wrong. When I was a cadet,
they used me. I worked very hard. When some people see me today, they
think I’m a pampered girl because of the way I look, but if you see my
hands, you will know that it’s not easy. I carried hammer and all sorts
of tools. There is no tool I cannot use.”
Akunna said, “Not easy, but when you do what you love, it’s easy. My
family can’t sometimes reach me because when I’m on the sea, there might
not be network to make or receive calls. But I have a supportive family
who understands what it’s like to pursue your passion.”
Okocha, a ship captain, going even in the face of sexual harassment and
gender discrimination since 11 years ago when she started her career.
Despite all these, Okocha said she had found the strength to overcome
intimidation by men.
movement of cargo and people from place to place and the maintenance of
ship. I’ve been at sea since 2005 and I started my career with a company
called Genesis Worldwide. I can say that was the only company that was
willing to accept female seafarers then. In fact, the owner of the
company was passionate about getting women employed as long as they’re
qualified. He used to encourage us and monitor us to excel just like
shipping firms at Apapa. Some of the companies told us outright that
they could not employ women because of petty reasons. They said women
were troublesome. They said they didn’t want women problems. Some said
there were no facilities on board their vessels for women, which is
true. There are some vessels which are small and have no facilities to
cater for women needs.
I’ve never felt intimidated. I do my work properly and I’m passionate
about it. This is a profession whereby you can come in as a low-level
person, but with hard work and promotion, you can get to the top,
whether men love or hate you. Imagine having 50 men being under you,
there could be some level of intimidation, but you should be able to
manage it. It’s one of those industries you would enjoy to work in.”
of the first female captains in the country who has been on the job for
20 years, says sexual harassment and intimidation by male colleagues are
not strange to her.
Men ask us out, but it depends on the lady seafarer to know what she
wants. There are some men who cannot see somebody in skirt. They must
chase her. There was an experience I went through when I was starting my
career. There was a particular expatriate captain who said I was rude
because I didn’t succumb to him sleeping with me. But then, I had
started seeing myself as a man.
that I was lazy, stubborn and didn’t listen to instructions. Meanwhile,
my hard work was there for everyone to see. Eventually, his allegations
were thrown out.”
there and currently I’m experiencing one. In the company where I work,
I’ve been running a vessel for a year. But recently, a firm run by the
whites came to Nigeria to merge with our firm. But instead of them to
let me continue running the vessel, they have given it to a male captain
and I’m unhappy about it. I saw it as discriminatory.
with my employer who couldn’t convince them that I could run the
vessel. Maybe he didn’t have the confidence to convince them that I
could run it. But I’ve been running a vessel with my crew successfully
and there has been no problem whatsoever. He’s seen me move the ship.
His position made me feel incompetent. I would like the concerned
agencies to look into cases of gender discrimination and put up policies
to support us women.”
family and being a captain, she said, “Before I got married, I used to
sail across international waters, but now, I only sail across national
waters. I also cook food not easier for my maid to cook and preserve in
the freezer. My husband is also understanding and has been very
women are bound to meet challenges and they should be ready to work 10
times harder than men to prove themselves. If they have menstrual pain,
they shouldn’t lie down. I remember there was a time when I was just
starting my career and I complained of menstrual pain, but the American
captain I was working with told me I shouldn’t lie down.
some medicine. I was surprised. After taking the medicine, I was okay.
His action inspired me that day. I was strong thereafter and I’ve always
been strong. I always tell female seafarers to see themselves as men.
They should stay focussed. However, the Nigerian Maritime Administration
and Safety Agency needs to do a lot, especially for the upcoming ones.”
Sherifat Jimba, 27, who schooled at the Arab Academy for Science,
Technology and Maritime Transport, Alexandria, Egypt, would have been
able to secure a job, but she has yet to due to gender discrimination.
deck cadet at a shipping firm, but since returning to the country, most
companies she had applied to said they would not employ her simply
because she’s a woman.
women seafarers. Some said the timing is wrong due to pirate attacks..
Meanwhile, my certificate will expire next year. With this
discrimination, how will I pursue my passion?” she asked.
to overcome this challenge and are now employed, working on-board with
male colleagues is yet another challenge.
entails safety operations in cargo, says “People see us women as unable
to do the job, but I’ve always proved them wrong. I let them know that
women can do the impossible. However, in order to do this, we work
harder than our male colleagues. We do more.
thinks being a female means you cannot do the job. But with discipline,
which is my watchword, we can. I’m the only female on the vessel I work
with right now, and I thank God the company has a strong policy against
works as a ship maintenance and safety officer, would have long quit if
she had also succumbed to intimidation by male colleagues on-board.
key. I started as a cadet in 2009 and now I’m an officer. I am
respected. It’s a job I signed on for and love doing. I’ve enjoyed every
company I worked with,” she said.
Apapa, who pleaded anonymity, told our correspondent that it was out of
pity that his company doesn’t employ female seafarers.
women should be there, especially in this country where pirates attack
is the highest in the Gulf of Guinea. Some of the women we’ve employed
in the past used to complain of poor welfare, no special facilities for
them on-board, and so on. I got tired of these complaints along the line
and that’s why I stopped hiring women,” he said.
globally have decried sexual harassment by men on-board, according to a
2015 survey jointly carried out by the Women’s International Shipping
and Trading Association, the International Maritime Health Association,
the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network, the
International Workers’ Federation and the Seafarers Hospital Society.
responses were received from women seafarers from a range of
nationalities, ages and positions on board ships. The survey said that
joint/back pain, stress/depression, anxiety and headache, seem to be the
most common symptoms reported by women seafarers and that 55 per cent
felt that they are related to their work.
have problems with seeking medical care and offer suggestions to improve
this. Significantly, 37 per cent of women seafarers also stated that
they did not have access to sanitary bins within the toilet, while 18
per cent say that sexual harassment is an issue.”
were often reluctant to appoint women cadets/qualified seafarers because
of a “misled belief” that women work at sea for less time than men.
doing the same work. Women may be denied the facilities/equipment
available to men on-board,” she said.
International Labour Organisation, titled “Women Seafarers: Global
employment policies and practices,” women represent only about two per
cent of the world’s 1.25 million seafarers.
Activities Department, Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, said she was concerned
that even though many maritime training institutions were actively
encouraging women to enrol, once on-board vessels, women often
experience problems in being initially accepted, sometimes having to
reality for many women at sea. This can range from persistent verbal
harassment and inappropriate comments, to physical assault.
maternity benefits and availability of certain products required by
women, it seems we have a long way to go. Sexual harassment policies
are, of course, important. Trade unions should take up these matters and
other issues such as maternity benefits, when negotiating collective
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says that “every
citizen shall have the equality of right, obligations, and opportunity
before the law” and Section 42 states that “no Nigerian citizen shall be
discriminated against because of a particular sex, religion or ethnic
group,” it has not been easy for women seafarers in the country.
“Gender discrimination and feminism in Nigeria,” said it was unfortunate
that women are under-represented in almost every sphere of social and
political life in the country, including in the maritime sector.
said, “The government should put an end to all forms of gender
discrimination in both public and private sectors, including in
education, employment, housing, and property and inheritance rights.
Additionally, anti-discrimination legislation and affirmative action
should be pursued, and there needs to be legal protection for the
fundamental rights of the girl child on religious, social, and economic
by giving men ascendency in inheritance, authority, and decision-making
should be discouraged through education, enlightenment, and national
Professionals of Nigeria, Oluwasegun Akanbi, said female seafarers are
encouraged to report cases of sexual harassment to the female captains
on-board, while raising the alarm over the “gradual extinction of female
seafarers in the maritime sector.”
policies by NIMASA to guard against sexual harassment and gender
discrimination of female seafarers. Even if there are, some of these
policies are just theoretical. There is no implementation.
companies to employ female seafarers. Provisions should also be made for
females on-board. Also, procedure for reporting, investigating and
disciplining must be clearly stated to checkmate sexual harassment. The
gap of communication between the seafarers and NIMASA is too wide. They
should create a feedback forum with us to identify some problems we are
facing so as to create a continuous improvement.”
Tumaka, said women seafarers experiencing any form of sexual harassment
and gender discrimination should not hesitate to report to the agency.