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Time to encourage women in maritime

BY: Maclean Kwofi
Ms Benonita Bismarck — CEO, GSA
Ms Benonita Bismarck — CEO, GSA

Last Friday, Ghana joined the rest of the world to mark another International Women’s Day, the day set aside to celebrate the economic, political, social and cultural achievements of women across the globe and a call-to-action to progression of gender parity all over the world.

But the celebration of the day, which is the focal point of women’s rights, began after the Socialist Party of America organised a Women's Day in New York on February 28, 1909.

After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations.

Today, the issues confronting women have not changed. According to the Global Poverty Project, women make up half the world’s population but also represent a staggering 70 per cent of the world’s poor. In fact, there are 250 million girls living in poverty today.

Inequalities persist everywhere — in business, education, politics, etc. In Ghana, there is low representation of women in decision making, evidenced by a paltry 12.7 per cent representation in Parliament.

Focus on maritime

Unlike other sectors of the economy, the country may have made significant and tremendous progress towards achieving gender parity in the maritime industry with the appointment of Ms Benonita Bismarck as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Shippers’ Authority (GSA) and recently Ms Sandra Opoku as the acting Director of Tema Port, but it still has a long way to go.

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Preliminary assessment by the GRAPHIC BUSINESS of the three authorities in the industry showed that women were not fairly represented on managerial positions in spite of the recent appointments by the government.

Out of the 22 corporate heads of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) only three are women. The Ghana Maritime Authority (GMA) on the other hand has four women out of its 13 member management team.

Mrs Esther Gyebi-Donkor — General Manager, Marketing and Corporate Affairs, GPHA.

Although headed by a woman the management structure of GSA is no different from the other authorities; its 12-member management team has only four women represented.

Change the statistics

That is why we need to stand` in solidarity with women’s rights activists to help change the statistics of women in the maritime industry, with the provision of enhanced opportunities for women, given that the International Transport Workers’ Federation estimated that only two per cent of the world’s maritime workforce was made up of women.

Indeed, Ghanaians have to stand up and speak out very loudly in order to create a pathway towards overtaking the difficult conditions navigating the male-dominated industry.

This year, the UN chose the theme: ‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change,’ to focus on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.

The achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires transformative shifts, integrated approaches and new solutions, particularly when it comes to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

World Maritime Day

This explains why the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is putting the spotlight on women in the maritime sector. This year, IMO’s World Maritime Day slated for September 26 is expected to be held on the theme: ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’.

It is to give particular resonance to this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations. IMO is committed to gender equality and advancing women in the maritime sector. 

IMO’s Women in Maritime programme has, over the past three decades, helped women reach leadership positions in the maritime sector and bring a much-needed gender balance to the industry by giving them access to high-level technical training.

Consequently in Ghana, we can all achieve more if women are given equal opportunities in education, remembering what the renowned African scholar, Dr Kwegyir Aggrey, said: that educating women is tantamount to educating a whole family.

There should also be a deliberate policy by the government to encourage the participation of women in the industry in order to improve the little progress made.

Studies have shown that women have excellent opportunities today to pursue careers in maritime law, shipping business and administrations than it was the case some 30 years ago.