Women in developing countries to benefit from IMO’s future female leadership programme

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) says it will sponsor a number of women from developing countries to follow a new maritime leadership programme, as part of the IMO’s ongoing work to support gender diversity in the maritime sector.

The initiative was announced by the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim during the first Maritime SheEO conference, which brought together maritime experts in a virtual space recently, to debate the theme “Diversity and Sustainability: The Business Case.”

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim emphasized the importance of female representation and diversity in the maritime sector and beyond. “Empowering women fuels thriving economies across the world, spurs growth and development and benefits everyone working in the global maritime community and beyond,” he said.

The Conference comes at a time when the impact of the gender equality gap is undeniable. Research shows the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains of decades of collective effort – with data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line. We are also witnessing increased reports on violence against women throughout the world due to the lockdowns, and women losing their livelihoods faster because they are more exposed to hard‑hit economic sectors. Turning this around is a priority for the United Nations (UN) and for IMO, as part of the UN family.

The Maritime SheEO leadership accelerator programme aims to equip women with the leadership skills and confidence to take a seat at the shipping decision-making table.

Helen Buni, representing IMO’s Women in Maritime programme, said IMO sponsorship would enable the selected women from government administrations to benefit from the leadership scheme, which will include training, mentoring and networking opportunities. This is in line with IMO’s goal to help the maritime sector to move forward and to promote women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. This scheme will complement access to high-level technical training courses, under which IMO sponsors female participants each year. The Women in Maritime programme aims to help Member States achieve the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

The leadership programme is expected to be fully launched by International Women’s Day (IWD), 8 March 2021. The 2021 IWD theme “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Referring to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, several speakers spoke about the essential contribution made by women on the frontline of the pandemic and also disproportionate burdens. There was a clear need to address these issues in the maritime sector during the post-COVID recovery.

“We must use this opportunity to rebuild from this crisis inclusively, equitably and sustainably, and put women’s leadership and contributions at the heart of resilience and recovery,” said IMO Secretary-General Lim. “People are at the heart of this industry, at every level. We must ensure we manage the sector in such a way that we utilize all talent across the gender divide.”

Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University (WMU) and Ms. Elda Belja, Lecturer and Admissions Officer of the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI), highlighted the importance of education and training to promote equality and empower women. Educational opportunities are important in order to ensure the full and effective participation of women and equal opportunities at all levels of decision-making. IMLI reserves 50% of its places on its masters level courses for women, while more than 1,000 females have graduated from WMU.

Other speakers at the conference covered a range of topics relevant to the maritime sector, including stereotypes surrounding careers roles, impacts of COVID-19 on women’s participation, new technologies and digitalization, business models post COVID-19, stakeholders’ collaborations, young maritime professionals’ contributions, and leadership of women from around the world. The event, attended by 1,500 participants from 70 countries, was organized by Maritime SheEO, an entity that works to promote gender diversity in the maritime industry.

Since IMO’s gender programme was initiated in 1988, IMO has supported gender equality and the empowerment of women through different initiatives such as, gender-specific fellowships; by facilitating access to high-level technical training for women in the maritime sector in developing countries; by creating the environment in which women are identified and selected for career development opportunities in maritime administrations, ports and maritime training institutes; and by facilitating the establishment of professional women in maritime associations, particularly in developing countries.

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