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Canada, Georgia and Mexico are on board with gender equality and empowering women in the maritime sector

EVERY YEAR, THE INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANISATION (IMO) chooses a theme to emphasise a particular aspect of its work. The theme for 2019 was ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community.’ While shipping has historically been a male-dominated industry, the IMO chose in 2019 to highlight the significant contribution women make to the maritime sector. The purpose was to raise awareness of the exciting opportunities that exist in maritime affairs, to encourage more women to consider maritime careers and to underline the importance of increasing gender equality in shipping and related professions. Pursuing these objectives will contribute to the long-term success of the shipping industry and also address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

In celebration of the 2019 theme, the IMO showcased its capacity building and fellowships to allow women to participate in high-level technical training around the world. It also helped to organise several special activities, including conferences in Colombia, Swedenand the UK. In addition, many Member States and marine stakeholders proposed ways to promote opportunities for women in the sector, and to identify and work towards removing the barriers women face.


As part of this effort, Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK and Permanent Representative to the IMO, Janice Charette, proposed the creation of a gender equality network at the IMO.  She first presented the idea at an event held in March at Canada House. The event was attended by IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim, President of the World Maritime University, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia Henry, several Permanent Representatives to the IMO, as well as delegates from IMO Member States and observer organisations.

High Commissioner Charette envisioned the network providing a forum to exchange information, ideas and best practices to help remove barriers and increase women’s participation in the maritime sector. As she said at the Canada House event: “The network will provide a forum to exchange and promote ideas for improving gender equality and empowering women in the maritime sector; and will engage men as full partners in the process.”

This network launched at that first meeting has been useful in providing an opportunity for Permanent Representatives and delegates to the IMO to network and collaborate on gender equality issues, both at the IMO and in their respective jurisdictions. We hope that the network will help to sustain the momentum of the 2019 IMO theme and keep the spotlight on improving the representation of women in the maritime sector in the long term.

The event at Canada House served as an excellent opportunity to bring together likeminded representatives of the different countries and regions at the IMO. As a strong supporter of this idea and to establish a new format of cooperation with the IMO, Ambassador of Georgiato the UK, Permanent Representative of Georgia and Vice President of the IMO Assembly (2018-19) Tamar Beruchashvili took the baton from High Commissioner of Canada and hosted the second meeting of the IMO Gender Equality Network in July 2019 at the IMO Headquarters. IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim and President of the Women’s International Shipping and Training Association (WISTA International) Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou attended as keynote speakers.

During the event, Ambassador Beruchashvili noted: “Georgia is an emerging Black Sea maritime country with great potential in the maritime sector. Georgia takes the issue of gender equality in maritime affairs seriously, as we strongly believe that engagement of more women is absolutely vital for more integrity and strengthening economic efficiency within the industry.”

Reaching this global goal, however, involves a joint effort. Georgia’s event, therefore, proposed that the new IMO Network should be transformed into a results-oriented format of collaboration, and its first initiative would be elaborating the respective Resolution on promoting gender equality and empowering women in maritime affairs ahead of the IMO’s 31st Assembly.

With this in mind, Canada, Georgia and Mexicojoined the delegations from Ghanaand Maltato work on the text of the IMO draft resolution on ‘Preserving the legacy of World Maritime Day 2019 and achieving a barrier-free working environment for women in the maritime sector’ (Doc. A 31/19 (d)/1). This was the result of coherent and dedicated cooperation between IMO delegations, regardless of their gender representation, and was a first formal call for more action by Member States, intergovernmental organisations and observer delegations to reduce barriers and increase participation of women in the maritime sector.

At present, women account for only 2 per cent of the 1.2 million seafarers in the global maritime community. Furthermore, there are only 22 women Permanent Representatives and 34 women Alternate Representatives at the IMO. Mexico recognises that the empowerment of women boosts economic opportunities, fosters development and sustained growth, and makes significant contributions to the international shipping sector.

With a feminist foreign policy, the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights is at the centre of Mexico’s diplomatic agenda. In an attempt to continue advancing the gender agenda at the IMO, and to provide a strong foundation to this newly established network, Ambassador Aureny Aguirre O. Sunza, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the IMO, organised the network’s third event. On 30 October 2019, an Open Dialogue on ‘Building a Gender Equality Network in the Maritime Community’ was held at the Embassy of Mexico in London with a panel of five female Permanent and Alternate Representatives to IMO from Canada, Georgia, Ghana, Malta and Mexico. Their discussions underlined the importance of maritime diplomacy as a tool to promote gender equality within the IMO; the barriers to women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics related professions and how to overcome them; the need for up-to-date and disaggregated gender data, and the role of education and outreach. The IMO Secretary General attended the event, which served as a platform to share results regarding the draft resolution on ‘Preserving the Legacy of World Maritime Theme for 2019 and Achieving a Barrier-Free Working Environment for Women in Maritime Sector’ and the document on having updated gender data in the maritime sector, which were later adopted during IMO’s 31st Assembly late last year.

Thanks to these joint efforts, 2019 was a year that produced great results towards achieving gender equality in the maritime sector. What remains to be determined is how states and non-state actors will promote equality and inclusiveness for all women and girls who have an interest in oceans and the maritime sector.

Forward-thinking and readiness to make positive changes matter the most in this modern and challenging world. To raise awareness and ensure further engagement of all stakeholders, it is important to continue dialogue on this pressing issue through the various platforms. With this in mind, the next event of the IMO Gender Equality Network will be hosted by Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, Permanent Representative at the IMO and First Vice President of the IMO Assembly 2020-2021 Enna Park this month (February 2020). In September, Georgia will host its third biannual high-level conference – Georgia International Maritime Forum (GIMF2020) – in Batumi, with a special session dedicated to empowering women in maritime affairs.


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