International Women's Day – equality in the economy

9 March 2020

International Women's Day speech by Nautilus executive officer Sascha Meijer, at the Union's annual digital women's day lunch Monday 9 March 2020

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Each year International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. Women's day is a day designated by the United Nations. Thousands events are organized today and the past few days all over the world to celebrate what is achieved and to press for further progress.

This year's theme for International Women's Day is gender equality, the slogan is "I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women's Rights". This years hashtags are #GENERATIONEQUALITY and #EachforEqual and #RatifyC190.

We all deserve a gender-equal world. Equality is not a women's issue, it is also essential for economies, communities and businesses to thrive.

Equality is about gender equal workplaces, gender equal boardrooms, a gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal sports coverage, more gender equality in health and wealth.

Yesterday I read an interesting and somewhat disturbing article about how IWD has become about corporate breakfasts and lunches like this event, and that there is even IWD merchandise for sale. Such events are good but…we have to be careful not to forget the work that still has to be done, especially internationally. In the countries where many women feel most compelled to protest, they are often not able to. Yesterday a womens'protest was violently stopped in Kirzygistan. In Mexico femicide is widespread. Meanwhile in the West, the very conditions that make it possible to protest leave many of us feeling confident that they don't need to. That certainly goes for me. Also, there is the risk of watering-down very real women's issues like sexual violence by using too broad, general terms which create a feel-good feminism instead of prioritizing the issues facing disadvantaged groups first. Most of the working poor in the world are women. In Australia, Aboriginal women experience a 16% pay gap.

In maritime, gender equality and inclusive workplaces are not yet mainstream. A few weeks ago, during the European Shipping Week, I attended a workshop on how to attract more women to a career at sea. A Nautilus female member also spoke in the forum. Together with other strong women who have persevered and who very much enjoy their career in maritime. Without any exception, all of them had experienced some degree of discrimination, sexism, bullying and harassment at some point in their career. This member worked with a master who said 'we already have a woman, we don't need more tits'. Now that she works ashore but still in a technical job some men only respect her authority as a quality manager, when she shows them that she can actually master a ship.

A Belgian pilot was, at one point in her career, also confronted with a referendum on board to get her out.

On the Nautilus website, the Union has published a section on members' stories. In one of them, a young woman, had a master say to her 'you are only here for diversity numbers'.

In 2019 the ILO adopted a convention against violence and harassment at the workplace. Most probably, The Netherlands will ratify this convention. A very good step towards enforcing inclusive and safe workplaces worldwide. Nautilus finds it very important that also shipowners and captains insist on gender equality, inclusion and socially safe workplaces. We will continue to work on that on every level and table.

Inclusion is not only about violence and harassment though. It is also about careers. In meetings of our women's forum, almost everybody says that women in maritime have to work harder than men to achieve promotions and to be respected.

The panel in Brussels some weeks ago included only women as speakers. When the afternoon ended, there were only 6 men left in the meeting room. We talked about female leadership between female leaders. We were preaching for the choir. We pledged that we would not ever do a workshop on women's careers at sea anymore with an all-female panel. Mainstreaming of gender equality is needed. The industry needs to attract all talents available so it should not miss out on the talents of women.

Some of our members also point out that the basics are often not yet met with: correctly fitting safety clothing, medical supplies fit for women, women's toilets with bins.

Finally female leadership. By now it is common knowledge that diversity works so we need more female leaders and more mixed boardrooms. Women but also men have to help other women strive for equality and leadership.

Colleagues, we are unionists, together we fight for equality and social justice. For women and men, for workers, for seafarers and for other maritime professionals.

Welcome to this international women's day celebration 2020!