Empowering women in maritime/marine policy-making processes for the benefit of all

A total of 150 participants from 40 different countries took part in the MSPglobal Dialogue sessions on “Gender and Marine Policies” organized on 22 April 2020. The audience consisted of 52% female, 39% male and 9% other attendees in the French (FR) session and 81% female, 19% male attendees in the bilingual Spanish/Portuguese (ES/PT) session.

For the most part, participants expressed that women’s participation in marine policy processes in their respective countries is unbalanced but improving (FR = 60%; ES/PT = 59%). A smaller proportion described the situation as very unbalanced (FR = 20%; ES/PT = 37%), and a minority as balanced (FR = 20%; ES/PT = 4%).

Both sessions set out to discuss gender balance in decision-making processes related to marine policies, identify challenges and better ways to address the specific constraints faced by women engaged in maritime policy-making and activities, and find ways to foster gender balance and enable women to play a key role in decision-making.

More specifically, the French session was facilitated using a set of questions addressed to the invited experts to give an overview of women representation in the maritime sector in general and in their respective institutions and countries.

Ms. Sanae Elamrani (Deputy Director of the Directorate of Ports and Public Maritime Domain, Ministry of Equipment, Transport, Logistics and Water – Kingdom of Morocco), stated that there are 48% of female employees in the Directorate of Ports, of which more than 70% hold executive positions. At national level, 35% of employees in the public administration are women, and 73% of them hold executive positions. She also highlighted the Kingdom of Morocco’s efforts towards gender mainstreaming in the public service through the implementation of a National Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality (2006) coupled with the launch in 2016 of the Observatory on Gender in the Public Service.

Mr. Felix Leinemann (Head of Unit for Blue Economy Sectors, Aquaculture and Maritime Spatial Planning – European Commission), whose team is more than 50% female, highlighted the recent Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 of the European Commission. This strategy seeks to achieve a gender-equal Europe by 2025, including employment within European institutions.

Ms. Valerie Nkame Nze (Research Associate at the National Center for Scientific and Technological Research – Gabon), on the other hand, highlighted a different situation where women are highly under-represented in both decision-making positions and in the field in almost all maritime sectors, as well as in research. She added that the positions generally occupied by women are limited to administrative (secretarial, accounting) or, in the case of offshore oil extraction, to technical support positions on land. In the artisanal fishing sector, their activity is limited to fish processing and selling.

The exception is in conservation where a large number of women work both in administration and among the eco-guards working in the field. Parity is effective within Gabon’s National Parks Agency. In the field, the teams are mixed (when there are enough women) and out of the five directors in the agency, two are women.

Ms. Elamrani and Mr. Leinemann reported that, although women are equally represented in decision-making positions in their own institution, they are generally still under-represented in some maritime professions such as in fisheries, aquaculture and maritime transport. In the European Union (EU), for instance, out of the 400,000 full-time or part-time workers in fisheries and aquaculture, only 25% are women, working mainly in the fish-processing industry (60%). This is also the case in the Kingdom of Morocco, where 80% of employees in the fish-processing industry are women.

Ms. Nkame Nze shared that, to her knowledge, no measures are being implemented in her organization, although discussions on gender are being initiated. More generally, she added that further studies are needed to assess the current situation to allow for appropriate measures in the future. She also believes that there is not enough communication towards the general public on the different marine/maritime professions and career opportunities for women.

The bilingual Spanish/Portuguese session focused on the presentation of four concrete examples of women’s initiatives on marine/maritime policy:

Click here to watch the speakers’ presentations.

Despite the diversity of countries represented, the answers of the panelists to the questions asked during the discussion with the audience were complementary. The speakers agreed that in both marine policy and ocean science, the main issue is not gender imbalance but the lack of women in high-level positions of decision making in all maritime/marine fields (governmental institutions, private sector and academia).

According to the United Nations’ (UN) 2018 report on Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there is a need for a greater investment in gender-disaggregated statistics to improve the understanding of women’s contribution to marine resource management in order to design policies that increase their participation in decision-making. To address this issue, one of the speakers suggested that the four initiatives could join forces to work on these statistics by gender in their respective countries to develop a good overview of the situation in the Ibero-American community.

Furthermore, the panelists did not consider the representation of the diversity of women (ethnicity, social class, age, profession, etc.) as a challenge but rather an objective. They believe their initiatives are a safe space to share opinions and create partnerships among women who have different roles in marine policy, ocean science and maritime sectors. It does not mean that there are not different challenges faced by different categories of women; but they believe that empathy and ‘sisterhood’ make them stronger together – in other words, women must be the architects of their empowerment.

Both sessions concluded with a series of recommendations on ways to foster gender balance and enable women to play a key role in the decision-making processes for planning the future of our ocean, among which:

  • Women need to keep improving their skills while trying to reach high-level positions within their institutions
  • Improve women’s representation through their organization as cooperatives/professional associations to pool efforts, exchange experiences, encourage each other and more generally be stronger towards a common agenda that benefits the ocean
  • Improve access of women to education in general and to higher education related to the maritime/marine industry specifically
  • Give equal opportunities in capacity building to men and women from a very young age to ensure gender balance in maritime/marine sectors
  • Keep talking, keep sharing and promote international cooperation – the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) provides an opportunity to communicate about issues related to gender and maritime/marine policies

Through a call to action, participants commented on how they plan to share and/or implement the sessions’ learning in their own institution. Suggestions included organizing advocacy campaigns aimed at authorities responsible for the planning of maritime/marine spaces, especially in island countries; organizing seminars to highlight the role of women in the maritime/marine field; reflecting on the production of gender-oriented indicators; increased stakeholder and community engagement; and, more simply, researching and promoting women’s initiatives as well as including gender issues in all maritime policy discussions.

The next MSPglobal online activity will take place in French on 13 May and address the integration of Integrated Coastal Area Management and Marine Spatial Planning.

Gender and Marine Policies (FR):
Poll results
Gender and Marine Policies (ES/PT):
Poll results


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