Top Indian fleet owners have been hiring women in key roles to run ships for many years now, but a recent guideline issued by India’s maritime administration will give it a further fillip and also nudge those who have shied away from recruiting women in a highly male-dominated profession.
“There are ship owners employing women and there are owners who are not employing at all. I do not blame those who don’t because in the absence of a clear directive or guideline, it is natural that any potential employer would be hesitant,” says Captain Radhika Menon, the first Indian captain in the merchant navy and the first woman ever to win the International Maritime Organization (IMO) award for 'Exceptional Bravery at Sea’ in 2016.
Radhika joined state-owned carrier Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) as a radio officer in 1991 before quickly switching over to the nautical side and has been sailing since then. In 2018, she joined the ship management company, Synergy Group.
Apart from SCI, The Great Eastern Shipping Co Ltd, Essar Shipping Ltd and Synergy have a robust gender-neutral hiring policy in place.
Maritime training institutes are “not discriminating” against women, Radhika said over phone from her ancestral home in Kodungallur, a port city in Kerala’s Thrissur district, where she is spending time after getting off from a ship on September 14.
“They are taking lot of girls. There are 50-60 girls passing out of training institutes every year, but the opportunity to appear for interview and get selected is very less for women,” she said.
"Hiring women require a “change in the mindset of employers”. Usually, this mindset is based on some notion that “they might have problems employing females” and also due to lack of policies and guidelines on discriminating against women," she said.
“Now that the policies and guidelines are in place, we are hoping that more employers will come out with employment for women. Unless, it comes as an enforcement through the government, things won’t happen. Things should start moving now and things will improve also because everybody knows how to tackle things and how to do what when something happens,” she adds.
Captain Suneha Gadpande says that “it is the male of the industry who needs to be trained and not the female of the industry”.
“There is no other way you can be changing things in the industry if your colleagues are not accepting you on board a ship. We have to change the mind-set of colleagues,” she said.
The guidelines framed by the Directorate General of Shipping cover recruitment and placement of women seafarers, maternity leave and re-joining, basic needs on board for women seafarers, on-board complaints and redressal system to deal with sexual harassment and gender sensitization.
The guidelines says that ship owning companies should not discriminate based on gender in employment, wages and promotions.It also deals with pregnant seafarers, offering them suitable employment on-shore and their re-employment after maternity break.
“At SCI we have clear systems in place, internal complaints committee is there, ship-board complaints procedures are there, we are following everything, it is for others who are not following,” said Captain Philip Mathews, general manager in-charge of Fleet Personnel department at SCI.
Radhika Menon was SCI’s first lady recruit on-board a ship, way back in 1991. From 2003, the ship owner started training lady cadets. Currently, more than 65 women seafarers are sailing on SCI ships.
“Nearly 5% of the officers on our fleet are women compared to a world average of only 2 per cent. We take a lot of care when a lady is on-board and we have well set procedures,” he said.
“We have had women officers working on our fleet for many years now, including as chief officers,” a spokesperson for The Great Eastern Shipping, India’s biggest private fleet owner, said. The firm currently has two women officers, both Second Officers.
The company has implemented the requisite measures outlined by the directorate general of shipping. “Most of the measures have already been in place on our ships post the POSH Act (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013,” she added.