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23 Apr 2021
4 mins
Women Seafarers, Your Voice Matters!

SMOU celebrated the contribution of women seafarers on International Women’s Day.

“My message to all women seafarers is that you are an inspiration. SMOU applauds your perseverance and resilience to venture so far. Your future is indeed bright.”

SMOU General Secretary Mary Liew said this at the Conversation with Women in Maritime held on 10 March 2021 at SMOU Mariners’ Lounge.  

She highlighted that 2021 is a significant year for women. It is also the year where the Singapore Government will issue a White Paper on women-related issues that Singaporeans are concerned with.

With the launch of the national effort to identify and tackle issues affecting women in Singapore, it is important for the voice of women, including women seafarers, to be heard now more than ever, Sister Mary pointed out.

Hearing from the ground the issues faced by women seafarers at the Conversation was a panellist. Joining Sister Mary Liew were Sister Yeo Wan Ling, Director of NTUC Women & Family (WAF) and Director of NTUC U SME, and MP for Punggol Shore (Pasir Ris – Punggol GRC); and Sister Wan Fei Fei, MPA Assistant Director (Seafarers Management).

“We want to understand the challenges faced by women seafarers. How can working conditions be improved? How can we increase participation by women in the maritime sector”, Sister Wan Ling said.

“Ultimately, we want to inspire all women to be bold in their career choices and to support women in reaching their full potential.”

In the atmosphere of trust and openness, the group of women seafarers candidly shared their aspirations, challenges and experiences.

Sister Mary assured the female attendees that “SMOU is here for you and you don’t have to struggle alone. There is a female community of seafarers here that you can share your journey with”. The Union does not tolerate nor normalise behaviour such as bullying, harassment or abuse.

She added that cultivating a better and more inclusive society needs a deep mindset change that requires time and education.

Sister Wan Ling highlighted that with Sister Mary as the NTUC President and with the full backing of NTUC WAF, every reported case of harassment will be dealt with firmness.

Not all stories that were shared at the session were negative. There are enlightened employers who are protective of their female crewmembers. For example, ensuring that there is more than one women seafarer on board.

Another cadet highlighted that prior to her signing on, her employer informed the crewmembers that a woman seafarer would be working onboard and sounded the reminder to show respect. This gave her a sense of safety knowing that her employers are mindful and looking out for the minority gender on ships.

Both Sister Wan Fei Fei and Sister Cheryl Lee, who are now working ashore, raved about their life at sea and how much they missed sailing. From their accounts, they have no regrets choosing a sea career.

The importance of family support was also a major theme that surfaced during the conversation. For these women seafarers, the choice of working at sea is often met by little family support. Yet they persevered.

One cadet, who is the only daughter in the family, recalled how her mother cried on the day she went onboard.

Wavelink Maritime Institute which trains seafaring cadets under the Tripartite Maritime Training Awards (TMTA) programmes felt that it is vital to have Family Engagement sessions with parents of interested seafaring cadets to ensure that family members understand and are accepting of the life that seafaring brings. One of the female cadet expressed that her parents felt more assured and gave their blessings after attending the Family Engagement session at the start of her cadetship.

With only 2 percent of the maritime industry’s largely male-dominated workforce, more and more women like these SMOU members are breaking stereotypes and foraying into the maritime world.

“SMOU is very proud of each one of you!” Sister Mary commended

“I am the eldest in the family. Unlike some of my peers, my parents were supportive and happy that I am sailing. They gave me the assurance that they will take care of themselves and not to worry. This sets my heart at ease.” Hani Aqidah Binte Ismail, Engine Cadet, SMOU Member