The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated annually on 11 February. The World Maritime University (WMU) is committed to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), and in particular, Goal 4 focused on education and Goal 5 focused on gender equality. WMU is continually working to support the advancement of women in maritime and ocean professions.
Cultural and structural barriers continue to be challenges facing women interested in pursuing science as a career. Women researchers represent less than 30 percent of overall science researchers around the world. In maritime sciences, only around 10 percent of nautical science students and approximately 5 percent of marine engineering students are female. According to a survey conducted by Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) of 75 maritime education and training (MET) institutions, 24 of them reported that none of their students were women.
WMU Women in Education
Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of WMU, has been recognized as a notable woman in ocean science equity for sustainability, an ocean influencer, and was selected for the 2021 Lloyd’s List Top 100 annual ranking of the most influential people in shipping. She is the first female president of WMU and deeply committed to the empowerment of women. Regarding the International Day of Women and Girls in Science she said, “We need now, more than ever, to empower women and girls and ensure they are at the table to help tackle the unprecedented challenges facing our world today. Maritime and ocean science are interdisciplinary and span a full spectrum from natural to social sciences. At WMU, we are doing our part to recruit and advance women across all aspects of the WMU community, from faculty to local school students, to inspire and empower future generations of maritime and ocean leaders.”
In addition to President Doumbia-Henry, six female members of the WMU faculty are influencing the next generation of maritime and ocean leaders. Their expertise is shared across all seven areas of specialization within the Malmö MSc programme. Their areas of research include a wide range of topics such as sustainable mesopelagic fisheries, gender and diversity in shipping, protection of the marine environment, educational effectiveness, curriculum design and development, and maritime prevention and marine transportation system management.
Associate Professor, Dr Momoko Kitada, is a former seafarer and a main area of her research includes gender, diversity and welfare issues in shipping. She leads WMU’s collaboration efforts with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in terms of women’s integration in the maritime sector and assists the WMU Women’s Association (WMUWA) in connection with other IMO regional support networks. “For this day, the IMO’s Women in Maritime slogan of ‘Training-Visibility-Recognition’ is an important reminder to celebrate the achievements of women in advancing maritime and ocean sciences. Science is the source of knowledge and women’s contribution to science needs to be visible and recognized,” said Dr Kitada.
WMU Female Students
Until the late 1990s, female students made up less than 5% of the Malmö MSc intake. In 2021, the Malmö intake was 35 percent women. The WMU Class of 2022 Maritime Safety & Environmental Management (MSEM) specialization in Dalian, China set a new record for gender parity with 21 female students representing 50 percent of the enrolment. The WMU gender parity record of 50/50 was first set in 2019 in the Shanghai International Transport & Logistics (Shipping & Finance) specialization. Key research topics addressed by women in the Class of 2021 Malmö MSc programme include mitigating corruption in the maritime industry, wave energy as a new energy mix to produce green hydrogen, viability of solar power supply, marine protected area ecological monitoring frameworks, discarded fishing gear in the Caribbean, and domestic law related to the Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention.
In the WMU PhD programme, 39 percent of the candidates are women. In April of 2021, President Doumbia-Henry and three of the female WMU PhD candidates were featured in the “Women and Men at Sea” exhibit at Malmö’s Technology and Maritime Museum Museum including Ms Kristal Ambrose from the Bahamas for her efforts as a renowned plastic pollution activist for which she received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, Ms Renis Auma Ojwala from Kenya for her efforts to promote gender equality and improve the conditions for women’s participation in fisheries, and Ms Zaidy Afrin from Fiji for her efforts to improve “Life below water as a workplace” and advancing diver employment to support the health of the ocean.
A major focus of Ms Ambrose’s work is inspiring youth to make a difference. She started The Plastic Beach Project in 2013 to study plastic concentrations on Bahamian beaches. With the help of her “plastic warriors” youth delegation, they successfully engaged the Bahamian government in banning single-use plastics as of January 2020 in the entire country. “Securing a healthy future for the ocean, planet and humankind takes education, inspiration and action. Be the force of change,” said Ms Ambrose in her exhibit feature.
WMU Women in Research
The WMU Maritime Research Agenda and the Global Ocean Research Agenda are key components of the work WMU undertakes including research work for the IMO and other UN agencies, the EU and for maritime and ocean organizations and the maritime industry worldwide. Currently, 69 percent of WMU researchers are female. Their areas of research include marine plastic pollution and prevention, IUU fishing, maritime cyber security, seafarer welfare, maritime energy management, marine debris, marine spatial planning, empowering women, and the future of work in the maritime industry. Their work is impactful and far reaching, for instance, in 2021, Dr Aleke Stöfen-O’Brien played an important role in delivering the United Nations Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA II) report by serving as co-convenor and author of Chapter 12 which deals with marine debris and dumping.
WMU’s research and capacity building programme on Empowering Women for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Empowering Women Programme) was endorsed in 2021 as a Decade Action of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Ocean Decade). generously sponsored by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), with additional support from The Nippon Foundation, and is delivered through a multidisciplinary team at the WMU-Sasakawa Global Ocean Institute. The Programme will enhance capacity to explore and promote women’s empowerment and gender equality in the conduct of ocean science and in science-dependent governance systems. Research findings will identify key barriers and good practice contributing to a proposed Strategy and Action Plan to help deliver equal opportunities for full participation and leadership by women at all levels of ocean science under the Ocean Decade.
In a blog post for the Empowering Women Programme, about the International Day of Women and Girls in Science Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Mariamalia Rodríguez Chaves, reflected on the importance of the Day saying, “Celebrating this day also means to show the great work of women contributing to ocean science, smash down stereotypes, inspire girls to engage in these fields and thrive in ocean-related careers. I wish to think that my baby daughter, in some years, could be one of those scientists invited to an expert panel or being the leading negotiator in an ocean related multilateral process… with the certainty that there are equal opportunities no matter if you’re a woman or a man.”
WMU aims to fulfill requests from the local community, schools in particular, to provide insight to maritime and ocean issues and education. In 2021, the third annual visit of WMU to Malmö Latinskola in recognition of UN Day took place in October. Roughly 60 students participated in interactive and creative sessions focused on solutions and actions to meet the targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), in particular, Goal 14 – Life Below Water, and Goal 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. WMU experts often agree to be interviewed by local grade school students on topics related to shipping and the ocean in relationship to the UNSDGs. WMU welcomes further collaboration with local schools to engage and empower youth, give back to the community, and build capacity locally in Malmö.
About the International Day of Women and Girls in Science
On 22 December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly decided to establish an annual International Day to recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and technology, through Resolution A/RES/70/212. The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated on 11 February, aims to promote full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls.
Country reports from the IMO Regional Conference on the Development of a GlobalStrategy for Women Seafarers, 16-19 April 2013.
BIMCO and ICS, 2015