FOUR graduates of the Maritime Academy of the Asia and the Pacific are at greater risk than their classmates because they are women.
University of the Philippines professor Lucia Palpal-latoc Tangi came to this conclusion after in-depth interviews with a dozen women seafarers, most of who are working as bar waitresses, utility, and massage therapists on passenger and cruise liners.
The discrimination of women seafarers, Tangi claimed, begins from the recruitment stage when women applicants are already judged based on their youthfulness and beauty, and not on skills.
“Experience is a plus but not imperative especially when the applicants have a pleasing personality,” Tangi said.
Her conclusion has rattled the male-dominated seafaring industry.
“If there are women seafarers (working in freighters or tankers), there will be just a handful of them,” Philippine Overseas Employment Administration director Alejandro Padaen was quick to reply during the presentation of Tangi’s paper in September.
Padaen said people should not be misled by government figures that say there are about 6,619 Filipino woman seafarers, since most of them work in passenger liners or cruise ships, both types of which are demanding both men and women to either serve passengers or run the ship.
Working in freighter or cargo vessels is far different from working in passenger and cruise liners, Padaen said.
He also said freighter or cargo vessels can only employ between 21 and 23 crew members per sail.
Padaen, however, added that this does not mean that there’s no harassment on board.
He assumed that women are too scared to come forward and report the case.
“In my three-year stint as director for POEA’s adjudication division, I encountered just one case.”
Padaen said the case involved a male seafarer stealing the undergarments of his co-worker on board.
That male seafarer, whom he declined to name, was suspended without pay for two years because of the violation.
THE four female graduates of MAAP, one of the country’s premier institutions for the seafaring industry, last July are just the latest group to join the increasing number of women in the seafaring industry.
Established a decade ago, MAAP is headed by the local labor union Associated Marine Officers’ Union of the Philippines, private sector Danish Shipowners Association, International Transport Workers Federation, International Maritime Employee Committee, and the Filipino Association of Mariner’s Employment.
All graduates of the school are scholars and handpicked by the principals themselves. This means that all of their graduates will be future officers and will not be given menial jobs.
According to school president Eduardo Ma. R. Santos, they are treating their women students the same as males.
But there are “safeguards” to prevent them from being sexually harassed by the others, Santos said.
For one, hazing, which he said is usually practiced in other maritime schools, is prohibited.
Students are segregated according to their floors, and students are prohibited from going to floors other than their designated area.
“Women seafarers organize their own symposia on sexual harassment for prevention,” Santos, who is a former Philippine Navy chief, told the OFW Journalism Consortium.
“But there is no discrimination (of gender). They will take their shipboard training the same as everyone else,” Santos said in a telephone interview.
He added that the name of a seafarer accused of sexual harassment will be disseminated to all maritime agents and vessel operators.
“In the symposia, they always instruct the women to always lock their doors when brushing teeth. Women are also encouraged to cite ways they could avoid harassment or abuse.”
According to Philippine Ports Authority executive Siony Flores, addressing women’s concerns on-board a vessel could be as simple as giving them adequate facilities since they have a different biological make-up from men.
Flores, a career PPA employee, was the one of those who established gender and development points in the ports, a sector in the industry considered dominated by men.
“We’re only talking of equity on the available resources and not equality,” the PPA Corporate Communications director said.
Flores added they encourage women to organize especially since the government provides them funding for gender and development projects, as mandated by Women in Development and Nation Building Act.
The law states that at least 5 percent of the budget of an agency goes to gender projects.
But private sector initiatives for the protection of women are a different matter, she admitted, since resources are “scarce.”
MAAP’s Santos, however, balked when asked if the measures of the maritime sector to prevent harassment of women on-board a vessel are already institutionalized.
IN her working study titled Pinays On Board: an Exploratory Study on the Working Conditions of Filipino Women Seafarers, Tangi said that women have to battle exploitation, discrimination, and sexual harassment when on board a vessel.
Eleven out of the 12 respondents of the study worked on board luxury liners and only one worked on board an oil tanker, Tangi said in an email message to the OFW Journalism Consortium.
Tangi categorized those working in cruise liners and a freighter vessel as both seafarers, but they are differentiated when they go on-board as the latter type of vessel requires highly-skilled, more physically enduring jobs.
A seafarer, she said, refers to any person who is employed or engaged in any activity on board a seagoing ship navigating the foreign seas other than a government ship used for military or non-commercial purposes.
Thus waitresses, utility, and massage therapists are considered seafarers as well.
The study, however, made apples-and-oranges comparisons.
For one, she opined there is discrimination of salary between male and female seafarers.
The women she interviewed said they only earn between $50 (for massage therapist) and $1,000 a month as basic salary. But they can earn between $2,000 to $4,500 a month from tips alone.
Tangi then compared the salary of male seafarers, which she said are more into professional, technical, and labor-intensive job on-board.
A ship captain and the ship engineer, depending on the type of vessel, can both earn between $5,200 to $10,000 a month, while the other officers can earn about $2,400 to $8,400 a month.
“The research depicts the systematic discrimination of women in the maritime sector. Since women are assigned to positions or jobs which are reflective or related to their reproductive and nurturing roles, they tend to receive lower pay,” she wrote.
“Women seafarers manage to augment their income through tips and through part-time jobs such as doing the laundry and cleaning the cabins of Western crew members,” she added.
Tangi faced the same hurdle that the government experience—the unavailability of data regarding women seafarers.
The POEA does not even give details on how many women are in cruise ships or freighter vessels.
Nongovernment groups like the Church-based Apostleship of the Sea also do not have records of cases of sexual harassment on board a freighter vessel nor discrimination issues of women.
“For sure, they will not come out,” said Maria Isa Yñiguez, AOS’s paralegal aide.
Another Church group Scalabrini Migration Center said that they do not have any study on female seafarers and all of the data were from those gathered by POEA.
TANGI also added points on the long-time debate on the current flag of convenience system.
She said that such system also put women more at risk since FOC-vessels do not give enough protection to women.
International Transport Workers’ Federation has been alone in its campaign for the abolition of the FOC system to protect the seafarers from exploitation and discrimination.
At the moment, more than half of the world’s merchant ships, as measured by tonnage, are registered under the so-called flags of convenience, more commonly referred to as “open registries”. Traditional reasons for choosing an open register include protection from burdensome income taxes, wage scales, and regulations.
While this may be true to some open registries, it is difficult to substantiate generalized arguments against flags of convenience as the establishment of the system was sought by the vessel owners themselves.
In about more than 30 FOC states or nations, the most well known are Panama, Liberia, Bahamas, Malta, and Cyprus. Together they control about 45 percent of the shipping tonnage, according to nongovernment group Greenpeace.
“Within the IMO, a treaty only comes into force if the ratifying states together represent the required shipping tonnage. That means that, in fact, FOC states have the power of veto in the IMO,” the IMO website said.
Tangi said this is one of the things her study would focus on.
“I will be expanding my study to include the history on the deployment of women seafarers. I also intend to interview women from other departments, including engineers and officers, if I am lucky,” she said, adding that she will also interview ship owners to make her study more comprehensive.
“I want to include the entire three Bs in my study –the buyer, the business, and the bought.”
Tangi said her study is supported by the views enshrined in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
The Philippines, as a signatory to the convention, has the duty to ensure that women’s rights are protected even in the maritime industry.
“We are not asking for special treatment for women. We are asking that women should be given an equal opportunity to integrate and excel in a field that they choose. Women’s rights are inalienable rights and should therefore be upheld and protected at all times.”