Gender and the Ocean at the UN for World Oceans Day 2019

By: Anna Farber

Saturday, June 8th was this year’s World Oceans Day, with the theme of Gender and the Ocean. The UN celebrated with a conference highlighting the importance of gender in ocean-related issues, sponsored by the committee on the law of the sea. While gender is not an issue typically associated with the ocean and the laws of the sea, the conference showcased how gender dynamics play an extremely important role in ocean affairs.

Even though women hold 50% of all maritime-related jobs, almost all of them are involved in low-level and temporary positions, with limited job security and bad safety conditions. By contrast, over 90% of high level and executive positions in the maritime sector are held by men. The conference showcased several incredible women working in and around the ocean, to protect the ocean and empower other women to do the same. Increasing gender equality in the maritime sector, as with all sectors, will improve sustainability, because women are often the voices and motivators for sustainable change.  

The morning of the conference was focused on stories and storytelling, and it culminated in a panel featuring many of the speakers. Amongst the speakers was Patima Tungpuchayakul, co-Founder of the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation who works to rescue men from fishing slavery in South Eastern Asia. Speaking to the dangerous aspects of her work, Tungpuchayakul said “If I don’t go to these dangerous places, and rescue these fishermen, who will help them? Don’t you think helping over 3000 enslaved people is worth the risk of danger to one person?” Her work and the plight of these enslaved fishermen are the subject of the new documentary Ghost Fleet,

Another incredibly inspiring woman at this conference was the Tongan sea captain Aunofo Havea. Havea worked her way up from being a boat cleaner to being a sea captain, and eventually became the only woman in her training program for a voyage across the Pacific Ocean and around the world, which she completed between the years 2002 and 2011. During her career, she has sailed over 60,000 nautical miles. These women offered advice to the audience and discussed how gender affected their experiences of the ocean.

The afternoon also included a panel, which shifted focus to women with careers in the maritime sector. These women represented various ocean-related careers; Dr. Francesca Santoro is an Ocean scientist from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO,) Kendall Barbery works with restorative ocean farming, and Paige Alms is a pioneering big wave surfer. These women, and several others, all discussed how their work helps to promote both the health of the ocean and gender equality.

    The gender dynamics surrounding the ocean needs to be improved for the health and wellbeing of both our people and our planet. This World Oceans Day, the UN showcased how many women are making waves.

    Find out more about World Oceans Day and “Gender and the Ocean” here!