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Up until the 20th century, there was much ongoing tolerance pertaining to gender prejudices in all the realms of law but 21st century brought a breathtaking refinement in these areas, though we haven’t reached that milestone. When it comes to maritime law, the law that concerns with the marine and naval disputes, the need to underscore the role of women is higher.  Also, new cases of sexual harassment at work bring into limelight the fact that as a society, there’s much to prosper in this sphere by spreading the awareness and making people realize the need to open the doors for both the genders. History is proof whenever such incidents of gender discriminations happen, the fire spreads to other regions as well. It’s yet another preconception that boats are for men and this maritime law has become andocentric.


Naval activities concerning to maritime such as fishing and trading have become andocentric or masculine ventures ignoring or sidelining the women.[1] It’s often considered that actions pertaining to maritime adventures when the life is put into risk and danger are performed by men because they are strong and brave whereas women don’t have enough strength and endurance to perform these activities like taking the ship into sea in the bad weather.[2]

That’s why it’s often said that the boats are for men sidelining the strength of women believing that they can’t be the sailors. The society doesn’t take into account the potential of women like it’s not telling the whole story but more precisely, ignoring the other possibilities because of lack of awareness.[3]

“Once that white shirt is worn, it’s the rank that speaks not the gender.”

Seafarers are generally portrayed as strong and have enough muscular strength to change the directions of winds and to handle the whole ship whereas women are often viewed as passive that is incapable of handling scary and wildest works as sailors do.[4] Most of the present day movies depict sailors and seafarers as men not women which further incorporate this thinking of society thus deepening the present rift in the society.


This archaeology of differentiation has been rooted from the dualistic paradigm that can be found in general comparison between both the genders which are often viewed as man versus woman as strong versus weak, brave versus coward, muscular versus soft, wild versus domestic respectively. This notion of bravery and muscularity further shifts the focus of entire society towards men when it comes to jobs retaining wildest adventures as of sailors and seafarers. Society perceives the boats and ships with men operating them with their strength not women. During childhood, almost everyone has heard of stories of captain cook and movies of sailors where every sailor is men. Also all the adventurous things like treasure hunting are generally portrayed as done by men. This notion was thus rooted in pre-colonial times. Maritime is a branch that deals with all these adventures which requires one to be brave and muscular.

Moving beyond the focus on muscularity, bravery and strength, this archaeology doesn’t understand or highlight other possibilities of differentiation between men and women. This notion is also influenced by the western countries. It is quite ironical that just because of difference in some organs; both men and women perceive and experience the world differently. However, it’s not the organs but the society that deepens this rift.[5] This is the narrow-minded thinking of our society which doesn’t change might our generation, education system, and everything will change, but this narrow-mindedness wouldn’t

 “The next time you tell women that they belong to kitchen, just remember that’s where the knives are”

 Considering that human rights apply on sea as on land, Maritime professions being male dominated also require equilibrium in terms of gender to ensure equal rights to everyone as only 2% of women are engaged in maritime services as reported by International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 1998[6]. Also, for the protection of rights, equal opportunity must be given to ensure equality at work place giving equal rights and treating them equally but it is often considered that women are portrayed as weak and the one who contributes to more risk in these jobs because they are incapable of handling such professions whenever they retain such jobs. Also, mental trauma a person has to undergo in these professions can’t be sidelined because the person has to distance himself from the family and friends sailing for months in isolation. If any woman suffers sexual harassment and is now in isolation, it will increase the trauma and more precisely, it will be difficult to cope with the life on ship. The division between men and women and treating them different and what it actually means to be different is a view derived from modern and western culture. Taking into view of maritime sphere, it was embedded in 15th century and then it expanded to other countries as well[7].

Coming to the concept of culture,[8] it is pertinent that particular crew members must not be culture biased or belonging and fanatic to just one culture thereby understanding their own culture only. It is essential in professions where communication is must especially when lives can also be put into risk. A person with heterogeneous culture would be able to understand and communicate better as compared to the one who understands and comprehends his own culture and language only. The role language plays in everyday life cannot be overlooked when talks are concerning with profession specially. Also, naval professions include isolation that is distance from family and friends, in this situation, it is essential that there must be crew members who understand each other and can help each other well.[9]


This fight for gender equality requires appropriate legal measures to curb it in all of its forms before reaching its optimum level of endangering and threatening others. However, it also poses a perennial question before law doubting the administration of laws to ensure equality in the work place whether it’s sailors, doctors or chefs. There’s a need to identify zero tolerance approaches against these matters.

“It is “humanism” that should run in the veins of the thinking humanity, not a certain          gender-oriented “ism””

Prohibiting this inequality and gender based prejudices in spheres of fishing and sailing is just a small step of the entire ladder for reaching a healthy work environment. Next step includes implementation of these laws as these rules and regulations must not only be seen but also implemented to ensure gender equality and safeguard public interest of people at large.[10] To ensure healthy work environment, states should retrospect the implementations of such laws, then refining those obstacles can help to achieve that goal.[11]

International Maritime Organization (IMO) has also covered some path to reach the destination of gender equality. For example, IMO’s collaborations from all over the world focusing on gender equality and healthy environment has achieved a little. Following the steps of IMO, many other maritime institutions[12] have also opened their doors to train the female candidates and motivating them who aspire to become sailors and other have desire to take other jobs concerning naval activities. World maritime day celebrated on 24 September every year had theme ‘Empowering women in maritime community’ for 2019.  

Also, various campaigns like #MeToo have uncovered many stories of such heinous crimes committed by men such as sexual abuse. Many women including seafarers don’t speak out considering that they would be blamed and it’s a thing to be ashamed of and on such a closed space like a ship, this would be more complicated to explain and discuss about such an issue maintaining the harmony among the crew. This campaign doesn’t let any stone unturned especially for women seafarers to raise their voice against such discrimination and harassment. This open talk has resulted in widening the narrow minded thinking of society who considers it as a taboo due to social stigma attached to it.[13]

Author(s) Name: Chhavi Sardana (Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala)


[1] J. Horck, ‘Cultural and Gender Diversities Affecting the Ship/Port Interface: Maritime Education and Training Efforts to Bridge Diversity Gaps’, Knowships, <> accessed on 28 August 2021

[2] J. Horck, ‘A Mixed Crew Complement: A Maritime Safety Challenge and its Impact on Maritime Industry’, Malmö Studies in Educational Science: Licentiate Dissertation in Education Series, <> accessed on 27 August 2021

[3] E. Kahveci and H. Sampson ‘Getting Along at Sea: How to Succeed in Making Multinational Crews Live and Work Together: A Shipboard-Based Study of Mixed-Nationality Crews’, Itfseafarers, <> accessed on 27 August 2021

[4] I. Visan and M. Georgescu, ‘Steering among a Sea of Islands’, WSEAS, <> accessed on 27 August 2021

[5] Carol-Dekker 511.  L. Carol-Dekker, ‘The Social Construction of the South African Seafarer’s Identity and Coping strategies, in the International Merchant Navy’

[6] P. Belcher, H. Sampson, M. Thomas, J. Veiga, M. Zhao, “Women Seafarers: Global Employment Policies and Practices” International Labour Organization, Geneva (2003)

[7] I. Land, ‘The Many-Tongued Hydra: Sea Talk, Maritime Culture and Atlantic Identities 1700–1850’, American and Comparative Cultures, 25, No. 3–4 (2002), 412–71

[8] W. Kidd and A. Teagle, Culture and Identity (New York, 2012)

[9]  P. Adler, ‘Beyond Cultural Identity: Reflections on Multiculturalism’, in R. Brislin eds, Culture Learning (Hawaii, 1977

[10] Gender mainstreaming or diversity mainstreaming?: The politics of ‘doing’. (2010); BACCHI C. & EVELINE J. (Eds.), Mainstreaming Politics: Gendering Practices and Feminist Theory (pp. 311-334), South Australia: University of Adelaide Press, <> accessed on 28 August 2021

[11] P. Bhargava, ‘How Team Meetings Help to Improve Safety and Efficiency of Ships?’, Marine Insight, <> accessed on 27 August 2021

[12] C. W. L. Hill and G. R. Jones, Strategic Management (Houghton Mifflin College Division, Boston 2001) 16.  J. Aritz and R.

[13] ‘Seafarer Depression: Alone in a Wide, Wide Sea’, Seafarers’ Rights, <> accessed on 27 August 2021

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