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China's new policies could help female seafarers

The Chinese government’s removal of the single-child policy and a new drive to widen training of cadets, including females, could help address a longstanding shortfall in the numbers of women seafarers, according to researchers at Southampton Solent University.

Researchers commented following a recent data collection trip to China for The Gender, Empowerment and Multicultural Crews (GEM) research project, which is looking at why so few females follow a career at sea. Currently only 2% of the world’s seafarers are women, and of these 94 per cent work either on cruise ships or passenger ferries.

Led by Southampton Solent University’s China Centre (Maritime), the GEM project is examining the working conditions, attitudes and cultural behaviours on-board the worlds’ ships, many of which have multi-cultural crews.

Project Leader and Solent University Senior Research Fellow, Dr Kate Pike, says: “Although the research is in its early stages and we are just beginning the data analysis from our recent visit, China’s latest initiatives could herald a change for female seafarers in the future.”

During the six-day trip, researchers received a warm welcome from the Shanghai Maritime University’s Merchant Marine College and other maritime stakeholders. Vital research was conducted at the Shanghai Maritime University and at various venues throughout the city.

The research was expertly facilitated by the local team there led by Dr Minghua Zhao, Director of Solent’s China Centre (Maritime) and internationally known for her research on women seafarers and Dr Pengfei Zhang, a maritime lawyer and lecturer specialising in the study of seafarers rights in China. They carried out a series of key fact-finding interviews and discussion forums with various stakeholders within the maritime industry.

Dr Minghua Zhao says: ”This data will significantly advance the understanding of gender issues associated with Chinese seafarers, and will allow the development of greater understanding for the future role played by Chinese women in shipping.”

The data will be analysed over the coming weeks and will form the basis for the results section of the project. The findings will help to provide an overall summary of female seafarer’s participation in the country, as well as being used comparatively against the maritime sector in the UK and Nigeria.

The trip to China and the documented results have allowed the GEM team to see first-hand the training facilities that maritime institutions, such as Shanghai Maritime University, offer.

The GEM project is an in-depth piece of research, sponsored by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, investigating the welfare needs of seafarers, particularly how they are treated on-board in today’s multicultural working environment.

Speaking about the GEM project at its official launch in the IMO last October, Dr Kate Pike said: “It aims to improve the welfare and working conditions on-board for all crew by empowering and supporting women who may be experiencing discrimination and harassment. It will identify gaps in current knowledge – with regard to training and retention – and raise awareness of the wider issues surrounding multicultural crews so that women can play a fuller role on board ships and beyond.”

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