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Protect Filipino female seafarers and cadettes from sexual harassment and violence

Employers must have effective mechanisms and guidelines to promptly address sexual harassment and violence incidents committed against female seafarers and cadettes.

The Women in Maritime Philippines (WiMaPhil) raised said issue during the recent online public forum organized by the office of Senator Risa Hontiveros on the pending Magna Carta of Filipino Seafarers.

Merle San Pedro, WiMaPhil trustee, called for the better protection for women seafarers as part of their campaign not only to promote women as seafarers but also as a part of the maritime industry as a whole—shipping, ports, maritime administration, maritime education and training, and logistics.

Female seafarers are exposed to various forms of discrimination, exploitation, sexual harassment and violence due to their vulnerability, which may partly be attributed to the confined space on board the vessel.

The isolated nature of the ship can increase the opportunities for sexual harassment and violence to occur and can also amplify its negative consequences.

Sexual harassment may take the form of a sexist remarks, sexual advances or sex-related behavior.

Sexual harassment is a reflection of the power relations between individuals involved where, in most instances, the harasser is an officer occupying a higher rank than the woman seafarer.

Women seafarers are susceptible to sexual harassment since they have limited chance of avoiding their harassers due to the rigid hierarchical environment.

They tend to be vulnerable to feelings of isolation as they are away from family and friends during the period when the harassment occurs.

If women seafarers face sexual harassment in their early careers, it may discourage them to pursue their profession.

In most instances, the victims have to face hurdles in filing complaints, very few even reaching courts, leaving their aggressor mostly unpunished.

In recent decades, the word “seafarer” has replaced the word “seaman” in the male-dominated maritime industry. In the older times, the term “seaman” was widely used to describe anyone working at sea.

This is perhaps due to the actions of the United Nations in promoting gender equality, women have been taking part in industries that once belonged to men, the maritime industry included.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) noted that women represent only less than 2 percent of the world’s estimated 1.2 million seafarers while  94 percent of female seafarers are working in the cruise industry.

Within the historically male dominated industry, IMO stressed that it has been making a concerted effort to help the industry move forward and support women to achieve a representation that is in keeping with 21st century expectations.

IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim earlier said that the maritime industry needs more women because of the quality work they provide. He underscored that women are a very important source of human resources, which would make for safer sea travel.

In the Philippines, the Maritime Industry Authority has recorded 73,027 women seafarers or almost 10 percent of approximately 1 million Filipino seafarers issued with Seafarer’s Identification and Record Book as of December 2018. SIRB used to be known as Seaman’s Book.

Stakeholders have been campaigning for the passage of the Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers given the fact that the Philippines is considered as one of the major suppliers of maritime labor globally.

The estimated 519,031 deployed Filipino seafarers in 2019 per POEA data remitted $6.539 billion or around P326.95 billion.

The sea-based sector’s remittances comprise at least 22 percent of the total dollar remittances of overseas Filipino workers.

The first version of the proposed Magna Carta for Filipino Seafarers was the by-product of the National Seafarers Conference in 2002 held at the Manila Hotel organized by the Apostleship of the Seas  in coordination with the Office of Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr.

Years later, several versions were filed by legislators that considered legal developments both locally and internationally. These include the Maritime Labor Convention of 2006 (MLC 2006) that sets out seafarers’ rights to decent conditions of work and embodies all up-to-date standards of existing international maritime labor conventions. MLC 2006 is also called Seafarers’ Bill of Rights and the fourth pillar of international maritime law.

Aside from Senator Hontiveros’s Senate Bill 357, other proponents of the Magna Carta in the Senate include Senators Joel Vilanueva (SB 1745), Nancy Binay (SB 1369), Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. (SB 300) and Sonny Angara (SB 135).

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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