My career has been very fulfilling: I have always wanted to sail and loved fixing things so being a Marine Engineer is a dream come true. The Journey has been tumultuous but also very satisfying, I have had days of terror-when the storms were bad and when machinery breakdowns occurred while at sea, but the joy of sailing lies with the fact that ‘a calm sea never makes an excellent sailor’. The rough bumps are all part of the process.
This industry is still challenging for females for a number of reasons,there is still a lot of discrimination against females in the sector. Although the Nigerian Maritime community is speaking against discrimination of female sailors, there are still a lot of companies that do not have female officers and are not willing to make a change. In most cases, I’ve had to take jobs that didn’t even pay the standard rate just to have experience at least. There is no standardized payment rate in Nigeria at the moment and that is taking a huge toll on Seafarers. Secondly, It is quite difficult to obtain funds or grants to pursue further education in the sector. In Australia and other countries, there are funds for women willing to go further in their maritime career, as a means of encouraging women in the sector but that is not the case in Nigeria. I’ve had to source for funds myself and that has not been easy considering the challenges I am currently facing in the sector.
As a female engineer I have faced discrimination, it is believed that all engineers should look strong because the job is quite physical. Most times, at first glance, I am not considered strong nor smart enough to even be an officer. I decided to do my best to earn their respect by ensuring I become good at my job. I learnt the dynamics of how all systems and machinery worked and actively put myself in all jobs, refusing to be left out. Within a short time, I had proven that I deserved the right to be there. This in itself is heartbreaking. As a man, you are not usually judged by these standards and as a woman; you have to work twice as hard as men to earn half the respect. It’s gotten better over the years. Secondly, I also had to deal with learning how to manage the people working under me…I learnt to respect and earned their respect as well. It is not always rosy but it has been fair so far. Finally, this is something most female sailors don’t say but….it’s quite hard to maintain relationships when you’re sailing most of the time because the distance is a barrier. Communication is usually essential to help ease this problem.
There should be a law that prohibits discrimination of women in this sector. Countries should be encouraged to ensure that laws are passed in favour or increasing number of women in the sector. For instance, in a company, women should make up a minimum of 15-20 percent of the crew and it should be unlawful for a company to reject a sailor based on gender. Secondly, there should be educational grants to enable women be more involved in the sector.
To my fellow females looking to pursue a career at sea my advice to you is that you should learn as much as you can. Be focused and do not let the challenges deter you from aiming for the top. Respect is earned; ensure to earn it by being the best, truest version of yourself. It is a very rewarding profession if you put your heart into it.
Uchechi is a 3rd Engineer with 6 years experience