Calls for accountability in sexual violence in maritime industry

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Department of Social Development has called for accountability on the many cases of sexual violence and harassment that go unreported at sea in the maritime industry.

The Department made the call on Friday during the inaugural Seminar on Gender-Based Violence led by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). 

According to research by Professor Momoko Kitada of the World Marine University (WMU), the male-dominated sector is rife with aggravating factors pointing to sexual harassment that happens onboard different ships, with the enforcement of laws and policies weakened by different geographical jurisdictions.

The department said the research showed while there were 1.28% females at sea, 60% of these women had reported encountering gender-based discrimination onboard.

Violence experienced at sea include discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation, fixed mindset derived from toxic masculinity and body-shaming.

The research report concluded that legislation must be complemented by frameworks and platforms to promote gender equality.

Speaking at the seminar, the department’s Chief Director: Victim Empowerment, Social Crime and Substance Abuse, Siza Magangoe, said it was fitting for the session to be held when the country was observing 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children and on the heels of the second Presidential Summit on GBVF.

The department leads Pillar 4 of the NSP which focuses on the provision and strengthening of an integrated community and institutional response, care, support and healing to GBVF survivors and their families.

The department said the seminar revealed harrowing tales of abuse that were often perpetrated by well-respected senior managers.

“Speakers not only shared their views about the challenges they faced in various work environments because of their gender - as the maritime sphere was traditionally, and still is, a male-dominated industry - but also how they excelled in their respective careers despite the many hindrances obstructing their growth,” said the department.

“Biases towards women in the maritime industry are still a major barrier for gender equality in shipping and ports.”

Transport Deputy Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga said the country was still haunted by the death of a cadet, Akhona Geveza, whose lifeless body was found off the coast of Croatia on 24 June 2010, after having reported a case of sexual harassment.

“It is a case that devastated not only the family but the maritime industry in its entirety and had many young women questioning if this was a career for them. 

“In the minds of many South African seafarers the case remains unsolved as her death was declared a suicide. This is not meant to open old wounds to the family,” said the Deputy Minister.

The case prompt other cadets, male and female, to relay similar experiences.  

“This incident and the other related cases of sexual harassment that were reported at the time threatened the country’s ambitions of being a key player in the maritime industry and promotion of the maritime industry including gender parity. Mechanisms for crime prevention and reporting ought to be strengthened for this sector,” Chikunga said.

Magangoe conveyed similar sentiments, saying that in the same manner that HIV/AIDS was destigmatised, society needed to raise the profile of GBV, talk about it and remove the shame associated with reporting cases of violation.

“We must make those who make those who violate feel uncomfortable. The victim must be at the centre of justice and should be able to access state support with ease.”

She said various access points and services were available to victims, she said, adding that government was working on collecting victim support data to create a national picture and information sharing among its entities for better and effective service delivery.

She called for accountability for the many cases that are reported and remain unresolved.

SAMSA should be guided to institute a subcommittee that will hold everyone in the Maritime sector accountable and form part of existing sectoral approach and collaboration in the fight against GBVF. –