Case study

The GEM Project - Southampton Solent University

22 Sep 2015

Currently only two per cent 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 Gender, Empowerment and Multicultural Crews (GEM) project is examining the working conditions, attitudes and cultural behaviours on-board the worlds’ ships, many of which have multi-cultural crews.

The project examines seafarers’ welfare, focusing on gender issues arising from multi-cultural crews and isolation, and use its findings to facilitate the development of appropriate tools to help support women within the industry.

The ITF Seafarers’ Trust, which provided £70,000 of funding towards the GEM project, is keen to examine why so few women choose a career at sea.

Kimberly Karlshoej, Head of the ITF Seafarers’ Trust, said: “We are missing out on a lot of skilled, resilient and competent women that would add immense value to our industry. The term seafarer is gender-blind and so are the seas, this is why this research is so important.”

She added, “This research will help us to understand the context from a seafarer’s, men or women’s, point of view and will help identify the barriers and the frustrations that they face. I think it is safe to say that in the future it will be essential to strive towards a maritime industry that is inclusive and that views its lifeblood, its seafarers, as more than a sum of its parts.”

The GEM project draws on the unique access to data from current and former students of Southampton Solent University’s world-famous Warsash Maritime Academy, as well as comparable data from China’s Shanghai Maritime University and Nigeria’s National Maritime Academy. This helps to establish patterns relating to the welfare of seafarers, particularly women, and how they are treated on-board in today’s multicultural working environment.

Speaking about the GEM project at its official launch in the International Maritime Organisation (October 2015), Project Leader and Solent University Senior Research Fellow 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.”

Following a data collection trip to China, GEM researchers saw indicators that 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 long-standing shortfall in the numbers of women seafarers.

Solent’s Dr Kate Pike said, said: “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.”

Later phases of the project will disseminate the research findings to those who have the greatest potential to bring about change within the industry: policy makers, maritime educators, recruiters, future cadets and more.

Further, by exploring cultural diversity, isolation and gender equality, this project is helping highlight the good practice that will encourage women’s participation in seafaring. It will identify welfare issues that currently prevent women from continuing with their training, causing them to leave the industry early or not enter it at all.