Mariam Okoya-Ibeabuchi , currently a second Engineer with NLNG is a product of Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron (2007 to 2009). She majored in Marine Engineering and later proceeded to Warsash Maritime Academy Southampton, United Kingdom (January 2010 to September 2012). Since her days as a cadet, it has been ten years yet being a woman on a team traditionally thought to be men’s, she still gets that stare that says surprise- to –find- a- female-here. She speaks to TNMN on her experience so far and how young females can take an advantage of the maritime sector.
2% of the seafarers are women. Being a woman, how do you feel about this?
The number of women compared to men in the industry is very very low. And we know the perspective that it is a male dominated job. Most times, when I go out or even in my company, when I pass through the terminal, the security, every time, are surprised that there is a lady among them but there are different department. Women can do different things. We are just going towards having electronic ships, they are not here yet and so most of the ships are still mechanical. The very hard part like the engineering aspect, there are some task that really is physical. That is why it should be mixed where you have men and women together. Women think differently. We think like you are going this way, we are going that way. So, it will work if we have more women and leverage on their capability.
You have had ten years experience as a marine engineer. Have you come face to face with any prejudices because you are female?
I have been with NLNG from cadetship and they do international standards. The problem is in our coastal waters. We do not have provisions for females. Some of the small ships that are built, the females there have no privacy or rooms. The Crewing Agents or Shipowners recruiting females do not make it easy. When you go out there carrying a CV, you are fresh, every time, you get this withdrawal because they see females as a bigger responsibility and so they shy away from it.
There is another problem even though it is not peculiar to Nigeria. Being a female, there are attempts to exploit you. It is almost like some people want something back for every opportunity you get. If these are addressed, the need to grow female participation in the industry will not just be mere talks.
Companies like NLNG have really supported females and run international standard. So, things like sexual harassment are really taken seriously and if someone talks to you anyhow, he wants to lose his job. There are accommodations for females and you have the basic comfort. Even from the beginning, they could pair guys but girls are kept alone. You have your privacy
Message to Young Girls/Potential Seafarers
The key thing for me is to start early. Start really early. You know for men, they can have all the time. It is not easy when a women starts having a family but if you start very early, you would have gotten to the pinnacle before settling down and at that point, you can actually come to shore and work there. The important thing is to get these information as we are doing now. Start very early, immediately after secondary school that is important.