Why women don’t own ships in Africa– Mfon Usoro

Mfon Usoro

Continued from last time

All of the women, those who are reasonably well- equipped and those well positioned have a duty to raise the ladder for other women to climb and get to the position that we are and even surpass us. I do believe that these women can share these ideas which are common now as we bend towards gender equality. Women should be their sister’s keeper and make sure they produce another of themselves. It gives nobody pleasure to be referred to as the only so and so. It does not give me any pleasure when I used to be introduced as the first and only female Chief Executive Officer ift’ the Maritime industry. Each time I was introduced I had some negative feelings because it does not add to my glory to be the first and only. My wish whenever I heard that would be how do I have the opportunity of making sure we have many more women become chief executive officers of government agencies. Believing that all the successful women in shipping also share the same feeling, it is now for associations like WIST A to reach ou t to them and create that networking and men toring opportunity so that we have more of the women. I will encourage WIST A to go beyond the seminars. Mentoring entails more than that. It means WIST A identifying other women who aspire to be ship owners and then linking them with these few successful women so that they carl” have one-on-one mentoring'” opportunities. Coming to speak to us and give us the knowledge is good because it motivates and gives us the feeling that it is doable and achievable but starting and getting there is not a one lecture affair, it has to be that somebody holds your hand and most of the CEOs are extremely busy for them to go and look out for women that they could assist. So it is for WIST A and other women to identify such women who have the ambition and. then link them up with these stars in other that they could have close mentoring sessions and actually tell them what happens step- by- step to overcome and get to where they are supposed to be.

Can we look at the women ratio in seafaring?
It still goes back to lack of data but the general knowledge is that it is poor and I believe so. Looking at the MAN, Oron, I go to their graduation ceremonies. We have reasonably good number of female cadet. What happens in their post­graduation is that it is very difficult for them to find job. The issue is not just that they do not have opportunities to go and have their certificate of competence, the few opportunities available, the competition is so high and given that the society is male-focused they give those few opportunities to the graduating male cadets. We really need to do a total re-orientation of the mind and not foreclose women when we are trying to choose young people to give opportunities to because traditionally and culturally, what the men unconsciously
think of is “if I invest in this lady, soon she is going to get married and I don’t know where her husband will be. She is a young lady, even if she works now she can’t work for more than two years and she will be pregnant. And she will ask for paternity leave”. These are the things that go on in the mind of the man who is in the position of authority. So, they look at the obstacles. and conclude that “this will be a good investment for my company.” We need to start reorientating the minds of those who wield influence in the career of women. Yes, even in the absence of a reliable data, it’s very poor. We have sizable number of women who attend the academy but if you want to do an audit five years post-academy between the female and male cadets how many oJ them have job, the male have jobs more than the female and that is because the employers of labour close the door against the female cadets without even giving them a chance.

I am aware that Access Bank and Bank of Industry have products for women. So with the banking industry appreciating the peculiar problem of women, do you think that will .open up more opportunities for them and translate to something better?

Certainly, I think it is translating because I have read the report of those banks and some of them have had the opportunities of sitting in the networking seminars for those female beneficiaries. They have made the requirements for accessing loans more flexible and more gender- friendly. For instance, having to say you must have landed property, how many women have landed property? They have the knowledge, they have the drive, they have the skill but how many will have landed property to go and access loan? Some of these banks have looked the other way. Women have also proven empirically that women are better debtors than men. Women pay up their loan more than their male counterpart who accesses the same level of loan. The banks leverage on that and so they are encouraged to take the risk knowing that being a woman and the qualities that are innate in women they would not want to default. Looking at that quality the bank would want to reduce the risk the bank faces. So this new thinking about granting better access to women in finance will definitely bring a positive result. We know that shipping is very risky; most Nigerian banks themselves are not very familiar with ship finance. So even for their male customers, banks are having problem having to give out loans that are related to shipping operation. So there is that unfamiliarity with ship finance which needs to be overcome. And then the next step is to subconsciously look out for female entrepreneurs who are in the shipping w0rld and try to accommodate them, which is the reason we think and I think that with the positive gender policy of the federal government a certain percentage of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) should be reserved for female entrepreneurs in shipping. We have to follow it through. If the president says lets work towards gender equality, it should not be only in the number of women that are appointed to be minister. It has to be followed through in all the agencies of the governments in different capacities of activities in the agencies. So for CVFF, a specific percentage should be reserved for female entrepreneurs. And then they will look for the best of those female entrepreneurs and encourage the commercial banks that they are working with to make sure that the percentage is given to women. These are the concrete and very positive examples that we can use to tell the government to key into this gender agenda because it is good for the society when women are empowered. Just imagine, a husband dies and you thing. have your wife and children and because you did not believe in empowering women your wife will suffer and your children will because of their inability to maintain the standard of living you gave to the family while you were alive. We should believe that this gender empowerment will benefit everybody, individuals, families, communities and the whole country.
We do have our perspectives too as women that is why I am preaching that every opportunity that exists in career, decision making position, etc, they should make sure they use that God­ given opportunity to reduce the gap between male and female in terms of economic opportunities because the society suffers ultimately if you do not empower women.
Abuja MOU for 2014, what plan?
We are going to give you our action plan for 2014. What we are targeting really now is to have all the countries inspect foreign ships which call in their ports. Not all the 22 member countries do port state inspections and that is also because of lack of capacities. So, we are going to encourage exchange programs not just with foreign countries but countries in the region who are conducting inspections and who have reasonable man-power like Nigeria to give opportunity of exchange programme on port state control officers to Gambia, for instance, to come in and work with them in NIMASA for a period to see how it is done. This is one of the things we intend to achieve this year to ensure that all the countries inspect the ships that come to their country. The western world has been so successful in their port state inspections that you hardly have ships that are substandard to their waters. But they have shifted these ships (substandard) to a region where port state control is not efficiently conducted. So rather than make a global initiative to clean or rid our oceans of substandard ships and onboard officers who are not well qualified, what they have done is to ensure that in their region there is no safety net for those itinerant ship owners. These itinerant ship owners come to Africa and some East Asian countries. We don’t want that because we put our environment and sea at risk as well as our people at risk, because we have heard about the marine incident of 2012/2013 where people died because of this kind of It hardly happens now in the Western world. We also do not want to give them the loophole to bring in their substandard ships that are not allowed to sail in their waters. So, Closing The Net Against Substandard Ships is the theme of the ministerial conference that is hoped to hold this year. Hopefully, it is going to be hosted by Ghana. It is always helpful when you get the entire minister to buy in at that policy level so that they will ensure that it is implemented. We also have our committee meeting for the entire member states and it is going to be hosted in Angola. We will continue our intensive trainings for port state officers. Apart from the IMO organized foreign training which member state nominate, Abuja MOU take the training to member states. And we did that in about four countries last year. Weare going to continue this year. We will take the training to them as we have an in-house Marine Engineer who is very versed in port state control matters. It is yielding a lot of dividends because as at 2013, we had more efficient inspection and better reporting. The trend that we are seeing now is very encouraging because those vessels that have deficiencies noted in them during inspection the people have become bold and more confident because of the training, to detain those vessels.
What about your tenure in Abuja MOU?
Well, I have a four-year term and when that expires I will see what next that I will do. I think i have accomplished what I was asked to come and do in Abuja MOU but lets complete the four years, then we will think of what comes next.

‘So for CVFF, a specific percentage should be reserved for female entrepreneurs. And then they will look for the best of those female entrepreneurs and encourage the commercial banks that they are working with to make sure that the percentage is given to women. These are the concrete and very positive examples that we can use to tell the government to key into this gender agenda because it is good for the society when
women are empowered.”