Elizabeth Marami did not really know what she was getting into, when she applied to become a marine captain through the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). “It was not something that I was interested in as a kid, but I was always up for a challenge. When I got called in and I learnt what it was about I totally fell in love with the whole idea.” Now Kenya’s first female marine pilot and a certified second officer, Elizabeth is the only woman out of 17 other trainee pilots at the port. At 26 years old, she is also among the younger people in her field.
Neither this, nor the eight-hour days, or long months at sea, faze Elizabeth. She recalls spending one Christmas sailing to Saudi Arabia, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone network. “Such things make you really feel intimidated and for a split second you can question why you even chose to be here. But then you must know your end game. If you do, you can persevere and keep on going. If you are a go-getter you can achieve anything you want to achieve.”
Still it requires something of an adjustment when Elizabeth first boards the ship and is the only woman in a crew of 50 – 100. “You have to fight for yourself to be perceived as equal. “
Thankfully, Elizabeth feels supported by her supervisors. “My superiors everywhere, even at the port have always been supportive of me. They said that once I embarked upon this career, to get this far it takes a lot. They respect the fact that I have actually gotten this far and thus they gain the morale to support me even further.”
Elizabeth’s employer, Kenya Ports Authority jointly with TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) commissioned a gender mainstreaming assessment which revealed that the maritime industry is defined by a history and culture of male dominance in many aspects. This is gradually changing as the institution embraces automated systems of operation and deliberately observes requirements that create room for entry of women to work areas that have been largely considered the preserve of men.
The first comprehensive gender mainstreaming assessment of the Port of Mombasa was carried out in 2016. KPA is a public institution in Kenya and a fulcrum of development for the East African region and believes that human rights and equality approaches are imperative for the holistic development of society.
KPA’s gender mainstreaming policy has enabled Elizabeth to fulfill her dream to become Kenya’s first female marine pilot and a certified second officer. Elizabeth spent five years at the prestigious Arab Academy for Maritime Transport and Technology in Alexandria, Egypt and earned a Bachelor of Science in Nautical Technology. She was only the second woman allowed on board the academy training ship.
Now, her goal is to get the experience and hours at sea needed to become a full captain. She is also passionate about encouraging more women to get involved in Maritime. “You can’t sleep on your dream. You must start living it. I believe if I can do it, any other woman can!”
KPA’s Mombasa Port infrastructure has the capacity to support gender equality goals albeit the need for improvement. The level of automation that has been integrated into operational processes which allows women to enter job spaces that they could not previously sustain due to the manual and exacting nature of the work.
Reduction of time for offloading and loading containers because of the new infrastructure means women and men in the transport sector (truck drivers) do not wait for long at the Port thus increasing their disposable time for work-life balance. Increased use of conveyor belt systems for loading and off-loading of cargo has also enhanced women’s presence in operational tasks at the Port.