I CAN’T remember exactlywhen I became aware of InternationalWomen’s Day, but I do remember one ofmy male colleagues coming up to me andsaying it was time to celebrate because“… it’s your day”. I felt woefully ignorant,unaware of what IWD was, or its history.

Today we are much more aware ofthe various special days that have beenidentified by the United Nations, includingIWD, celebrated on 8 March, andInternational Men’s Day on 19 November.

Let’s take a deeper look at the roots ofIWD, what it means today, and how it canhelp shape the future of diversity, equityand inclusion in the maritime industry inthe future.


The history of IWD is linked to thehistory of women’s fight for equality overnot just decades, but centuries. In fact,IWD is closely related to the suffragettemovement, which gained momentum inthe late 19th and early 20th centuries.The call was to advocate for women’s rightto vote, but the issues ran deeper thansolely that.

Emmeline Pankhurst is a name thatmay come to mind when you think ofthe suffragettes. She was the politicalactivist who, during her protests, wasimprisoned in October 1909. She wasarrested for her involvement in thesuffrage movement and was sentencedto three months of hard labour. Whileimprisoned, she started a hunger strike toraise awareness of the injustices againstwomen, and other women joined in. Thiswas seen as further insurrection and thewomen faced even worse treatment fromthe authorities, including force feedingthrough tubes – causing both physical andpsychological trauma.

Just a year earlier, in 1908, the firstNational Women’s Day had been held inthe United States. The catalyst was poorworking conditions for garment workers inNew York City.

With all this activity around theemancipation of women, it is notsurprising that a woman, ClaraZetkin, proposed the idea of an annualInternational Women’s Day in 1910in Copenhagen, at the InternationalConference of Working Women.

The development of IWD and thesuffragette movement are closely linked.Since its inception, IWD has been achance to focus on the many issues thataffect women, recognising the ongoingstruggle for gender equality, and equity ona global basis.


We are all aware of the UN SustainableDevelopment Goals, including goal five,which relates to gender equality. Whilemany years have passed since 1910, theissues faced by women and girls remainbasically the same. Discrimination,violence, harmful practices continue toexist, and we are not immune to this in themaritime industry.

Diversity, equity, inclusion andacceptance is high on the agenda of manyinternational organisations, including atthe IMO Human Element, Training andWatchkeeping sub-committee meetingin February 2024. This includes theneed for enhanced working conditions,including suitable PPE, the call to supportpsychological safety onboard vessels,the work to ensure women can accesspositions by addressing unconscious bias,the call for more men to support diversityactivities through allyship, and the focuson providing support for those affected bysexual assault and sexual harassment.

Some of the other sustainabledevelopment goals relate to, or support,goal five. Goal one addresses the issue ofpoverty, goal four focuses on educationand goal three looks at health. IWD in2024 provides us with a platform and anopportunity to question our own initiativeand actions to support diversity, equity,inclusion and acceptance of all genderswithin our industry.

The UN Sustainable Development Goalsremain as relevant today as when theywere adopted by UN member states in2015, with the aim of achieving the goalsby 2030. In 2015 this seemed doable, butin 2024, as we realise the breadth andscope of the issues, it seems this is likelyto be impossible. In fact, in too manyareas, the move to gender equality is notjust slowing, it is reversing. There arecountries rescinding laws that were put inplace to support women, including theirrights to education, medical support andreproductive health.

For IWD 2024 we have two relatedthemes – if you visit the InternationalWomen’s Day website you will see thetheme “inspire inclusion” and if you goto the UN Women website you will seethe theme “invest in women, accelerateprogress”. Both are working to focuson the need for inclusion, and to investin diversity – a focus on the ongoinginjustices faced by women and girls. Timeis running out, and we know we can dobetter – we must do better. IWD 2024 isa chance to look to the future and investin women.


We started our journey in a British prisonand a New York garment factory in theearly 1900s. We have moved through thedecades, to the adoption of the sustainabledevelopment goals in 2015, and the visionfor IWD 2024. What does the future hold?And, more specifically, what does this allmean for women in maritime?

Over the years we have begun to seenot just the challenges, but also theopportunities for women in maritime.With a focus on investing in women,and inspiring inclusion, I hope that IWD2024 is a chance to recognise success andthe ongoing need to continue to work topromote equity and inclusion.

Some specific activities that we can all take include:

  • Speaking up – recognise the harm that bystander syndrome can cause and learn how to speak up in a respectful and supportive manner. Take practical measures to gain skills in how to have those difficult conversations when we see something isn’t right and know when to speak up as an advocate and when to listen to support.
  • Being proactive – review how we work, and why. This can include implementing policies and practices that promote diversity through inclusive language in job descriptions, operating procedures and more; implementing focused equity hiring programs to help alleviate the ongoing gender gaps; combating harassment and discrimination by ensuring a “zero tolerance” policy really means zero tolerance; and taking proactive measures to create safe and respectful work environments.
  • Work together – for too long the fight for women’s rights was driven only by women, with few male advocates. While this is changing, the support of male allies cannot be understated. This means leveraging partnerships, engaging with men as allies and learning from the past to envision a better future. This is not a “women problem”. It is a societal problem, which can only be solved by all of us working together.


As we move through the years, through thedecades, even through the centuries we seethe ongoing challenges, and opportunities,of achieving true diversity, equity andinclusion. Every year IWD brings the day-to-day fight for gender equality into focusfor just one day. However, the challenges ofaddressing the imbalances and injusticesfaced by women is not a not a once-a-yearevent; this is ongoing, relentless activity.

The good news is that progress is being made. Taking the lessons from IWD and the ongoing visible efforts throughout many aspects of society, the maritime industry can take meaningful steps towards creating a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse workforce that harnesses the talents and contributions of women to drive innovation and success. We can truly invest in women and inspire inclusion.

This article appeared in the March 2024 edition of DCN Magazine