Commonwealth experts call for improved opportunities for women in ocean sector

15 June 2023
Press release
Woman doing scientific research

Ocean scientists and advocates have underscored the vital role of women in ocean-related sectors and the blue economy, calling for intensified efforts to achieve gender parity in these areas across the Commonwealth.

A virtual event held on 7 June to mark World Ocean Day focused on some of the challenges women face in marine and maritime industries, as well as opportunities to advance inclusivity and equity.

The event was co-organised by the Commonwealth Blue Charter programme and Fisheries and Oceans Canada under the theme, “She’s making waves: Celebrating women in ocean advocacy, science and the blue economy”.

Women at a disadvantage

In her opening remarks, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC recognised the economic, cultural and environmental significance of the ocean to the Commonwealth, where 49 out of 56 member countries border the sea.

She stated: “Women bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table, enabling us to address complex challenges such as climate change, marine pollution and biodiversity loss. Yet women make up only 37 percent of the global ocean science workforce.”

Secretary-General and High Commissioner speaking on the webinar

Although more women are engaged in ocean sciences than ever before, the proportion decreases with each progressing career level – a trend known as the “leaky pipeline”. Women continue to be under-represented in senior positions across publishing, funding and research institutions, comprising only 13 to 24 percent. Globally, females are also awarded fewer research grants than their male counterparts and are less likely to be invited to participate in national committees or governing councils.

“The world will only be less prosperous and less secure, if half of its people live at a disadvantage, in terms of their rights and opportunities,” emphasised the High Commissioner of Tonga to the UK, H.E. Titilupe Fanetupouvava’u Tu’ivakano in a special address delivered at the event.

“It is crucial, especially for our younger generations, to demonstrate that girls and women play an essential role in delivering the ambitious common goals we share as an international community.”

Focus on leadership, education

A panel of experts discussed how to address some of these issues in the Commonwealth.

Dr Juli-Anne Royes Russo, founder and CEO of the Caribbean Aquaculture Education and Innovation Hub (CAEIH) and Women in Caribbean Aquaculture (WiCA), highlighted the challenge of engaging women in specific areas of marine science, such as aquaculture.

In the Caribbean for example, those who wish to pursue higher university education in these fields have to do so overseas, due to a lack of local training programmes. When they return with their qualifications, it is often difficult to find fitting roles.

“We really need to start looking more into education, starting at the secondary and the tertiary levels, so that we can create the next generation of scientists. But then we also need to work with industries and organisations to create jobs,” she said.

Oliver Steeds OBE, Founder and Chief Executive of Nekton underlined the importance of leadership in ensuring that inclusivity and women’s empowerment are embedded within policies and actions.

Pointing to Nekton’s recent scientific ocean explorations carried out in partnership with the Government of Maldives, he commended the women spearheading ocean action in the country, such as the Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, H.E. Amina Shauna and the Director General of the Maldives Marine Research Institute, Shafiya Naeem.

“In the Maldives, we have seen very clearly the support and leadership that is needed to ensure that there is equity at the heart of marine science, within policy and within conservation activities. It shows us that the role of women not only must be celebrated, but it’s also non-negotiable,” he added.

Panel Members

Reframing women in maritime history

Louise Sanger, Head of Research, Interpretation and Engagement at the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Heritage and Education Centre, described her work – which involves 30 active partners across the UK - to document women’s contributions in the British maritime sector and frame history differently.

She said: “Storytelling is a really powerful tool. We can highlight the many opportunities presented by a maritime career, not only in the past, but today and into the future. We are ensuring forgotten voices are heard.”

Panellists responded to wide-ranging questions from the audience, covering ocean and climate change, the role of men in advancing gender parity and how to promote STEM education for girls. Discussions were moderated by Senior Communications Officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Josephine Latu-Sanft.

The event concluded with a call to action from the speakers for renewed efforts to tackle the gender gap across all ocean-related sectors, including through the work of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which allows 56 countries to work collaboratively together to address pressing global ocean challenges.

Watch the webinar

Learn more about the Commonwealth Blue Charter

Media contact

  • Josephine Latu-Sanft  Senior Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat
  • +44 20 7747 6476  |  E-mail