Marine Pilot, Reshma Nilofer Visalakshi MNI broke the bias and started her career as a trainee pilot in 2011 and she has never looked back.
She is not only India's first woman marine pilot, she is India's only woman marine pilot, and one among an elite few women River Pilots in the world.
Reshma qualified as a fully-fledged Pilot in 2018 and has gone on to sailing onboard some of the world’s largest vessels, to being awarded the Highest Civilian Award by the Government of India, which was presented to her by President Ram Nath Kovind in 2019.
She is a motivational speaker advocating for women in shipping and women’s rights, encourages more women seafarers to join the shipping industry and strives to make a difference in the world.
During this interview, Reshma was working at sea in Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port, India (formally known as Port of Kolkata) – the first major port in India and one of the toughest pilotage waters in the world, but she took the time to speak to Human Rights at Sea about life as a woman in the maritime industry; the good, the bad and the ugly.
What do you think are some of the other biggest challenges faced by women in maritime?
"Women in maritime are often forced to choose between a career or a child. It is unfair because gender was not given to anyone by choice, nor was the blessing of being able to produce the next generation workforce. Women need to go on “sick leave”, or they are tagged as “medically unfit”. When women go on maternity breaks, we see a huge dropout post-maternity break because they aren’t allowed to return where they left off. There isn’t enough regulatory support to enable a smooth return to sea or a transition ashore. Hence Maternity discrimination stands first.
The second important issue is how sexual harassment cases are handled. Due to its sensitive nature, we usually don’t get to hear the end of these complaints or enquiries or corrective actions taken, if at all. Most of these reports are frowned upon; victims are victimised further and or sacked from work because they reported against a “senior management person” who served the company for way more years than the victim. Closed-door resolutions are usually given, and the board of investigators are also - all men who usually don’t understand the woman’s perspective."
Do you believe you have always been treated fairly & had access to advance in your career?
"Big NO. At every step, I faced discouraging people, those who stereotyped me at every opportunity. When I was given a lot of visibility for being a woman leader/pioneer in the maritime, I was met with jealous eyes more than encouragement and applause.
I was initially questioned if I could become a pilot, then if I could get a partner, would my family ‘allow’ me to work this odd job with erratic schedules. Now, if I ever became a mother, would I be able to manage motherhood and work-life balance? I must keep defending and proving my ability and competence to people who still cannot accept women coming to a bridge and calling out commands.
Advancing in my career, well, the options are few and far between. Also, no special affirmative actions are taking place to enable me to get into other leadership roles."