Acted as one of the facilitators from the Indonesia’s Seafarers Union (KPI), Mifta shared her experiences for 12 years working as an Indonesian woman seafarer. She is one of the 18,572 Indonesian women seafarers in various occupations, positions and status according to the 2019 data from the Ministry of Transportation.
I sailed for the first time in 2007 with a working contract of 9 months. I was one of four Indonesian women crews from 100 Indonesian crews working at this ship. Women are still the minority at that time."Mifta Nadya, a woman seafarer
When she learnt that she needed to dedicate her time to take intensive study and courses to work on the cruise ship, she decided to use her saving to support her daily life. Within a year, she completed all the courses needed, gained necessary certifications and documents and secured a housekeeping job at the Italian cruise ship.
“I sailed for the first time in 2007 with a working contract of 9 months. I was one of four Indonesian women crews from 100 Indonesian crews working at this ship. Women are still the minority at that time,” Mifta stated.
Fight against harassment and discriminationFrom the start, she learnt that working at sea was totally different from working on land. In addition to the work discipline, tougher working environment with culture shock and adjustment, women seafarers are vulnerable to workplace harassment, particularly from superiors or male co-workers.
Flirtatious comments, cat callings and subtle touches were common. Mifta even experienced an attempt of harassment from her male co-worker who tried to kiss her at the elevator. “I was confused and did not know what to do. There was no information or a briefing session about this issue. Since the harassments mostly came from the supervisors, we could not do anything. If we refused or filed a complaint, we would be punished by given harder tasks or difficult times,” recalled Mifta, adding that as a result, female workers tended to keep silent and held the feelings for themselves.
After being involved at the ILO’s training of trainer regarding harassment, violence and HIV/AIDS vulnerability, I actively promote these issues through my organization and my teaching institution. It is time to stand up and speak up."
“Reporting and complaint mechanisms are well-disseminated. We know where to go and procedures to follow. Posters on safe workplaces are also posted, highlighting messages to speak up. One poster even says, ‘See Something, Say Something’. We feel safe and protected,” she added.
In addition, non-discriminatory policy against workers with HIV was also well-applied. A treatment and referral mechanism were developed as well as the access to the ARV treatment. “As a result, workers with HIV are also more opened about their status as they know that there is a referral hospital at any port the ship lands. The crews also learn about HIV myths and facts. We also respect each other.”
Move forward to seven years later in 2017, it was just an ordinary working day when Mifta experienced a sexual assault from one of the passengers. When she cleaned a room, the passenger abruptly interrupted her work and flirtishly started to assault her by undressing himself.
“I was stunned. In theory, we know what to do, yet in a real incident, your mind just went blank. Nothing was ever prepared you with occurrence like this. After I gained my courage, I jumped to the door and ran out,” she recalled. After taking a moment to calm herself, she immediately reported the case to the security officer and her immediate supervisor.
An immediate investigation was conducted and as a result, the perpetrator was sent to ship jail for three days before being disembarked. The passenger was also blacklisted for live from cruise ships.
“The incident happened two weeks before my home leave. I was offered additional counseling sessions, yet I thought I could deal with this at home,” uttered Mifta. “Never realized that this incident haunted me for months. I kept imagining what if and had a nightmare about this.” She needed five months to overcome her trauma.
Time to stand up and speak upRealizing that violence and harassment at work can be a traumatized experience, she is now actively shared her experiences when teaching future seafarers, men and women, encouraging them to speak up and to be unionized. “I supposed to sail again in March 2020, however the pandemic had stopped the operations of cruise ships. Thus, I have changed my career now as a lecturer for English and Housekeeping for future seafarers.”
Now at the age of 39 years old, this mother of two sons has also been active in improving working conditions of Indonesian seafarers, advocating rights of seafarers to safe and healthy working environment, and promoting a greater access to women through KPI as the Head of Fish Ship Department. To date, she admitted that seafarers only reported cases on unpaid wages or death at sea, but never reported cases related to discrimination or harassment at work.
“After being involved at the ILO’s training of trainer regarding harassment, violence and HIV/AIDS vulnerability, I actively promote these issues through my organization and my teaching institution. It is time to stand up and speak up,” she stated.
Now, I proudly say out loud: I am an Indonesian woman seafarer and am unionized."
“The cruise ship industry provides an untapped employment opportunity, particularly for women. Today’s cruise ship industry prefers to employ a larger number of women seafarers and I believe this is an opportunity for Indonesian women to secure a decent job with decent payment,” she said.
She admitted that at the beginning of her career, she had to hide her true profession and passion. But through time and experiences, she has learnt to embrace her profession and educated her surroundings about women seafarers and their rights to safely work at sea.
“Now, I proudly say out loud: I am an Indonesian woman seafarer and am unionized.”