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APRILE 2023 PAG. 56 - The Future of Ports With Work Opportunities for Women and Future Generations


Technological innovation is one of the most important factors for developing port systems. It can favour the sustainable growth of economic systems as well as responding to operating needs of new types of sea transport and intermodal with important effects on regional economies and the national system. Technical innovation helps ports to be “smart” and favours competition and attracts business in terms of traffic, investment and qualified human resources. The process of innovation can have a significant effect on organisation and on the type and dynamics of labour by increasing production and facilitating the evolution of work ever based less on physical and more on ability and organisation. 

Work in ports has changed radically since 50 years ago when freight was handled manually with the help of little technology and equipment. Today technological and digital innovation has enabled women to enter the work place in the port. Despite that, the presence of women in ports in Italy represents only 8% of the workforce although the evidence demonstrates that port work is  accessible to both men and women in both operations and administration.  

It appears evident that the idea that port work is only for men is a cultural inheritance which has little to do with reality.  

The processes of innovation in the port system require ability and professionalism to make the ports more competitive. Starting from this it can be said that the future of ports must demonstrate work as an opportunity for new generations without distinction of sex, based only on talent and ability.

Livorno City council in order to promote this has launched a project “Women in the Port and at Sea - Why Not?”

The project includes a series of activities in collaboration with the International Scientific Association RETE (an association for collaboration and city) and CNR-IRIS Naples, the University of Pisa plus the patronage of the Tuscan Region and the southern Tyrrhenian Sea Port System Authority as well as the participation of local port stakeholders such as the Port Company (labour organisation), Uniport, TDT, ALP and Lorenzini & C. 

The “Port for Women” will on the one hand promote the work done by women in port and at sea with the public at large and on the other hand liven up the discussion amongst stakeholders to increase the presence of women in ports and at sea. The concept is to present port and sea work as an opportunity for new generations without distinction of sex.  

The project is based on a series of events including an international convention on the reality of the local situation on the 17th and 18th of May and will include the associations of unions, employers and academics as well as the European Association of Ports (ESPO), the European Federation for Transport (ETF) and the associations FEPORT, RETE and CLECAT. The events also include a photographic exhibition dedicated to Livorno port workers by the photographer Eleanor Cappanera, the painting of a mural by Nuan dedicated to female labour in ports and sea as well as a clip by Paolo Ruffini, a popular actor and comic from Livorno using irony to destroy the stereotype of the masculine port worker.

One of the most significant activities of the project is based on interviews with female port and maritime workers. The confrontation with workers is of great importance and permits us to see fundamental aspects of the work done by women. High levels of professionalism, sense of responsibility and pride and enthusiasm emerge from the interviews and the enthusiasm which is a form of recommendation to all other women. It talks of women who carry out operating work such as crane handling, securing cargo on board ship as well those who work on board.

The interviews are essential to the project because they permit the construction of a bridge between current workers and future workers.

Not always are women aware of the opportunities for work in ports and in the maritime business generally because it is believed to be work done only by men. This means that women do not look for work in port businesses and also that businesses do not look for women when they are hiring people. Despite innovative working systems the port remains closed to women. The same applies for shipping. Traditionally, the figure of the sailor/navigator is masculine who embarks for far away seas for long periods leaving behind wives and children. In this way maritime business as well as the port business remains excluded from women, even if things have changed greatly since 50 years ago. Today you can meet commanders of the mercantile marine such as Serena Melani the first commander of a large Italian ship with a long career, and many ships embarked, especially passenger ships. Women have to work in the middle of their male colleagues. But there are still very few in high positions The convention is part of the “Women in the Port” to be held on 18 May, the day of the world day for maritime workers. The project intends to revalue not just the work of women in ports, but also the work of women on board cargo and passenger vessels, Unfortunately, in the maritime sector women are few not even 2% of the world’s maritime workforce. Making people aware of what women do on ships and in ports by listening to the voice of women workers is the principal instrument for demonstrating that this type of work is also work for women. The scope of the project is like a lighthouse for women’s work making it visible to an ever larger public and at the same time destroying the false belief that we are dealing with work exclusively for men. As an example, port workers are still seen as tall and muscular only because up to 50 years ago the work was physical, although now changed as a result of organisation and modern equipment .A cultural heritage which pays little respect to the history of first port workers in the history of Livorno. Apart from having muscle they were people with a great sense of responsibility, pride in their work and support for the community and tolerance towards those that were different.

The hope of the project” Port for Women” is to create an innovative start-up in Livorno which goes on to cover the whole of Italy until such time as the female presence in ports and at sea can increase in the eyes of the whole community.

Barbara Bonciani
Councillor for the port and integration port-city Municipality of Livorno
Research Associate CNR-Ircres and CNR-Iriss

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