While significant strides have been made to ensure that women occupy leadership positions in the South African Navy, much more must be done to mainstream gender, said South African Navy Deputy Chief Navy, Rear Admiral Bubele Mhlana.
“Looking back at 2007 where the overall percentage of women in the SA Navy was 17%, we have managed to increase the percentage to 29% of women in decision making positions and 33% at entry level,” Mhlana said on Monday in Cape Town.
He made these remarks while addressing young women who had an opportunity to visit the South African Naval Base in Simon’s Town.
In an effort to demonstrate the opportunities for women in the sector, learners from various schools toured a shipyard at the Naval Base as part of Women’s Month activities that showcased the role of women in the maritime sector.
This year’s Women’s Month is celebrated under the theme, ‘Accelerating Socio-Economic Opportunities for Women’s Empowerment’. The theme highlights the need to ensure that all women have access to participate equally in all areas of human endeavor.
“Significant strides have been made at leadership level, we cannot become complacent. Much more must be done to mainstream gender. I emphasise that the maritime security domain presents limitless opportunities for young women who have a significant role in unlocking the potential of our blue economy.
“Gender mainstreaming should not be seen as an aspiration, it should be seen as an imperative. It is time for women to take their rightful place to exploit every opportunity and participate meaningfully in exploring the potential of the blue economy,” Mhlana said.
He said harnessing the potential of young people is vital to unlocking and exploiting the vast ocean economy potential.
“The South African navy has a key role to play in Operation Phakisa, most particular in terms of maritime enforcement of good order of governance and seas. Indeed Operation Phakisa Economic Lab features a number of streams including marine protection and governance where the South African Navy plays a meaningful role through operations and the patrols it conducts at sea,” Mhlana said.
Government launched Operation Phakisa in 2014 with the ultimate goal of boosting economic growth and creating jobs. This initiative focuses on unlocking the economic potential of South Africa’s oceans, which could contribute up to R177 billion to the GDP by 2033 and between 800 000 and one million direct jobs.
South Africa has a coastline that spans about 2 800 kilometers from Namibia to Mozambique.
“Our hydrography domain plays an equally significant role in ensuring safe efficient and sustainable conduct of every human activity in or under the sea including safe passage of shipping,” Mhlana said.
With the full integration of women in all spheres within the South African Navy, 44-year-old Nicolette Le Roux occupies the position of a Hydrographic Survey Officer.
Hydrography is the science that measures and describes the physical features of the navigable portion of the Earth’s surface and adjoining coastal areas.
“Hydrographic survey entails the collection of hydrographic data, processing of hydrographic data and rendering of products. As hydrographic data analysts, we measure the depth of the ocean using various equipment like echo sounders, multi-beams and single beams. That is the data that we process to provide nautical charts.
“This is important for safe navigation of all mariners. South Africa is situated along one of Africa’s busiest sea routes and ships need to know where it is safe to sale. Our data can show them where that is,” Le Roux said.
Le Roux joined the navy after completing matric in 1998, where she started with basic military training and progressed to training as a combat officer. From 2004 onwards, she specialised in hydrography.
“Our qualifications for hydrographics are recognised internationally. Our qualifications are regulated the International Hydrographic Organization. The qualifications for hydrographic are equivalent to a degree, the first course, which is a Category A survey qualification is equivalent is a post graduate diploma in hydrographic surveying and the Category B qualification is equivalent to a Bsc is Maritime Science,” Le Roux said.
While the Navy has made efforts to educate its organization about not discriminating against women, she explained that women still had to work hard to be recognized.
“You are not always seen as someone who is supposed to be there. Luckily, the Navy has done a lot in terms of gender equality and workshops to educate about gender equality.
“I have been excellent in everything that I have done, in the sense that I have worked very hard and I have the accolades to show for it. Finishing at the top of my class – those are some of my achievements and it took hard work,” she said.
Le Roux emphasised the importance of women standing up for themselves.
“Sometimes you have to give back as good as you get. If somebody chirps you, you have stand up for yourself because no one is going to stand up for you. Nobody else is going to pave the way for you. You have to stand up for yourself and show up and take a seat at the table. The future for women is bright. Work hard. There is nothing that stops you from achieving your dreams,” she advised young women.