One could never guess that the glamourous ladies who gathered on 3 July at the Hilton Residences premises were all achievers in their own right. Front runners in the male dominated industry of shipping, the fashionable crowd assembled to mark the launch of WISTA Sri Lanka.
A global forum to connect women in the maritime industry, the organisation finds its roots in a gathering of women in the industry who decided to meet for Christmas dinner in 1974. Enjoying the company, the ladies saw the organisation grow and held their first Annual Conference in Hamburg about 7 years later.
The Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association of Sri Lanka will be joining a family of 1800 members from over 33 countries to give and take in terms of knowledge, experience and support.
Given Sri- Lanka’s renown as being a vital port in terms of trade, the president of the newly formed WISTA Sri Lanka, Shehara Jayawardana shared that just as it is all over the world, in Sri Lanka too the industry is male dominated. This is why she feels exposing women to the industry and getting more of them interested in maritime affairs is vital to the growth of female professionals in shipping.
Using the support and endorsement of WISTA by the IMO, WMO and other such prestigious bodies Shehara hopes to encourage school girls to take up higher education in the maritime field. “We hope to start off with some career guidance programmes with leading girl’s schools” she shares. Career guidance and encouraging entrepreneurship in the industry are the first steps WISTA Sri Lanka is to take for the better placement of women in the trade. President and Founding member of WISTA India, Sanjam Sahi Gupta was happy
to congratulate Shehara and the founding committee of WISTA Sri Lanka at the event where she said that more often than not women only end up in the industry through taking on a family business. Not being an exception to the norm, Sanjam too found herself in her first shipping conference as part of her family business. “I was directed to a wedding at the same venue by the doorman” she laughed, having to explain to him that she was there for the conference, once again Sanjam found herself out of place because “in a sea of dark blue and black blazers, I was wearing pink.”
The trouble she feels is that as much as empowerment of women in the industry is needed, the mind set of society too needs to change.
The key note speaker for the evening and Chairperson of the Insurance Board of Sri Lanka, Indrani Sugathadasa reiterated that women who do find themselves in a man’s world have no choice other than to do their absolute best and strive hard. Despite the high ratio of women educating themselves and fighting the odds, she feels employment often drowns them and leaves them in the background whereas “men are generally in the limelight.”
Believing that the time has come for empowerment and being recognised for their efforts she feels for the women in the shipping field WISTA is a timely and apt mechanism.
The auspicious launch of WISTA Sri Lanka saw the felicitation of three trailblazing females in the Industry. Chairperson of Greenlanka Group, Norama Nanayakkara was presented with the award for Entrepreneurship.
The award for Public Sector Service went to Sriyani Waaniarachchi who has been with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority since 2006.
The Training and Development award was given to Anoma Ranasinghe who is a visiting lecturer at the University of Colombo and representative of many professional bodies in the country.