After bagging As in her KCSE – Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education Examination – Elizabeth Marami gained admission into the University of Nairobi to study law.
But she opted out to pursue Nautical Technology in Egypt because she “didn’t want to be ordinary.”
“I wanted to pursue something that would challenge me. So, when I heard about a scholarship, I could not resist the temptation to apply. The scholarship would have me leave Kenya for Alexandria, Egypt to study navigation,” she says.
Marami spent five years in Egypt pursuing her passion, which she exceptionally did and at 27 she made history as Kenya’s first female marine pilot. Marami was one of two female students when she joined the training. The training was extensive with classes late into the evenings, she would recall in a chat with She.Leads.Africa. “I never had a typical college life of fun and socializing,” she says.
Now 29, Marami was born and bred in the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya, and part of her as a marine pilot includes guiding ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors.
Women account for two percent of the total workforce in the maritime industry, according to the International Labor Organization, making the industry hugely men-dominated.
As the only female among eight males who were awarded the same scholarship, Marami didn’t find her journey to becoming Kenya’s first marine pilot easy. As part of their course requirements, one is expected to do a practical internship – 18 months at sea.
All the men in the class easily secured sea time aboard ships but not Marami – she was rejected by several companies in her quest to meet the requirements to graduate to a captain, 1st in command.
She wasn’t rejected because she lacked the qualification but because of her gender.
“I walked from door to door to different shipping companies for 3 years to get placement, I got turned down severally because of gender and as time went by, age. I watched my male colleagues progress as they got placement in a company that rejected me because I was female,” Marima said in a series of tweets earlier this year.
At that point, she began questioning “my purpose, then I remembered the young girl/boy who had enrolled in Bandari Maritime College and will not be able to get their 1st placement as a cadet to attain their first license and it was heart-breaking!”
That became her driving force and in 2017, a company offered her an opportunity as a cadet and she took it up with the hope that all she needed was “to prove herself to get promoted and work as a 3rd deck Officer which would count my months of experience to attain the next license”.
Marami has now started an initiative for women in the maritime industry called “Against the Tide,” an online platform that provides “a glimpse into the experiences and travails of a female seafarer.”
“Although in its infancy, I want to advocate for policies that favor both genders and allows for equal opportunities in access to opportunities in the industry.
“I also intend to mentor young girls into believing in themselves and having the courage to get into the profession. I have been speaking to students at various schools about the importance of believing in themselves,” she said.