Meet Mihaela Popa, a trailblazing figure in the maritime industry with a dedication to promoting human rights at sea and advocating for gender equality.

Mihaela embarked on her maritime journey after graduating from the "Mircea cel Batran" Naval Academy with a degree in Navigation, Maritime and River Transportation in 2021. Continuing her quest for knowledge and excellence, she obtained a Master’s Degree in Engineering and Management in Maritime and Port Industry from Constanta Maritime University in 2023.

Currently serving as a Third Officer on container ships at Maersk A/S, Mihaela's commitment to fostering understanding and acceptance of the seafaring lifestyle among the younger generation led her to establish the Instagram page “@miha.the.sailor.” 

Through this platform, she addresses a myriad of topics related to life onboard ships, sharing insights and experiences garnered from her own remarkable journey.

Mihaela's message to all is one of empowerment: speak up, stand up, and never hesitate to fight for what's right. As a beacon of hope and inspiration, Mihaela continues to pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable maritime industry, where the rights and safety of all seafarers, regardless of gender, are upheld and protected.

To celebrate Women in Maritime Day, we had the privilege to talk with Mihaela and discuss her perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for women in the maritime sector, her views on the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea (GDHRAS) and the importance of its formal adoption for all individuals living, working and travelling at sea. 

Mihaela, from your perspective, what are the most significant challenges that women face in the maritime sector regarding human rights at sea?

Unfortunately, this question still comes up every time we talk about women at sea. As our community is not very large for now, but still expanding, we are a minority. I think the most common challenge women face in this sector is discrimination and underestimation. We always have to prove and show what we are capable of, instead of only focusing on our job. After these, we see many cases of sexual harassment and most of them are not brought to justice.             

Can you share any personal experiences of being a woman in the maritime industry?

Being a woman at sea can be challenging. I have had plenty of good experiences with exceptional crew and as well I have been through a few disappointing situations. I sometimes feel constrained to be careful how I act, how I dress, how I speak and how close to being with my fellows. 

How do you see the role of women evolving in promoting and upholding human rights at sea, both within the industry and globally?

I always try to keep things positive. I think bringing more women into this field should help all of us to understand more of the diversity, inclusion, equity, equality and acceptance concepts. Men and women were created to function and evolve together, so I strongly believe that it can work wonderfully at sea too. 


Mihaela Popa in her seafarers uniform

As an advocate for maritime safety, how do you think the Geneva Declaration on Human Rights at Sea contributes to fostering a safer working environment for seafarers, regardless of gender?

I am deeply grateful for people and organisations like Human Rights at Sea that try and succeed to make the maritime world of ours a better and safer place. The Geneva Declaration of Human Rights at Sea gives us a kind of insurance, it makes us feel that we have a safe space to help and support us. It is clearly no gender discrimination and this Declaration shows that we can have hope, regardless of our gender, nationality, race and religion. 

In your opinion, what more can be done by stakeholders in the maritime sector to ensure the safety of women in maritime and the effective implementation of the Geneva Declaration and protect the rights of seafarers?

As is done in the big companies, everybody should not feel afraid to approach this subject. Making people aware of the consequences of their actions should be a good start. I truly believe that more training should be done regarding this. Companies should make the GDHRAS a big part of their policies and procedures and in this way, seafarers will know their rights, because I have seen firsthand, not everybody knows what to do in case of any kind of harassment or any kind of abuse of their human rights.

How do you envision the future of the maritime industry in terms of inclusivity and gender equality?

I think that the younger generation brings a positive vibe. We are more open to the “new”. The future will be bright if everybody understands that there is a place for all of us, it is not a competition, it is actually team work. We all should acknowledge the fact that more women choose this path, even if they expect to face many challenges. We don’t want preferential treatment, we only want equity! 

How do you think initiatives like the International Day for Women in Maritime help raise awareness about the importance of human rights at sea and empower women in the maritime sector?

I am very proud and happy to celebrate this day. First of all, it gives us, women, the feeling that we are appreciated and seen for our work. The second reason is that this day does not only celebrate us, the women, it also celebrates the strong men who support us, and encourage us. It celebrates the sweat and work we put into our careers. It celebrates the risks we are willing to take. It celebrates the power we have. It’s just about all of us. 

In what specific ways do you think the GDHRAS can impact the maritime industry in terms of ensuring the rights and safety of seafarers, especially women?

One specific way could be the fact that is an official Declaration that everybody can take seriously. And as I said, it is also the feeling that it gives us. If more people knew about the Geneva Declaration, they would feel more safe and secure. They would know their rights and obligations. They would feel that someone has their back, and that is crucial on board, especially when unfortunate cases happen. We all should know and feel that we are not alone in this, that our word means something and our rights must be respected. 

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