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Compulsary Pregnancy Test on Women Seafarers: A Discrimination?

Filipino women wanting employment on a sea vessel should beef up on their birth control pills and gadgets, or resign themselves to celibacy, just to be sure. The maritime industry imposes not one, but two compulsory pregnancy tests on applicants, the second one scheduled just before deployment. If test comes back positive, that means no deployment. Naturally enough, this blatant practice in gender-based employment discrimination has set up the hackles of women’s rights advocates in the Philippines. So far, no men have ever turned up pregnant.


Maritime industry officials such as International Seafarers’ Action Center (ISAC) Philippines Foundation project development officer Jeremy Cajiuat sees nothing wrong with the practice, confirming that it is standard operating procedure among employers and their recruiting agencies and sanctioned by the ISAC. He explained that such tests were a “deterrent”  to illicit sexual relations, which is laughable when he says on the same breath that such behavior goes on uncontrolled onboard these sea vessels. Since the test is compulsory for single women as well, how the tests serve as a deterrent perhaps needs a little more context to seem logical.


Other officials maintain that the tests are to ensure that pregnant women are not exposed to the risks and dangers of seafaring. However, when a female crewmember does catch pregnant while onboard, the employee is allowed to continue working for 5 months before being repatriated. Since most such contracts are for about 5 months or so, a newly-pregnant woman should be able fulfill a contract without a problem.


The issue of discrimination is not about the test itself, but what it implies. It implies that employers have a right to pass judgment on a woman’s personal life and morals (or lack of) through the employment process.  Men who may engage in illicit sexual relations are spared from this type of judgment, which creates a significant gender bias in employment opportunities in the maritime industry.


It is significant that women in other countries are not compelled to submit to one pregnancy test, let along two. Does this mean that non-Filipino women are not at risk when they work on board a ship? Or perhaps this is because women from other countries enjoy better protection against employment discrimination than Filipino women.


It is outrageous, but unfortunately, the siren call of lucrative employment is louder than the plaintive wail of women’s rights being crushed underfoot. As long as there are no specific laws, national or international, prohibiting pregnancy testing as a condition to employment in the Philippine maritime industry, the status quo will prevail.



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