Maldives celebrates International Women’s Day

Maldives celebrates International Women’s Day
March 09 09:24 2017

The Maldives marked International Women’s Day with special activities at government, private and state-owned company offices and the handing out of the third annual Rehendhi awards at a ceremony on Wednesday morning.

The winners of this year’s Rehendhi awards, which recognises women’s contributions in various fields, were Nazeera Ibrahim Manik, president of the Maldives Development Alliance’s women’s wing, Aishath Majeedha, a Kulhudhufushi island council member and cake maker, Ifham Hussain, managing director of the Autism Centre, and Samiya Zakariyya, a lecturer at the Islamic University of Maldives.

First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim pinned brooches on the winners and President Abdulla Yameen handed out the awards.

In his speech, Yameen said more work needs to be done to increase women’s participation in various sectors and suggested that the Maldives should aspire to become an example to the world in gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Some 70 percent of students at the National University and 56 percent of the civil service are women. Girls also outnumber boys among O’Level and A’Level high achievers, he added.

The current administration is creating opportunities for women and working to eliminate discrimination, he said, referring to policies for gender mainstreaming and increasing the number of women on the boards of government companies.

Research has shown that women’s involvement in decision-making has led to positive changes, he noted.

Introducing new laws is not enough to address domestic violence or sexual harassment and discrimination at the workplace, Yameen said, adding that men must have the necessary “resolve, courage, and patience”.

In her remarks, Gender Minister Aminath Zenysha said the number of sexual and physical abuse cases reported to the authorities is increasing, with the majority of cases involving female victims.

Despite girls achieving better grades than boys in secondary education, she observed that the representation of women in decision-making posts is low in the Maldives.

Women account for only three out of 14 ministers, five out of 85 lawmakers, six out of more than 180 judges, and 61 out of 1,118 local council members.

Fewer than half the women of working age in the Maldives have paid jobs.

To mark this year’s women’s day, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party meanwhile pledged financial support to 44 female candidates contesting in the upcoming local council elections.

“There are many obstacles to Maldivian women standing for public office and other leadership roles. Research shows family responsibilities, and perception of how women are treated in public office is some of the main reasons cited,” the party said in a statement.

“However, lack of resources, especially financial independence and capacity have always been one of the biggest obstacles.”

MDP Chairman Hassan Latheef noted that women account for 50 percent of the party’s members, describing the active women’s wing as “indispensable”.

“MDP Women’s Wing is a vital organ in this party. They have breathed life into this party, revived and kept the party going when we needed it most. We want women at the helm of running this party, and in running this country,” said former President Mohamed Nasheed, the opposition leader.

Shifa Mohamed, Malé city deputy mayor and president of the women’s wing, said: “Our women continuously stand up for their rights, and for others. Braving police brutality, and other state-intimidation, MDP women have been at the forefront in fighting for justice in the country.

“We have also been the main actors behind all the political campaigns and elections. Women have come out in numbers to vote in elections. We need more women as candidates and as leaders, and these intelligent, capable and courageous women need to be at the forefront guiding this country.”

The MDP’s women’s wing also organised a gathering on Tuesday night to mark women’s day and introduce the party’s female candidates.

Standing atop lorries at the carnival area of Malé – the only spot in the capital where gatherings and demonstrations are now allowed – women in the party’s leadership gave fiery speeches and heavily criticised the government.

In its message on the occasion of International Women’s Day, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives said it has received complaints about domestic violence and single mothers being deprived of their monthly allowance.

The watchdog noted the lack of capacity in the judiciary, law enforcement, medical service professionals, and social workers to deal with complaints from women about violations of their rights in a gender-sensitive manner.

The HRCM urged the government to familiarise the public with the 2016 gender equality law and called for the removal of obstacles faced by women.

The commission also appealed for efforts to “change the way women are perceived, report violence against women, provide protection for victims, reinforce existing mechanisms that provide medical and psychological assistance, increase women at decision-making levels in politics, and formulate policies in a manner that utilise female talents and capabilities most effectively.”

Reporting by Shafaa Hameed and Xiena Saeed.