A four-day women’s craft expo in Malé that concluded Monday night has been branded a huge success by its organisers, citing high sales and the number of local and tourist visitors.
An initiative of First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim, the Heevagi Kanbalun exhibition reportedly showcased more than 26,000 items from 400 individuals and 200 NGOs who answered a call for submissions in early January.
The items on display ranged from traditional handicraft and cakes to children’s clothes and handmade garments. The expo also featured live cooking, cultural performances, and music and dance shows as well as a lucky draw for visitors.
Zeenas Adnan, a member of the organising committee, told state media on Sunday that some visitors placed orders for popular items.
“With food items on sale at our stall, we see new items come to the table every day and the stock running out,” she said.
“We believe that 90 percent will be sold out by the end of the exhibition.”
Hundreds of women meanwhile attended the all-female, invitation-only opening ceremony of the expo on Thursday night.
In his speech, President Abdulla Yameen pledged to appoint women to 40 percent of posts on the director’s boards of state-owned enterprises by the end of his first term next year.
“I have always believed that there should be no discrimination between men and women within the work environment,” he said, noting that women make up 45 percent of the Maldivian workforce.
“So there is absolutely no reason women cannot reach high posts of the government. As I have been informed, women in government companies won’t be fewer than 20 percent on average now.”
Yameen also pledged assistance to market products created by women, stressing that consistent high quality and faster modes of production are important for sustainable businesses. He also noted that the aim of introducing B-Tech education to the national curriculum was to teach skills to students who struggle academically in order to prepare them for employment.
Speaking to the Maldives Independent, Shifa Mohamed, president of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s women’s wing, questioned the government’s policy for women’s empowerment.
“What I see is this government probing ladies more towards staying home and doing cookery. Why would anyone at any level of the government think that handicraft work only belongs to women?” she asked.
“Besides, culinary is one field where we do much better. A government must encourage women to compete with men. The gender minister sitting next to the first lady encouraging this is like a slap on the face for all those working for women’s rights.”
Yameen meanwhile went on to praise his wife’s efforts for empowering women and encouraging economic self-sufficiency.
In addition to prizes for various categories, a cash prize of MVR100,000 (US$6,500) was handed to the overall winner of the exhibition, followed by MVR75,000 (US$4,900) and MVR50,000 (US$3,250), respectively, for the second and third place winners.
According to state media, more than 10,000 people visited the expo by Saturday night, including more than 100 tourists.
Three winners of a lucky draw among visitors were given a return ticket to Dubai, a return ticket to Bangkok, and an electric cycle.
A jobs fair held in Hulhumalé earlier this month was also an initiative of the first lady. The ‘Youth Career Expo 2017’ took place at the government-run Rehendhi School, which was decked with massive posters of Yameen, some with quotes about his administration’s focus on youth development.
The first lady, known as Madam Fathun, launched Yameen’s re-election campaign last month. A campaign office she heads is planning to carry out a series of nationwide activities ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Earlier this month, the first lady spearheaded a membership recruitment drive for the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and toured islands in Noonu Atoll, paying visits to government offices, health centres and the disabled.
The first lady’s office also previously conducted a series of symposiums to train “campaign leaders” from across the country.
But the activities of her charity organisation have stirred controversy. She previously came under fire for distributing cash during visits with the chronically ill at the hospital and visits to households in Malé. In early January, the anti-graft watchdog ruled out corruption in the distribution of dates gifted by Saudi Arabia under the name of the first lady’s charity.
Photos from president’s office.