A majority of Maldivians believe that men make better leaders than women and only 39 percent agree that a woman could serve as president, a nationwide survey conducted by Transparency Maldives (TM) has revealed.
The NGO’s 2015 Democracy Survey titled ‘A Troubled Future for Democracy’ released yesterday identified “attitudinal barriers” and challenges for women’s participation in politics and decision-making. TM conducted the Maldives’ first survey of public attitudes towards democracy in 2013, which found that two-thirds did not support gender equality.
In a sign of changing attitudes, the 2015 survey showed that 45 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement “men make better leaders than women” compared to 38 percent in 2013.
The findings also indicated widespread support for women assuming leadership roles with the exception of the presidency.
“Although very few Maldivian women have been elected, Maldivians largely say that if presented with an election between two candidates of opposite genders, but equal credentials, that they would see no difference between the two or would be willing to vote for the woman,” the report stated.
“Despite this, some attitudinal barriers present challenges for women to take on more decision-making roles in Maldivian society.”
Women’s representation in politics and top government posts is very low in the Maldives with only five female MPs in the 85-member parliament and only three female cabinet ministers.
The survey found that strong majorities supported women serving as parliamentarians (84 percent), cabinet ministers (79 percent), councillors (82 percent), and members of the Election Commission (78 percent).
More than half support women serving as judges (52 percent) and as the vice president (54 percent), but only 39 percent agreed that a woman could serve as the president.
Maldivians with higher levels of education were also more likely to say that there is no difference between a male and female candidate for parliament. Some 69 percent of respondents with a university level education said there is no difference, compared to 49 percent with secondary level education and 37 percent with primary level education.
Asked why only five out of 23 female candidates who contested in last year’s parliamentary election won seats, some 30 percent said society does not want women as political leaders and 20 percent said women are not as qualified or skilled as men.
Only five percent cited religious issues while 11 percent suggested it was because parties did not support women candidates financially or otherwise.
Despite the widespread support for women to assume leadership roles, nine out of ten Maldivians believe “a good wife will always obey her husband, even if she disagrees with him.”
Only a quarter of Maldivians agreed that “a working mother can establish just as a warm and secure relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” There was no significant difference in opinion between male and female respondents.
“These attitudes may be a possible reason why women are discouraged from taking part in vocational or political activities,” TM suggested.
However, only a quarter agreed that “it is proper for a man to assert their authority over women” and 86 percent agreed that both the husband and wife should contribute to household income.
Only two in ten Maldivians agreed that a university education is more important for a boy than a girl.
“For those advocating for a larger role in the workforce and politics for Maldivian women, these attitudes can provide strong arguments for women taking on roles beyond the household, particularly decision-making roles. Indeed, the number of women supporting for equal rights and opportunities between the sexes is growing within the country,” the report stated.
“In the 2013 survey, men were more likely to be supportive of gender equality, but there is some evidence that the gap is closing, with attitudes between the genders lining up.”
Compared to 35 percent two years ago, 51 percent of women agreed that men make better leaders than women.