Comment: In power by default

Throughout Maldivian history, the system of government has been clearly structured on those who had property and connections. The leading positions of the government institutions as of late 2000 were unquestioningly a privilege to those born into aristocratic and landowning families and not based on merit. While they did not contribute to a productive Maldivian society, it was clear that, that system of government was the result of the society’s class structure and the institutional positions they maintained were by default and non debatable.

The system continues to exist even with the change of government and has been replaced by a group of hardcore political activists backed by the affluent and financially successful businessmen that the last regime fostered, holding more than 90 percent of the national wealth. The underclass, which covers at least 75 percent of the Maldivian population, continues to exist as one entity deprived of social standing while selected individuals both in the political and economic environment enjoy individualism and rights to become contributors and producers.

As the underclass continues as a permanent feature of both the regimes, both governments seemingly relied heavily on the pledges of the international community to bring about change. The promised change has been frustratingly slow and political representatives partly blame the lack of timely response and unfilled pledges by the international community being cause for non or slowed down government delivery. Although the country graduating from a least developing country this year onwards based on its per capita GDP of US$4600 (graduation criteria is US$900) the country’s social infrastructure has been heavily financed by development funding and donations. It is further characterised by low income families (16 percent of the population lives in poverty and unemployment rate is over 14 percent), weak human resources and a low level of economic diversification.

As before, most of the government ministries remain dysfunctional, lacking capacity and capability to perform, staffed by the people who are unable to produce results, lead by ineffective but loyal political activists of ruling political party.

Guarding the domain

A large underclass must exist for this model of society to function so that power hungry politicians can continue to dominate the country’s leadership. Within this exist the power hungry businessmen who are unwilling to let members of underclass enter into the realm of the “the privileged rich”. Within this exist the power hungry religious leaders, who try to formalise their control using religious mechanism. The three groups co-exist together relying heavily on each other to protect their existence. At the same time Maldives has a growing underclass indicating political, economic and religious control as three groups struggle to keep their supremacy over each other.

The privileged and the underclass need each other to function. Both the governments maintained the underclass by creating a large and dependent workforce making government the biggest employer in the country, a strategy to safeguard and retain loyalty. People’s values are formed by the structure in the society according to Karl Marx. To maintain functionality, the three groups work to create beliefs and conformity through various social, political and religious tools.

Functionalism at the cost of democratic principles

All the three groups work to create a consensus of belief and behavior (as functionalism has been described by Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903) and upholding the norms is a function of society. The norms are further defined by rules and regulations that the society needs to adhere to function as a body. Within this type of societal model, anyone who upsets or threatens the norms has to be removed to recreate balance, taken away to prison and removed from mainstream society.

There is no individualism in the Maldivian society except for those in control. Individual’s needs are not validated and only the overall function of society is important. The Maldivian society is thus a singular being – something that can be manipulated and changed as a whole and poverty and inequality are just valid parts of society, so are juvenile delinquency, crime and domestic violence.

The functionalist approach is extremely convenient for politicians and others, who assume to be the sole representatives of the Maldivian citizens and speak out loud for the people while the underclass are not consulted nor are allowed to have any access to the political sphere. The MPs increasingly act in their personal interest as they try to add to their financial remuneration and privileges, political status and social standing.

Behavior has to be acceptable or punished in the functionalist society. As the gaps between the leadership and underclass widen and the income disparity grows, uprisings such as those in the tourism industry will occur. The outbreak of unhappy employees in tourism industry has drawn calls for measures to curb their activities and expression, regulating behavior and introducing new punishments. Attempts to unify religious behavior are an ongoing effort of religious leaders who condone religious freedom of individuals in the Maldivian society.

Don’t rock the boat

Democracy promoting change contradicts functionalism as change in society is seen as disturbance. It is the “don’t rock the boat” model. The groups within the society such as family must promote the norms and children are to do what their parents do and to be what their parents are. Employees are supposed to work without negotiating and be grateful for the hand that feeds them. Religious practices must be observed without questioning. Traditions that do not work for the three leading groups mentioned earlier may be discarded and new practices may be invented through their own consensus as long as they can maintain status quo and their power. Needless to say but people are comfortable when there is stability, status quo and life continues without disruptions.

Conflicting functionalism is people’s economic and spiritual needs that must be satisfied being human nature and cannot be controlled by regulated mechanism. Neither fear as a control tool is effective over a long period nor may rightful behavior as translated into rules serve to control people in the short run. For the society to develop, the change has to happen although it is irritating, but eventually leading to a new adjusted society where balance is restored.

Alliance for power

Would it not be great if the underclass could defeat the “ruling” class? Maldivians were elated in 2003 when the reform movement started. The Maldivians (along with the international community) thought this was the underclass and the suppressed breaking out of a rigid fascist regime. Those hungering for leadership were made up of three power hungry groups tapping on the ignorance of the underclass Maldivians to think they can expect and own a better share of the wealth that the country was earning. Maldivians were willing prey to promises of the leadership following the parties they thought would serve the purpose.

The affluent business community saw it was time to shift over and contribute a puny percentage of their wealth to bring the change. They also saw this as an opportunity to take positions of control so that their wealth could expand further. Later extension of resort lease deals was up for debate in the Parliament where politicians-cum-businessmen sat representing the citizens’ voice. Some MPs and activists in party leadership still claim they are first and foremost businessmen.

The pact between the religious party Adalaath and the then-opposition MDP at the time of the elections in 2008 was the only way religious leaders could secure a powerful position within the new government. Alliance with the likely party to win in the second round of elections was made on mutual advantage of holding power within their domains.

The main opposition saw their advantage in an alliance with the two groups mentioned above, business men representing resources and religious leaders representing norms and practices that the average (underclass) Maldivian did not dare contradict and commanded total obedience to their leaders. Both the groups taking a stand beside the main opposition won the elections.

Democracy is a threat to Maldivian politicians, businessmen and religious leaders because it calls for sharing or wealth and privileges, position and power. Democracy dilutes society as a entity, through its principles promoting equality, fairness and tolerance where the individual and minority are validated and majority will is respected.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM school.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Disempowered women in Maldivian society

I looked at the women outside the Family Court. Some women were pregnant, some were already young mothers. More women came and went, many with an expression either of frustration, desperation, depression, or anger.

Some were fighting to be divorced, some were being divorced, but most of them were fighting for the rights of their children for the maintenance money from their father.

‘Maintenance money’ sounds technical and cold. It is money that children need from their fathers for their basic needs to be met. The Maldivian divorce regulation grants a child Rf 300 (US$23) per month from the father thus turning them into a financial burden for their single parent mothers (or guardian), and a long term social burden of yet another dispensed and ignored sector of the Maldivian society.

How far are the women responsible for the situation they are in?

How educated were they and what opportunities did they forego to abide by traditional and conservative but widely accepted norms in the Maldivian society?

How influenced were they by the cultural beliefs, the religious preaching and their family politics and upbringing? How young were these women when they committed themselves to marriages that left them with one child or more and no husband or male relative to take care of them?

How well informed were they to the rights given to them by their religion?

How misled were they to believe their role was only in the family, to serve their husbands at any time and any moment?

How did they differentiate between their obligations and what they understood as “duties” to the marriage?

What are the stories of these women? Where do they stand in the Maldivian society? What do they know of their constitutional and human rights?

Hundreds of questions raced my mind but I realised how irrelevant all these questions were. The bottom line is these women were powerless and left alone with children with no financial support fighting bitterly a losing battle in a system that was rigid, unjust and refusing to acknowledge the importance of women’s welfare to the betterment of the country.

While Maldives is under pressure to mainstream gender issues, the onslaught of conservative religious preachers is confining more and more women to the four walls of their homes.

Within this isolation, women succumb to a resigned lifestyle removing them from social and professional live, stripping them of their self worth and self confidence over time. It hits hard when the husband starts an extra-marital affair and soon deserts his prime family to start another life with the new woman. In many instances, family and friends joins the deserting husband to re-instate that the man left the woman for reasons such as failing to fulfill the needs of the man, further victimising the woman. Left alone and without love and care, the blamed woman has no one to turn to, within her family or otherwise.

Islam preaches that a divorced woman returns to her father or the eldest brother. Islam, serving to protect the child also expects the Muslim man to provide generously for the child to ensure that the child maintains the highest standard of life as afforded for the father himself.

The truth is the divorced woman’s father has grown too old to care for the divorced daughter and her children; the brother has started his own family (or two families) and is struggling to make ends meet.

Islam gives the men double inheritance to carry these responsibilities. In many instances, divorced women cannot leave the home of her ex-husband because she has nowhere to go. There are many women who continue to stay in the house of the ex-husband, and the divorced couple fall into a pattern of living together without renewing the marriage. On the other hand, it is not always convenient for the man to have his divorced wife living in his house anymore.

While the law on inheritance is unfailingly respected, and men inherit generously, the Maldivian man and the Maldivian courts fail miserably in their religious responsibilities and accountability. The behavior of men and the system is highly secularised when it comes to sharing resources, rights and power with women.

Recently I met a Maldivian lady. She was the typical contemporary Maldivian woman abiding by the social norms, highly defined in her clothing. She stays home looking after three children from a husband who is not home any more. Instead of talking about herself, she spoke about her friend and neighbor. The woman (her friend) had three children and a relationship with a man who supports her financially. He is very good to her and has even built two rooms for her and her children. But he will not marry her.

Women, who are powerless and have not financial independence, slide down on the social scale. They are dependent on men who give them the support that they do not have from relatives and ex-husbands. They succumb to settling down in relationships that are compromised. Fingers point at them for being loose (prostituting) and living in sin.

Here is the difference between choice and compulsion. This situation is created by the Maldivian society. Who is responsible for this increasing issue?

Defining the powerless woman

The powerless women are those who deny their own needs of physical, spiritual and psychological development, do not seek financial independence and do not accept the responsibility of their own well-being. Their financial dependence is self construed and often subject to tribal influences. The powerless women are fearful of stepping out of their familiar disempowering environment; are emotionally dependent, fearful of the unknown; the terror of dislocation and disconnection; scared of predators; devalue themselves; behave like second class citizens; panic about responsibility for their children’s under-performance, and fear of being unable to spare their children from suffering.

Unable to escape their circumstance; insecure about their own role in her life and lastly, refusing to claim their constitutional rights and use whatever structural, institutional or regulatory tools that are available for her to fight for herself.

Powerless women weighs down the social and economical growth of Maldives. Women are poorer than men, carry family responsibilities of children’s upbringing irrespective of the circumstance, and make up half of the Maldivian population. Women head 47 percent of households either as single (when husband remarries or leaves the island to work somewhere else) or divorced parent. The social cost of the disempowered women is high leaving aside reasons of equity and social justice.

The direct consequence of domestic violence results in a crippled workforce and loss of income for both the employer and employee. Disempowered women are vulnerable to manipulation both at home, at workplace and in the society, subject to enforced sex, dependability for her basic material needs and that of her children, mentally and physically unhealthy, more disconnected and therefore less maternal and susceptible to bad parenting.

Confronting the powerlessness and becoming empowered

I glanced back at the women as I left the premises. The common factor that would empower these women was financial independence.

The Maldivian woman must stop curtailing her future when a man enters her life. Women must get informed of their religious and political rights without compromising their individuality and right to a dignified living. Women must become active either professionally or enterprisingly. Women must keep their dreams and not expect someone else to fulfill them. Women must learn to create balance between home and public life.

A financially empowered woman achieves complete independence from socially determined practices. She is able to afford healthcare, education, provide for basic needs and protect and nurture herself and her needs.

Confronting disempowerment and transforming to empowerment must happen at various levels. There is personal development which means assessing personal behaviors, beliefs and expectations, confronting pains and fears, and taking action that empowers. The want and the willingness to be empowered and not to live in the losing circumstance is with the Woman and lies in physical, economic, political and spiritual empowerment.

Who can support women’s empowerment?

Women as mothers and nurturers of the family play a fundamental role in determining the future of their children. Today children grow up in gender defined roles. Mothers must define what they want for their daughters. Influencing and empowering both boys and girls and streamline their thinking to grow up into powerful people, where respect, fairness, sharing responsibility, being accountable and financially independent lies with Mothers who spend most of their time with her children. This is a first step.

Restrictive activities such as motions against women’s participation in various spheres must be stopped. Active inclusion of women through quotas set within a period till women’s participation becomes accepted must be introduced. The political and the diplomatic institutions must assign positions and work to women like they assign it to men. Political parties must stop paying lip service and decorating their windows with women’s chapters. Women in the parties have expressed that although they put selected women for the front-lines of the local council elections, they were not supported like their male counterparts. Many expressed disappointment at the way women in politics were labeled when they ran for office as compared to men who had lifelong records of misconduct.

Compliance laws on polygamy, divorces, child care and alimony, inheritance (including full representation of underage girls and orphan children), compensation and so forth must be covered with civil laws to ensure women are protected and fairly compensated in proportion to what the husband has been able to accumulate in wealth and earning during the marriage.

Women must be educated about “Rung” (customary price money before the marriage), its definition, purpose and the options including what a woman can ask for and under what conditions it must be paid/returned by the man or the woman. Withholding information is a deliberate act of abuse by the state and religious authorities, and women have been misinformed for decades.

Finally it comes down to women to take the leap. The first step lies with women to break through their own glass ceilings. The encouraging factor is some women have done it and so can all others if they will stop the self-fulfilling prophecy of “I can’t make it”.

The perspectives are good and women must capitalise on the opportunities. Each Ministry has a gender focal point. Making them answerable in their roles is something women must do. If you do not want to stay outside the Family Court, begging for child maintenance through a male dominant justice system, live off men, succumb to enforced sex and domestic violence, provide for your children and be healthy mentally and physically, then be truthful to yourself and start earning your own money.

Through individual commitment and participation in formalised groups, women must lobby for changes not compromising the essence of being the woman.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Lack of good parenting is the root cause of youth issues and a dysfunctional society

Dysfunctional families are a root cause of emerging youth issues in Maldivian society.

Adding complexity, youth lack supporting guidance in the educational sphere because school management and the teachers lack effective approaches for dealing with children from such families. While most families in Maldives are dysfunctional, Maldivians have a tendency to ignore problems and treat them as evils caused by others.

A child’s behavior reflects their experiences at home. When there is hostility or fighting among parents, this creates a lot of anxiety. When parents are rude and abusive towards each other, children experience insecurity. A cycle of competition, jealousy, rivalry, disrespect and forms of abuse starts amidst confusion and nervousness and thus creates the dysfunctional family. Dysfunctional families disconnect and neglect each other.

The Maldives has one of the world’s highest divorce rates. Many parents do not handle their separation maturely and can be seen to act with bitterness and revenge controlling their behavior. An unfair burden is placed upon the child during the divorce.

It is time to stop looking at where to put the blame. It is right there with parents as children learn firstly from parents. Relationships lose their magic overnight and love tanks empty out leaving a feeling of desolation and regret. Divorcing/separating parents are mostly self-centered and self-absorbed, forgetting the pain left in their children.

Children replay what they observe and experience. Children experience the feeling of loss, betrayal and being cast aside while parents tangle with resentment, sense of failure and blame, leading to self-victimisation and succumbing to revenge or silence and resignation.

In the aftermath of divorce or separation (where the father does not divorce the woman but takes a second wife), children develop identity issues as to where they stand and who they are, in relation to their parents’ foundation. Added to this confusion, children are treated as a financial burden when parents openly fight on alimony disregarding the sensitivity of the child in question. One common behavioral issue I have observed is a resentful parent labeling a child with the negative character of the other parent, destroying the child’s life further. This burden of guilt is poison that will last a long time.

Causing sibling rivalry

Sibling rivalry is often caused by parents. Conclusions are drawn in early childhood depending on the ease or stress experienced by parents. Hence a parent labels a child from the first experience of babyhood thus influencing the child’s life over the years to come.

The comparisons are voiced in phrases such as “an easy child”, versus “a difficult child”. Later: “Why can’t you be like your brother?”, “Why can’t you be obedient like your sister?” or constantly referring to the better performing sibling.

This a common occurrence at home, and puts children in competition with each other. Children are taught to compete with each other when parents consistently show favoritism or praise one child, and not another. This creates hostility and resentment. It’s difficult for siblings to be friends in adulthood when they were taught to compete as children.

Parents are the first tribe influencing their child’s belief

Most Maldivian parents do not realize they are the first and most influential role model for the child. Children shape up to parents. A child grows up influenced and shaped by the environment they live in. In the front line of tribes around the child, are the parents. Parents have a direct influence on the child’s emotions leading to behaviors and ultimately their lives, for better or for worse. If parents fail, the child will experience huge hurdles. These can only be overcome eventually.

The child is like a recorder, taking up the parent’s behavior and playing it back. How a child behaves in school or the environment outside home tells the story of what the child experiences at home. As children absorb and respond to what they experience, it requires the parents to behave with responsibility, love and respect towards each other, care for the people around them, respect the natural environment including animals, respect money and materials, being humble and grateful and be the child’s guide to become a fully developed individual to take its place in the world.

Most families have dysfunction in one way, shape, or form. It’s never safe to assume that a family is not dysfunctional just by how they act in public. This assumption makes people wonder why a child from such a “good family” or “good parent” is rebellious or resigned in class, in gangs, in drugs and crime.
The root cause of the aggression, lack of ethics, abuse and violence, power hunger and suppression, blind obedience, corruption, fear, envy and jealousy, greed or any anti-social or anti-human behavior (including destruction of nature) in Maldivian society is parents failing to be good examples and role models, to attend to the child’s needs, to stay connected to their children and nurture them to adulthood.

The vulture snaps up its prey

Disconnected from families, marginalised by social, economic and cultural forces, young people are pushed in the direction of gangs that provides peer support, sense of belonging, protections and strangely enough covers up for the relationships that they have not experienced at home and school.

Youth coerced into gangs and seemingly by lack of choice happens because parents have not been able to guide their child to make good judgments and have expected children to do what they are told to do (interpreted as a sign of obedience).

Although it may be hard to swallow, parents need to accept responsibility for what occurs in their child’s life. Poverty, low parental attachment to the child, and low parental supervision, lack of attention to child’s needs, all increase the probability of the child spending the youthful years in violence, drugs and gangs.

Additional risk factors are bad education systems leading to poor learning and consequent low success in school, low student commitment to school, and low attachment to teachers. The potential combination is associating with delinquent friends and unsupervised “hanging around” with these delinquent friends. Easy access to drugs and the lack of nurturing from parents (in additional to parents with resentful, violent attitudes) are high risk factors for young people’s involvement in gangs at a very young age. Drugs coexist with dealing and theft.

The point is lack of good parenting is the root cause for the increasing social issues arising in the Maldivian communities. The question is how do we bridge the gap, address the parent issue, support children, guide youth and create a better society.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Is youth unemployment a lack of intellectual management?

Suhaila has been looking for a job for a long time. As typical of many young Maldives, her basic education consisted of GCE O-levels and a foundation program in an American College in Sri Lanka, which was inadequate for her to get employed.

Like many youth, maybe she did not know how to go about finding a job, or maybe her applications did not show her capabilities that convinced potential employers.

She wanted to work in the travel industry, and applied to a few airline agencies. Suhaila is a pretty girl, though far from the ‘catwalk model’ type of girl. Her greatest asset was her kind, helpful and sunny nature combined with a high sense of responsibility, eagerness to work and a positive attitude.

Over two years, she received two responses to her many applications. Both times the interviewers told her that they looked for pretty and slim girls as they would be working in the front line at the reservation desks.

Early this year, Suhaila she was offered a job with training in a new airline ticket reservation agency. The agency is owned by well-known names in Male’, and a few veterans with years of experience in well-known airlines operating in Maldives. Suhaila was confident that this would be a good place to work because of the shareholders.

After a mutual agreement, she travelled to Sri Lanka with another local girl and a boy as well as two of the business shareholders. They arrived late at night.

Around 1.30am, the girls got a call from the two men asking if they wish to go for dinner. Even though Suhaila felt it was considerate of her bosses to think they may be hungry after travelling so long, Suhaila declined, but the other girl went because she was not sure what was expected of her as an employee.

One evening they invited the girls to go clubbing which Suhaila declined. During the training, the guys turned up at the training venue and ask the girls to go shopping with them. Two days later, one of the guys asked Suhaila her family background. Suhaila told him who her mother and father were. Suhaila was not asked to go out with them anymore.

Upon completion of the training and start of work, Suhaila requested to sign her contract. She was told that they did not sign contracts. Her salary was fixed, and her work was ticketing and reservations. She found herself training newcomers, closing sales and doing ‘favors’.

Favors meant that she should re-open sales after closing because owners of the company wanted to issue tickets for friends and favorites. It also meant that Suhaila was expected to come and issue a ticket for company owners even up to midnight hours. It meant that regardless of how inconvenient it was to Suhaila in her personal time, she was expected to come out and work as they were her bosses. She had neither a job description nor clear work guidelines.

What was most bewildering to Suhaila was the confusion she experienced in the conflicting rules of the company owners. If one owner decided the working hours, the other told the staff a different opening and closing time. If one owner decided a ticket could be issued to a foreign worker without a work permit, the other would insist it be issued because it is business for them. The owners spoke at different times but over each other’s authority.

As some staff left out of frustration, a Sri Lankan girl was brought in and Suhaila was asked to train and orient her. Then one day, Suhaila was asked to deal with the salary sheets. She discovered that the foreign girl was earning US$500 as salary and receiving food, accommodation and medicals on top of it. She found out that the Sri Lankan girl got a holiday ticket paid to go and come back. Suhaila’s salary was Rf 3500 (US$272) and no other allowances.

A couple of month’s frustration was followed by her final decision to resign. The daughter of one of the owners’ running the show called for a staff meeting to try and understand the issues at hand. There were no changes in spite of the meeting except that the staff stayed a couple more months hoping something would happen. Finally Suhaila handed in her resignation. The owners expressed regret that Suhaila was leaving them as she was a very good worker. However, concluding that, one of the shareholders’ said they would never hire local staff but employ Sri Lankans who were easier to manage.

Is youth unemployment an issue of lack of intellectual social management?

The story above brings out many issues in the employment of young Maldivians and especially for girls. Instead of seeing youth as an asset to social development, social reality is a growing population of unemployed youth being the victim of social disorder. The problem occurs in a vicious circle where poverty, unemployment, crime, drugs, poor schooling, inadequate housing, broken and dysfunctional families, etc, where each one is the cause and each one is the effect. The future is explosive and a serious threat to social equilibrium as Maldives fails to give hope and social assurance to its youth.

Today the youth in Maldives is seen a liability, a major stumbling block in the transitional democracy, and looked upon as a social burden, their energy and vibrancy diminishing at an increasing rate. Who should be the creator of the conditions that will turn youth into assets? The government is no doubt the caretaker and has a very tough responsibility to fulfill. The pressure of this responsibility is to make the youth of this country economically independent and self-reliant.

It is not an easy task because it means making private entrepreneurs more responsible citizens first. Although the previous government was the major employer of its citizens as compared to the private sector employment in Maldives, it is not a sustainable function for the government, and the state is not responsible for creating jobs. It is responsible for creating a climate where jobs will be created, and it is responsible to take a proactive and not a reactive step to encourage entrepreneurial development for the purpose of economic and social benefit.

Small and medium businesses continue to be collectively the major employer in the developed countries. What falls under the government’s responsibility is to encourage and motivate the job creators, support capacity building, create legislations that nurtures social values, create aggressive alliances with the civil society, be in continuous dialogue with all the different development sectors and demonstrate faith in the Maldivian youth, give them respect, direction and a consistent message that they are part and parcel of the Maldivian Society.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Hay and the importance of festivals and celebrations

The Hay Festival at Aarah last weekend left in me a kind of excitement – a life force that gives one the ‘WOW!’ experience.

It is not the first time I have been to festivals such as these, but the fact that it happened here in my country made the difference. It was happy, colourful and full of emotional intensity.

My experience

The Hay Festival at Aarah had every element of a growing modern and civilised society. People respected each other, people mingled, free discussion took place, and barriers were broken down. Remarkably people respected the garbage bins too.

It was an intelligent way of helping expose people to new ideas. Just doing the right thing leaves room for differences of opinion without being offended.

The purpose of such a festival is more than presentations and discussions. It is about nurturing culture, networking and creating new friendships and strengthening old ones. It is about feeling connected, and much more.

People went to the Festival for different reasons. Some went simply out of curiosity and others went for the programs. Maybe some went simply to be part of a social event. Whatever the reason, I am sure many experienced more than the reason they went for.

The Maldives is a place where foreigners and locals do not socialise, although they do interact with each other on work issues. In fact many foreigners are given the feeling that they should be careful about mingling with Maldivians. Very few Maldivians actually mingle with foreigners, and vice versa. I saw that the festival helped bring them closer.

It is great that Aarah is open to these kind of events. I felt that this helped to lessen the gap between the country’s political leadership and the people, making them more accessible. It opened up new possibilities. Hopefully there will be more events taking place. There are so many themes that can be worked on.

What impressed me were also the youth and the strong voices that rang out. I like to see them stand up and express who they are. At the end of it all, it is up to the people to fully use these kind of events to integrate into society.

My disappointments

There were a couple of things that did not work out for me personally. An expatriate speaker on the stage did use unacceptable discriminatory language, that was insensitive and harmful and generalised a whole country.

Speakers must be careful not to address a country and its people in such a forum, whatever his personal opinion may be.

The transport in the evening caused some inconveniences, forcing people to stay on until late and for those who had no option other than the late ferry, miss out on some important presentations at 7:00pm on the Saturday.

The last comment in this direction were the last minute changes in the program. There was one presentation on the Kalaafaanu manuspcripts I had planned to attend, only to find out it had taken place on Friday. This disappointed me.

Festivals are important for people

All festivities have many things in common. It had colour, gaiety, participation, prayers and rituals. Festivals arise from the need to congregate and are based on traditions and practices handed down by ancestors.

The ultimate benefit of a festival is the shared experience of those who participate. This reinforces the social bonds between the groups who celebrate the festival and shows strength and solidarity to those outside this social group.

Most festivals were connected to sacred events or celebrated independence. Most modern festivals are created to meet a social need or to show and share creativity and messages through various forms of arts.

In countries with different religions and different ethnic groups, festivals are celebrated by everyone irrespective of whatever religion is involved, because of common elements in the culture and the need to be one nation.

For example, India is a society of many religions and there are a lot of festivals. For the Hindus there is Diwali, for the Muslims there is Eid, for the Christians there is Christmas and for the Parsis it’s the New Year. Apart from all these days there are two other days that are celebrated by all Indians irrespective of cast, creed or sex: yes, the  January 26 and August 15, Republic day and Independence Day.

The endangered Maldivian festivals

The Maldivian festivals which used to be celebrated with a lot of joy and colour have been disappearing over the years.

The most notable of these festivities were Kuda Eid and Eid-ul Al’haa and the month long Ramazan which combined Maldivian culture (food, dance and music) and religious rituals.

All these celebrations in their pure non-commercialised forms were spiritual exercises and a strengthening tool of cultural identification. The Prophet Mohamed’s birthday was celebrated with people visiting each other’s houses and eating Maldivian food and visit to the mosques for the special prayers.

History shows that Maldivian island communities came together to celebrate child births, naming ceremonies, the coming of age, and marriages. The other festivals celebrated the Maldivian independence and autonomy. They are national celebrations.

The scales have changed. The festivals mentioned above have handed down the traditions and values that were part of the Maldivian cultural identity. These norms are disappearing due to different opinions and rationalisation of different interest groups in the country, coupled with intentions of religious, political and business organisations.

This trend in the Maldives is leading people to lose their connection with each other. The younger generations are being robbed of their Maldivian heritage, as are the less financially able who are losing the opportunity to participate in social life, and last but not least, a whole country is losing their cultural identity.

Back to the Hay Festival

The Hay Festival falls into the modern form of festivals that are thematically based. It gave people the opportunity to participate and fill in the gaps in knowledge of the Maldivian heritage and culture. It gave people the opportunity to contribute to important issues and understand the Maldivian contexts in Maldivian literature and play a participatory role in the evolving Maldivian story.

It took ‘Maldivian’ beyond food, music and dance and rituals. It helped people enter and explore the depths of the Maldivian heritage blending common global issues that affects Maldivians and will impact the Maldivian lives and help reflect on where we came from and where we are going. The broader participation will enrich our culture and help the nation to grow.

In conclusion, as Shobhaa De’ put it so well at the Hay Festival, if you disconnect from the society, the society will disconnect you. So I really hope to see more Maldivians taking these opportunities, and more families and more young people.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: The Maldives must value arts education

My first attempt at promoting Arts in Maldives was in 1999 when I opened SALAAM School, because I believed in the importance and significance of art in education and the potential development of people.

The discovery of talents and skills in Maldivians such as voice, and the ability to play an instrument without learning the theory, took Maldivians by surprise and a wave of pride and surge of energy swept through the 70s and into the 90s – the era of self discovery and connection to innerself.

The truth was that inspired by Hindi movies with beautiful traditions of dance and song, and the Western groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and later by Olympians, Amazon Jade and Quicksand, the Maldivian people discovered a new world that brought joy and connection to their very souls through a new form of expression.

Artists then were revered, Olympus hall unfailingly filled up, and people sang along to the radio. Jeymu Dhonkama’s songs struck the heart of the young and old alike. The two discos, house parties, two cinemas, stages for concerts and plays, traditional dance groups performing on the roads during Eid, dressing up for festivities, carnivals with acrobats and beauty competitions, imported circuses and music bands had Male’ swinging into the early 80s.

New Maldivian artists, new forms of art and new opportunities developed to a peak in the early 90s and slowly started receding because as the Maldives entered the era of the nineties, political control on whatever brought people together was held in check.

Then returned the Islamic-educated ‘scholars’, adamant to put a stop to all forms of performing arts and visual images.

Both the intentions, one for political purpose and the other to spread the new messages of Islam, coincided perfectly, brutally fragmenting and replacing the hopes of the Maldivians with confusion, fear and disconnection within themselves, within families and within communities.

A country with a strong artistic profile is an indication of progression, the expression of its people and the freedom to express how they experience life. The following paragraph sums up the importance of Arts in Education and in our lives.

“The Arts are an essential part of public education. From dance and music to theatre and the visual arts, the arts give children a unique means of expression, capturing their passions and emotions, and allowing them to explore new ideas, subject matter, and cultures. They bring us joy in every aspect of our lives.

“Arts education not only enhances students’ understanding of the world around them, but it also broadens their perspective on traditional academics. The arts give us the creativity to express ourselves, while challenging our intellect. The arts integrate life and learning for all students and are integral in the development of the whole person.”

Schools in the Maldives never catered to the needs of the creative aspect in young people because the government institutions concerned with Education and Art, as well as Youth, had Ministers who were ignorant of what Arts mean to children’s and the community’s development.

On the other hand, art and culture is always at the end of the list all over the world, when it comes to education and budgets.

School of Arts, Languages and Music was abbreviated to ‘S’ for School, ‘A’ for Arts, ‘LA’ for Languages ‘AM’ for ‘And MUSIC’, thus giving the name SALAAM (appropriately meaning peace) to SALAAM School.

It had 400 registered students and over 200 youth volunteers when it started. What attracted such a crowd?

The school was nurturing the blessed gift of creativity and supporting young people to bring it out and express it. Youth in 2000 roamed the streets of Male’ as aimlessly as they do today. However, the youth that joined hands with SALAAM School disqualified the negative brand attached to youth (then as even today) through discipline, leadership and commitment that surprised the Home Minister Umar Zahir in 2000 during the first philharmonic and youth orchestra concert at the Social Center.

The Maldives needs a comprehensive and high quality arts education. The passivity we see in children, the nonparticipation in our youth and the lack of ability to bridge difference and solve conflicts in our adults can be caused by the lack of a most significant vehicle in our society: arts to “express the inexpressible and the unbearable”.

Music and dance and visual art forms are a unifying force and the only dialogue without argument. It bridges across races, sex, age, nationality, language, culture and even emotions and conflicts.

Arts hold communities together and through celebrations which are always combined with music, and usually dance, creates the good feelings and binds people despite personal differences. Any form of art enhances our lives.

Why do young children learn better with techniques of art? Why do children remember rhymes and songs? Why do all the countries in the world have National Anthems expressed in melody and lyrics?

The truth is that the impact of music is powerful and transforms emotional experience to learning enhancing the likelihood that something will be remembered. Art always leaves an impression.

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his/her vision wherever it takes him/her.”

The dream of any person to be an artist or to integrate art into his/her life must be taken seriously. We must have singers, song writers, composers, actors, actresses, dancers, and visual artists in our communities without being labeled but supported through schools, theatres, concert halls, galleries, clubs etc, and last but not least, art-specific educational programs and trained teachers.

We need arts advocacy groups and associations supported by funding, artist support, and materials to continuously enrich the environments of our communities. These activities and people help to shape the culture of our communities.

“The arts reflect profoundly the most democratic credo, the belief in an individual vision or voice”.

Today there are factions of Maldivians who believe that artists should not be encouraged and there are stories of confrontations, threats and attacks. This happened to SALAAM School in 2000.

The school was vandalised in October 2000. Paint was thrown into the corridors, liquid soap onto the walls and the petals of the fans bent so that they touch each other at the tips. The school was under attack and labeled in the media as ‘spreading Christianity’. Miadhu explicitly wrote on April 22, 2010: “Anyone who has studied in the Arabian Peninsula should know that missionaries have been using the word “Salaam” to spread Christianity. After six months when the cat was out of the bag, Maumoon had no choice but to close the school which he opened with his very own hands.”

Was it the word “SALAAM” or the teaching of arts that was the measure to identify Christian missionaries?

The reason behind the vandalism will never be known. Was it political or was it the believers of the new Islamic movement? There was every attempt to stop anything that brought people together, and SALAAM School was attracting many young people to one place.

One comment from a staff of the Ministry of Education (2000) expressed regret at how the Ministry of Education had obstructed SALAAM school’s functioning. He said that if the intention was to obstruct SALAAM School, it should not have been allowed in the first place.

SALAAM School did not close but stayed dormant a few years, digesting a financial loss but growing stronger in conviction. Today, SALAAM School continues developing people of all ages, especially youth, believing in their potential and giving them dignity by guiding them and leaving them a choice to walk their own path.

SALAAM School’s first mission is on hold, the arts school will happen.

Each day is a new scene, a new painting, a new song, a new play, and a new dance, and each day brings new hope to one or more youth who passes through SALAAM School. Maldives is our stage.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Kitchen maids step out to business and up to leadership

It was 3:00 pm in the afternoon last Ramazan when someone called and asked me to do a translation. He said that I could charge for the work. I told him to mail it to me so that I could have a look.

What I got was a five page contract with legal terms to be translated from English to Dhivehi, and it had to be done by that night. I called up and quoted him my official price and he flipped out.

“Oh man,” he said, “you are crazy. I am doing this for a friend. Go to the kitchen. It is time to cook for breaking the fast.”

My mind raced! Would he have said something similar in the same tone to a man?

Kitchen maids step out to business and up to leadership!

I grew up with a mother who sold material and tailored to earn money. She worked from home. In many households while men are the official breadwinners, the women work from home to earn an income to make ends meet.

Today farmers in the islands are made up of 60 percent women. In other words, women in the Maldives have a long history of entrepreneurship. When I was growing up, there were a couple of ladies in trading and I saw them in the man’s world. I wonder how they felt and what kind of challenges they had. Today with Maldives advancing into the modern world, more Maldivian women have stepped out into the business world.

Globally, the 1920s were a turning point for women to move from traditional roles to modern ideas. In these years the role of women changed, with gender-defined work such as cooks, dressmakers and farm hands moving to professional and technical jobs like doctors, bankers, lawyers etc. Still today, even in the most developed countries, there are conservatives who find it hard to digest this and feel a woman’s place is at home.

The prevalent environment in Maldives is tough for a woman who wants to run a business. I am a social entrepreneur and I started out on my own in 1999. As a woman I have experienced many hurdles, and I am going to highlight here common issues enterprising women face in the Maldives.

Women entrepreneurs find it a big challenge to get people to take them seriously. Women seeking loans beyond micro-financing have difficulties obtaining funds, even with collateral. I know the case of a woman who offered collateral of her two houses to the Bank of Maldives (managed by women) some years ago and she was refused a loan. When her husband went to the Bank with the same business plan and same collateral (with mortgage rights signed over by the woman), it was accepted.

When women hold meetings, many men do not listen to the business idea a woman is selling. Horrendous suggestions such as meeting late at night and in private environments are an indication of this lack of seriousness among men. It is often seen in the light of a favor she is asking. If I am accompanied by a male to a meeting, I still find him being addressed more than me though it is my business.

Sense of guilt

My female colleagues and entrepreneurs also speak of the “guilt issues” that come into play and which limit their success. Guilt for investing time away from the family, guilt for becoming more financially secure than family and friends, guilt for earning more than a spouse and guilt for being successful.

To make it worse, husbands and partners who cannot digest the success of a woman accuse her of receiving favours. Some people (men and women, friends and family) actually think that a woman who wants to start a business is just looking for something to do as a “hobby”.

Women are trained since childhood to work behind the scenes, to not make a fuss, and to take care of others first. Girls grow up in “female” roles with housework prioritised above studies, and the notion that she will marry a good man to have a life.

The contribution of women to financial stability is treated of secondary importance especially when that money is generated at home. Women’s contribution is not documented in the national statistics either. Women in entrepreneurship struggle to improve conditions that support enterprise development at national level.

The Women Entrepreneurs Council (WEC) was initially under the umbrella of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and was dissolved three years ago without the WEC itself being notified. The move was part of a calculated change in the Executive Board to push out chamber board members, including distinguished and dedicated men committed to economic development of the country. and who supported the Wec.

The media (including Minivan News) ignored the case (with evidence) that the WEC presented, and the report did not appear in the daily newspapers or on the television. The Registrar of the Home Ministry at the time ignored the evidence. The Attorney General (on a personal level) made an aimless attempt to look into the issue that compromised women. Today the documents lie on the table of the present Chamber President who considers an internal audit of the time (with the last five years) possible but has not had the time to look at them.

The documents are in the Ministry of Home Affairs waiting for the present Registrar’s attention. Three registrars have changed since the documents were submitted and the present Registrar has promised to lend us an ear.

The WEC was just beginning to stand on its feet with a successful trial record of development and half a million Rufiya in its account, a solid development plan for four years and a potential contract with UNDP, when the Council was crippled by the Board of the time.

Earlier this year, His Excellency the Vice President listened to the story but it remains one without an end. The President’s staff have been scheduling a meeting with the leadership of the ex-WEC for the last two and half years.

Women experience sexist banter, demeaning comments and exclusionary behavior and continue to push for conditions where they can do business in a politically and socially fair environment.

Assumptions about women, such as in my introductory paragraph, view women as inferior business professionals. Expectations on pricing and wages – with the implication that women lack professionalism – are abusive.

Women tend to devalue their skills, abilities and experience more than men do. Women must value their offerings in order for customers and prospects to value them. The ability to be compensated well for the value a woman provides lies squarely on her ability to look the customer/prospect in the eye and state, with confidence, that it’s worth the price she is charging. So my fees remain… discounts come only after quotation.

Ownership and control of an enterprise by a woman is a big thing. Most women entrepreneurs are very compassionate and caring people, thus bringing complimentary value to business. While women want to express their skill and talent to the world, they should also possess the qualities of devotion, innovation and the capabilities of management and control, lessons that can be learnt from enterprising men. Women are great networkers, tenacious, and are great at relationships, so there is no hurdle too big to overcome.

Once on an interview, a producer of a VillaTV program wanted the presenter to question me about whether a woman would have time to take care of her family obligations if she was engaged outside home. In my opinion, the word obligation puts conditions on women that are interpreted by someone else. A woman should define her priorities and balance her life between work and family. This is one of the hardest challenges for a woman entrepreneur even in developed countries.

To break the ice, women have to put themselves forward and overcome a lifetime of behavioral training – a daunting task for many of us. Men remove one hat before putting on another. Work is work, play is play and family is family. Women insist on wearing all their hats at once and are determined to balance them all. When we enter into business mode, we are still mothers, wives and friends. We are easily distracted by our many other priorities and find it challenging to focus all our attention on one area at a time. Focus ladies!

To be successful as an entrepreneur a woman must be independent, humble, highly successful at personal growth and, for the most part, non-emotional. As a male colleague noted the other day, one big challenge a woman has are the other women who don’t understand her – her values and drive.

It was evident at the Validation Workshop in October 2009 held in Holiday Inn where I sat at a round table with women from the Ministry of Health trying to bring in the perspective of women from private sector into the national plans. The barrier I faced was so impenetrable that I had to get the Counsel of UN facilitator to talk to them to include some of my suggestions.

Women must be bolder and demand respect by showing their success. To receive respect, women should be respectful. To be respectful, women should work with values and rules that shows her principles such as using formal friendly language (a great way to draw the line between personal and professional relationships), staying firm and focused in discussions displaying a professional attitude, keeping meetings to working hours and if necessary stretch to early evenings but not late night hours, setting the latest reachable hour to business contacts by phone, meet in open public places or office during working hours, establish a code for no physical relationships with staff and potential business partners, learn to draw the line when people get abusive or suggestive at meetings, stop mothering when dealing with male business colleagues (sorry ladies but I observe this happening) and dressing professionally.

Women should always be upfront and transparent about their professional experience and what they have accomplished. Upon doing so, people can no longer have ignorant assumptions of women. So women out there, it takes every core of your being to stand above these who choose to talk about people, so you can walk instead with those who prefer to discuss ideas.

Aminath Arif is the Founder of SALAAM School.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Self-awareness and spirituality sustains a society

Self-awareness and spiritual empowerment hold the key to freedom and raising the status of people in a society.

Education and economic independence, and financial security no doubt, do impart self-confidence to a person. However if the person is not well equipped with self-awareness and spiritual power within oneself, it is difficult to sustain the confidence that comes with a good education and a good job.

That is the reason why it is not uncommon to find well qualified and well educated men and women, holding powerful jobs weakening and losing their self esteem when faced with a difficult situation in personal or professional life.

That is why we find executive managers, top government officials, members of parliament and other such people who should be role models for our society not demonstrating a constant code of standards, behavior and values.

What is spiritual empowerment?

Spiritual empowerment is not about religious rituals, robes, ceremonies and practices. Spirituality is about awakening the ‘consciousness’ that we all humans have been gifted with. It is the consciousness to recognise the ‘truth’ about self, about relationship of self with the people and nature around. This consciousness helps you to understand and become aware of ourselves and all things that have an impact on your well-being and our inner peace and happiness.

This awareness is empowering because it is the beginning of taking care of your own self as well as understanding others in a better way. Only when you know who you really are and what you really want for your ultimate happiness can you begin to make choices consciously to create realities that result in your happy self. And only then you begin to appreciate the need of others to be happy.

Awakening the consciousness

Your minds are conditioned by the educational system, traditional parenting, religious preaching, and other good-willed people around you to think in the way that conforms to the norms of the society and the prevailing system.

This does not necessarily have to do with ‘spirituality or the needs of the soul’. This conditioning does not get you in touch with your ‘self’. The further you are from your ‘inner truth’ or your ‘true self’, the more powerless you become. You are more vulnerable to exploitation and all the things that can erode your self confidence and self esteem.

Ideally the process must begin at an early age. Values that are primary to building strong and powerful personalities need to be part of family and educational systems.

Personal and social change is a continuous process and so is empowerment. Educational systems that do not provide for developing courage and attitude to rise above social and personal hurdles need to be scraped out rethought and restructured to make the best use of the learning years of a student, so that they can gain a sound mental and spiritual foundation that will enable them to become adults who are economically independent, contribute to the society and service humanity.

The behavior of the empowered person

Empowered people act out of choice. They have a belief system not conditioned by the messages received in the past but based on their wants, choices and values. They align their thoughts, words and actions and do not waste time in criticism and judgment. They create harmonic environments, respect individuality and values diversity is accountable and proactive and implements their activity in a safe way.

Strategies for empowerment, transformation or change lie in values, beliefs and rules. Unless you are willing to analyse, reflect and change any of these strategies (those that do not support the life you love) there will be no change. The tools that support you to change are your thoughts words and actions – a manifestation of your beliefs, values and rules.

Aminath Arif is the Founder of SALAAM School

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Comment: Lack of educational opportunity cripples aspirations of young people

With my initiative to make a better day for youth and women of the Maldives, I have travelled across the nation to bring them whatever opportunities I can to open the door for youth to ease the entry into the working world.

I have developed a very large network of communities made up of parents, NGOs, leaders, women groups and youth themselves, engaged aid agencies and institutions that provided funding support, and liaised with resorts to link youth with on-the-job training and employment.

In this article I am giving my experience, my impression and my opinion of youth in the Maldives today. There is no blame or judgment and I hope that readers will be willing to share their experiences and constructive suggestions on how to provide youth a better environment in the Maldives.

Youth across the islands of Maldives are not sheltered from the realities of the adult world because young people leave school early, leaving behind the relative shelter of the school community.

Most of them do not progress to the last couple of years of school, and many leave the final year with hardly any acceptable standard of qualification.

Most early school leavers and secondary graduates (with low grades) are associated with disadvantaged circumstances.

These disadvantages can be defined as lack of choices or opportunities caused by poverty, geographic isolation, community support structures and social alienation and the result of centralised governance that has not catered to the needs of island people.

The lack of ability of teachers (whom also lack resources to support students) and skills to teach young people is a direct cause of student failure and offsets serious personality problems in young people. Whatever few opportunities there are in the islands are further obstructed by the lack of English language skills required for learning.

These disadvantages lead to low school achievement, aggressive and anti-social behavior, poor self-esteem and low expectations, unemployment, feeling powerless or isolated, withdrawal and loss of ability to communicate.

These young people are vulnerable to health problems and prey for illegal activities. Their lifestyle is that of any young person who wants to show a cool personality: smoking, late nights hanging around, cool speech, ‘don’t care’ attitude, cool clothing (if they can afford it). Underneath: extremely sensitive, wanting respect, dignity and direction.

The longer these young people hang around after leaving school without further studies and disciplined activities, the more vulnerable they become.

The gap between 15 and 18 years needs to be filled with schooling towards further or higher education. Presently the life of a young Maldivian in the islands is often aimless and lacks the stimulating environment that young people need to thrive.

The Labor Law of the Maldives does not make it any easier for the young Maldivian, although I am not advocating or criticising the Law.

Young people who leave school in the islands at the age of 15 years do not have much choice to continue their education. In principle they cannot be employed either.

While our programs provide an opportunity for young people to acquire skills for entry level jobs, potential employers are hesitant (and understandably so) to take under-age trainees as apprentices.

The conditions affect young women just as much as young men, however the outcomes are slightly different in my opinion.

While a young man is aggressively judged for his low performance, low achievement of a young woman is less of an issue. Young women joining our vocational training classes indicate their will to learn and interestingly are better achievers compared to their male colleagues, but are often stopped by parents and brothers.

Beliefs and attitude play a big role in this, and in the confusion of what is possible and what is right, the prevailing norms and insecurities take over resulting in young women’s opportunities being compromised.

Many young men join our classes because it is the only opportunity to walk through an open door. Young men and women’s motivation to get married early is evidently the results of nothing else to do in the community.

Boys are expected to have future employment and young women have limited aspirations for their future lives and work. With such limited personal aspirations and goals, marriage may appear to be an attractive option for these young women. Being a wife gives a young woman a role and often a deceptive one. Unfortunately being a husband does not change much for a young man who has not understood the responsibilities and commitments that go along with marriage.

The fact is that young people cross the threshold to adult life without having experienced youth.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]