Comment: Equality for women is progress for all

Dr Akjemal Magtymova is currently acting UN Resident Coordinator and the World Health Organization’s Representative to the Republic of Maldives.

This year the United Nations in the Maldives is commemorating the 39th International Women’s Day. The theme for the day is “Equality for women is progress for all”. The Maldives has made remarkable achievements and addressed some critical issues in achieving gender equality.

Having endorsed a number of important international conventions and declarations, the country has made progressive efforts in positively translating these commitments into domestic legislations and policies.

The 2008 Constitution eliminated legal barriers that bar women from running for the highest public office as well as introduced affirmative measures to address inequalities for the first time. Furthermore, the Domestic Violence Act ratified in the year 2012 provided a much needed legal framework in protecting women from being subjected to forms of domestic violence and abuse.

Realizing gender equity is a road with milestones and there are difficult challenges ahead in achieving substantive results on gender equality and women empowerment. The Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3) can be seen as a compass in the road to “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment”: the Maldives has achieved one of the MDG3 targets of gapping gender disparity in primary and secondary enrollment while the remaining two targets on women’s political and economic participation are yet to be achieved.

Statistics from 2006 Census indicate 59 percent of women participate in the country’s labor force as opposed to 79 percent of men, despite the number of women enrolled in tertiary education being higher than that of men. In the Civil Service, only 25 percent of women earn more than MVR 15,000, although they represent more than half of the workforce meaning that the majority of women in civil service are working in lower ranks.

When it comes to their representation in key public positions, women are heavily under-represented in all three arms of the state. According to statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Maldives remains at the 126th position in terms of female representation in the People’s Majlis, with just 5 female parliamentarians in the 77 member legislature. Furthermore, only 59 women have been elected to office in the 2014 local council elections compared to 1,025 men. There are only nine female judges and magistrates in judiciary with no female representation on the Supreme Court bench.

These data show that the Maldives need to make significant efforts towards gender balance to translate the equality guaranteed in the Constitution and laws into equality of results.

Social norms and stereotypes that expect women to undertake the bulk of domestic work are often a barrier to greater female participation in public life. In order to enjoy equal access to employment women should have access to services such as childcare facilities. Domestic violence is also one of the factors that prevent women from assuming greater roles in the society and public.

Mere complacency in addressing these issues could reverse the gains that have been already made so far. Focus needs to be drawn on measures that are required to accelerate the achievement of substantive gender equality in the society. Sufficient budgetary and human resources need to be allocated by the state to strengthen institutions to effectively mainstream gender into legislation and policies.

Every woman and girl, regardless of her economic status or where she lives, has equal rights to shape her own future and the future of the country. Human history has shown that women can be, and have been, at the forefront of positive societal advancements.

There are many able Maldivian women who are examples and inspiration for many more. These women, not only play an effective role in the local communities and the Government, but also contribute significantly beyond the national boundaries by actively engaging in regional, international and global forums and foreign diplomacy. This is a positive example providing inspiration for individuals and their communities to help unfold the potential of women to inspire change and development.

To borrow the words of the UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon, “the importance of achieving equality for women and girls is not simply because it is a matter of fairness and fundamental human rights, but because progress in so many other areas depends on it.”

Wishing the Maldives further advancement in its development milestones and gender equity. The United Nations will remain a partner to support this progress through its collaborative programmes.

Happy Women’s Day!

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: One of Maldives’ biggest killers entirely preventable

It is indeed sad that one of the biggest killers of people in Maldives is an addiction that is entirely preventable, but requires a good will to act from everyone.

In 2010, the Government of Maldives, in a commendable move, passed a Tobacco Control Law and in January 2013 introduced its first regulation to reduce the amount of public real estate on which smokers can indulge in their harmful habit – it banned smoking cigarettes inside all government buildings, private restaurants, cafes and other public places.

It further bans smoking tobacco at rehabilitation centres, children’s parks and spaces often visited by children, aboard transport vehicles and at any area where residents have to wait in a line to receive services. Individual violators can be fined MRF500 and proprietors MRF1000 for not enforcing the law on their premises.

Of course, with any law, enforcement is key and we know that the government is aware of the need to encourage law enforcement to not only uphold the law but to become better educated on the details. WHO has suggested incentivising law enforcement so that they will take a more active role in upholding this crucial piece of legislation. There is work to be done to gazette certain provisions, and provide support for more training and awareness-raising activities.

The statistics themselves are alarming enough:

  • According to the 2009 Maldives Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 42 percent of people in the between the ages of 20-24 are smokers in the country, one of the highest in the region.
  • Although importation figures are showing some decline, in 2011 about 454 million cigarette sticks were imported. This represents a retail value of about MVR 910 million.
  • Globally – tobacco kills nearly 5.4 million people each year; and by 2030 it will kill more than 8 million people each year.
  • If no serious action is taken, up to 1 billion people could die from tobacco use in the 21st century.

There is well-established evidence: tobacco kills and its use carries many negative effects on health and quality of life.

However, despite efforts globally by governments, NGOs and individuals to curb tobacco smoking, it is no secret that the opposition backing the tobacco industry is well-organised and well-funded. Some of the firms will stop at nothing to silence the anti-tobacco lobby. Even for small nations such as Maldives, introducing anti-tobacco legislation and measures can face fierce resistance from those who promote their commercial interests.

The theme of World No Tobacco Day 2013 is “Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.” The WHO position is clear: all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship should be banned – full stop. We believe that banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use. In fact, this is a requirement under Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), the international treaty that was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic.

Why is this measure so important? Nearly three in four children between the ages of 13 and 15 are exposed to pro-cigarette ads on billboards and to pro-tobacco messages at sports and other events.

The link between such messages and the uptake of the habit are indisputable. Our figures show that a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7 percent, with some countries experiencing a decline in consumption of up to 16 percent.

I commend the Government of Maldives for introducing a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The Tobacco Control Law (Law15/2010), with the first regulation introduced in January 2013 and more underway, provides a base for reinforcing such a ban.

I know that the Government of Maldives is taking this matter very seriously and continues to place an importance on introducing a full set of regulations, coordination of efforts in multiple sectors and educating small traders and communities on the provisions of the law.

The evidence is clear: such bans work and help us to protect our youth from this deadly addiction.
The time to act is now.

Dr Magtymova is the World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative to the Republic of Maldives.

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]