Former Minister of Gender and Family Aneesa Ahmed has become the second Maldivian woman to win the prestigious ‘International Women of Courage Award’ presented by the US Secretary of State to honor the courage of extraordinary women worldwide who have played transformative roles in their societies.
Since the establishment of the award in 2007 by the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 46 women from 34 different countries – including Former ruling Maldivian Democratic Party MDP Chairperson and MP Mariya Ahmed Didi – have been honored for the exceptional courage and leadership shown in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.
According to the state department’s website entry on the 2012 winners, Aneesa is recognised for being a ‘staunch advocate for ending gender-based violence (GBV) in the Maldives’.
The statement on Aneesa read; “While serving as Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, she raised the issue of domestic violence at a time when the subject was taboo. After leaving the government, she founded the NGO Hope for Women and began conducting sessions on GBV with students, Maldives Police Services, and other front line workers”.
The department had further noted her courage for speaking out against female genital mutilation after some religious scholars identified it as a practice supported by Islam on national radio last year. The statement added; “By openly discussing issues like these and promoting awareness through her NGO, Ms. Ahmed plays a key role in bringing these issues into public discourse and pressing the government to take action.”
Minivan News could not reach Aneesa at the time of press as she is currently in the US to attend the Awarding ceremony due to take place on Thursday night, 9:00pm local time.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will host ceremony with special guest First Lady Michelle Obama while other dignitaries include the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, both 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
2007 award recipient Mariya Ahmed Didi said she was “thrilled that a Maldivian woman has been awarded the US Secretary of State International Woman of Courage for the second time.”
“As a nurse and midwife [Aneesa] was known to be committed and kind to her patients. As a Deputy Minister and subsequently the Minister for Gender she was committed to furthering the rights of women. As a parliamentarian and as the leader of the DRP’s Parliamentary Group she had foresight and understanding that kept the group together. As a person committed to [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom, there is none second to Aneesa.”
International Women’s Day comes in the Maldives following a week in which water cannon was used to disperse a women’s sit down protest outside the President’s Office, and in which Amnesty International condemned abrutal security forces crackdown on a group of 20 female MDP supporters in Addu Atoll. One woman who was beaten repeatedly on the breast by an MNDF officer told Amnesty that they were repeatedly shouting they would see to it that she “would never breast feed again.”
Mariya observed that “the way Maldivian women had come out to protest against the brutality of the Waheed regime has shown that all Maldivian women are ‘women of courage’. They are resilient and determined to not allow their sons and daughters to die in Maldivian jails, as was seen in the 30 year rule of the Gayoom dictatorship. The 30 days of Vice President Waheed’s rule has shown Maldivians that authoritarian rule is here and very much to stay.”
Woman face ongoing challenges
As the International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 with the UN theme for 2012 “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty – the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has highlighted the under-representation of women in the remote islands of the Maldives.
In a statement released on Thursday the commission expressed its concern over the “alarming level” of discrimination rural women face worldwide ” and added that it is “upsetting that the situation in Maldives is similar”
“The upsetting thing is that several counties still does not recognize the importance of women’s participation in the decision making process.” The statement further reads, “On the Maldivian islands significant work has been done by women, yet it is seen as an obligation and thus does not receive the appreciation and the recognition they deserve. However, because of their society benefits so much,” HRCM statement said.
Meanwhile, Maldives is yet to achieve gender quality goal of the Millenium Development Goals.
“Gender disparity exists in secondary and tertiary education as well as in labour force participation and the national parliament,” according to the UN Maldives fact sheet on MDG’s.
Currently, five out of the 77 MP’s are women while the representation in the elected councils are significantly low.
In an earlier interview with Minivan News, following Aneesa’s decision to retire from her political career and parliament in 2009, she observed the challenges for women in entering politics in Maldives.
“There are many restrictions on women candidates. For instance financial support, especially these days when there is so much of money politicking. Women don’t have that the wealth so they need to be supported, financially supported and also their families will have to give them support. Unless they have an understanding and supportive husband, it’s going to be difficult,” Aneesa explained.
“And then again the whole attitude, the mindset of people will need to be changed. We still have the majority of the people with the mindset that women cant perform in public in the same way as men and women dont have the intelligence or the capacity to be members of parliament or public figures,” she further added.
Meanwhile, the importance of working forward in eliminating the gender based violence has also been recognised by the stakeholders who identify it as one the biggest challenges the Maldivian women today face.
According to the Gender Department’s statistics, one in three women between the age 15-49 in the Maldives have suffered from abuse – mostly from partners or within the family.
Both women rights NGOs and the UN have stressed on several occassions to pass the Anti-Domestic Violence Bill, which has been stalled in the parliament for over a year now.