If democracy is to function, barriers to women’s participation have to come down. If the citizens of Maldives are to improve their lives, women voices need to be heard at the political level and the obstructions removed.
Any politician or citizen of good will in the country who wants democracy will need to be honest and understand this aspect, and promote it willingly and without any reservations.
When women who have worked their way up the career ladder are able to be in the front line of the country’s development, can take ownership and are acknowledged for their achievement by political leaders and considered an asset, then it is an indication of a democratic government.
The barrier to this opportunity has not come down in the Maldives. Presently women in the front line are players selected to those positions by the government’s political agenda.
On the broader horizon, the change starts with women. Women need to see that they can do something about improving the quality of their lives, and those of their families and communities, by reaching for political leadership or becoming involved in political and civil activities. Women need to have the will to share and enjoy the privileges and the benefits of a democratic constitution.
How do women think?
The outcome of a woman’s thought is influenced by the role she plays in life. Women’s leadership may not bring all the solutions but then neither does men’s leadership. What makes the difference is the process of decision making and the outcomes when women voice their issues and express what they see as significant to a better environment for living. That is an important difference and must be taken seriously for good governance.
The difference can also be seen as the gender difference. The difference in thinking may be defined in this manner because the woman may have been a mother, or have cared for elderly people, or have experienced marginalisation or exposure to various forms of abuse, etc.
How could a viable political environment be formed without the views, advocacy and judgments that include women’s perspective? Women’s perspective in the Maldives especially is important as it presents grass root advocacy.
Beyond traditional spheres
Being politically active means to reach out to leadership positions and taking a stand for the values of democracy. It means moving into positions that are critical to attain social justice, raising public awareness and accessing visible positions of authority. It means venturing beyond traditional sphere of home and family. It means promoting fairness and no allowance for partiality.
Political engagement does not necessarily mean having a political career, campaigning, and getting into the parliament or the government’s leading positions. You can work up to leadership on the job so that you can implement fair and equal working conditions in your own work environment, you can be socially responsible, you can support people’s development and high-quality resources management.
If you choose to move onto the benches or go into law, you go beyond simply taking voting as your only civic engagement and civic participation, but pursue civil rights for the people and are in a position to advocate for and against implementation of legislative initiatives.
Your political activity may take the form of collective action, by forming associations to reach out to larger groups and transform your society. You would create a common vision, define common goals, invite people with similar aspirations and reinforce each other thus linking individual empowerment to group empowerment.
Moving beyond traditional spheres means change. Today people identify change with empowerment.
Empowerment can be defined as claiming the right by an individual to choose freely and control their own lives. Broadly defined it is the woman’s right to her own body and sexuality including protection against any form of violence, the right to her own income and equal opportunity to earning, power over her resources and fair inheritance, her rights to justice and position in a legal system (including impartiality in the Constitution).
The organisation and political aspects are self-help groups and collective action to bring change. Fundamental to change is the access to information and know-how.
Although this article focuses strongly on women, the content is applicable to men and can help them to become aware of their own disadvantageous position. Without this awareness, neither men nor women can seek empowerment. Empowerment means more than an adequate comfortable adjustment. On a personal level and the community level, it is redistribution of power that does justice to the opportunities and members of the society, does not compromise freedom and does not take happen at the expense of others.
Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.
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