Comment: Real democracy is when barriers to women’s participation come down

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.

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]


15 thoughts on “Comment: Real democracy is when barriers to women’s participation come down”

  1. "Presently women in the front line are players selected to those positions by the government’s political agenda."

    and the men in the front line are....?

  2. Aminath Arif,

    First please change ur "Arif" name to a more feminie name as Arif is a male name and its a disgrace for u!! hehe

    Second!! let me tell you most female politically motivated individuals (people like Ex Majlis member Aneesa, Sheerin..etc) are shame for women! as they normally do "anything" for political gains! We can see that from the family life!! So I guess they are not good examples for advocating for women rights!!

    Thirdly, I find "most" (NOT ALL) of these charged ones blame Islamic principles and say Islam restricts their activities while all they want is to freely have boyfriend girl friend relationships outside marriage! so they blame Islam!!

    Fourthly, There was a lady who ran a "music school" but her agenda was to spread Christainity and secularism!!

  3. @ ho hum.. yeah...see my last para

    @ shock me, but it is not worth commenting on you. My article and your comments have nothing to do with each other...You have not even understood the plain English. Shame when I think where you come from..

  4. Jerry,

    Your comment wouldn't so crudely betray your insecurity about empowered women, had it even attempted to try and formulate a coherent argument.

    Unfortunately, you have none.

    Instead, you have just firmly cemented the stereotype (shall I say fact?)that religious fundamentalists feel threatened by the very idea of sharing public intellectual space with women.

    It is not a stereotype of course.

    In fact - let me club together every single 'religious' NGOs, clubs and also political parties that claim the 'religious' mantle, and list down the names of all the women leaders in them.

    Wait. There aren't any.

    And you would have us believe - by your utterly dishonest, insipid comment - that this is has something to do with dating?

    Face it.

    You cannot get yourself to share power or authority with half-ling women. It goes against the very core misogynist principles of salafism.

    And faced with the slightest amount of criticism or assertive stance from the ladies, what brilliant, intellectually sound argument do these religion abusing nuts bring up?

    Oh yeah! Minivan is promoting lesbianism!

    While insecure cowards like you are having a field day of making a mockery of yourself, women in other countries - especially Europe - have progressed by leaps and bounds.

    You might want to check the most recent list of Nobel laureates; from literature to groundbreaking science and medicine, women have made strides in those countries.

    The secularists among us think too highly of women to want to relegate them to the kitchen, with part time sex toy functions - which, if not in those exact words, are EXACTLY what people of your ilk desire.

  5. What? Whats happening?

    Women is there to serve men. This is the line that was used to fuel and boost up men's ego, in the past.

    What changed? Surely not our culture or some vocal religious fanatics.

    I say women must stay home in letter-box clothing and never venture out at all. Let the men, including the uneducated, ignorant and arrogant ones, dream they are better than women, physically, psychologically and even intellectually.

  6. The author says '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.'

    Her Excellency Iruthisham Adam, Ambassador to Switzerland, a career diplomat, Dr. Aminath Shafia, Minister of State, (Fisheries and Agriculture) who have worked in the agricultural side of the Ministry since leaving school and risen up the echelons with a PhD in the field, Dr. Mariya Ali, Deputy Minister of Health and Family in charge of child protection/gender issues who has had a long career in the field both in the Maldives and abroad are just a few examples that easily comes to mind. The list goes on.

    So what is she talking about when she says
    "Presently women in the front line are players selected to those positions by the government’s political agenda."

    Either she has not done proper research on women leaders of Maldives or she considers anyone in a political position to be selected for a 'political agenda' (which they are of course) and therefore does not count no matter how qualified/experienced they are!

    Having said that I totally agree with Aminath Arif on most of what she says under the subtitle 'Beyond traditional spheres'. Women can become empowered not just by being in a political position but where ever they operate, women's agency is vital in facing the numerous challenges we face in the society today.

  7. I agree with Aminath's point about real democracy. But I'm fed up with democracy. Our society has been turned into a madhouse in the name of democracy. I'll give up all my freedoms for a stable and peaceful society for our children to grow up. Even Golhaa rule was hundred times better than the democracy we have now.

  8. I live in Finland. I am a Maldivian by birth.

    I have been married to a Finnish woman already for 32 years.

    From the point of view of women's rights,Finland is one of the most advanced and liberated countries in the world.

    It has been a great experience to be here in Finland, to see what women can do when they are given a chance.

    I came to Finland after having lived for more than two decades in London. The last seven years of that was with my Finnish wife.

    Currently, both the President and the Prime Minister are women. The Prime Minister is very young and very beautiful.

    Half the members of Parliament are women.

    Half the cabinet ministers are women.

    I can remember a time when even the Defence Minister was a woman.

    Women can do almost everything that men can do. Often women can do almost everything better than men.

    The large majority of university students are women. Doctors, lawyers, engineers and architects are 50 per cent women.

    Benezir Bhutto of Pakistan was a dynamic political leader. She died a man's death. Bravely. Her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gave equal treatment to all his sons and daughters.

    I do not think keeping down women can be justified in the name of Islam.

    When I was studying Political Science at Bombay University in the 1960s, the Head of the Political Science Department was a woman. In fact she was a Muslim woman.

    Before I left for London in 1964, she invited me for dinner with her in her house. She was all alone. She was a liberated woman, though a Muslim.

    I could go on and on.

    My mother was also a woman. She was a Maldivian.

    What more can women do?

    They can do everything. Almost everything.

  9. the main heading of this article really struck me and hence i clicked on it to read the rest of it...but i must say i was a disappointed.....

    Her arguments, already noted by mariyam, are quite off the mark. either she hasnt done enuf research or her arguments are just plain unsubstantiated.

    there are a lot of women in all walks of life who have worked hard and climbed the corporate ladder, such as the examples Mariyam has pointed out.

    i also am disappointed in her statement that women in the frontline today are there merely as dummies of the political parties. while some hv been posted in positions merely for political agenda, what abt those women who claim to be activists of women's rights just stand and watch the action.

    I mean, it took a one Velezine to bring the issues within the JSC into public light. i dont remember any of the so-called women leaders (perhaps an Azima Shukur or an Aneesa Ahmed or an Aisha Didi) come out and atleast say once "people listen to Velezine"or just simply back her for what she was saying.

    Aminath Arif has also failed to take notice of women's unpaid labour. Just cos some women choose to stay home instead of joining the workforce, shudnt mean that us women shud attach derogation to that. Research shows that if a market value is put to women's household labour, it grosses to 70% of the world's GDP. surely a case of love's labours lost?

    While i find some aspects of the article ok, i must admit it was quite disappointing for its lack of research and unattachment to the realities of the life of the maldivian woman.

  10. Real "democracy" (if that means equal rights, peace and tranquility with limits to protect others rights) is when men and women take their personal responsibilities, passionately and seriously - while not interfering, or disregarding the natural capabilities of opposite gender.

    *Men are born to take hardships of life
    *Women are born to be loved and cared (and to care) - in political language they are the "Home Ministers"

    Men as Men: Women as Women: If we try to defy their neutral being: The result is the chaotic situation we see today all around the world: families broken -> societies corrupted -> crimes hiking (despite modern technological advances) -> END result: People in fear day and night unaware of where they are heading and what they really want.

    Islam does not subjugate women.Islam uplifts them and protects them as "queens" of the community.( Though there are some mislead people labeled as Muslims treating their women unjustly: That is prevalent even at western and all other societies and sometimes worse[treating women as idols of sex, arts and advertising under the name of women liberation])

    See the correct sources before making any judgment. [Quran & Authentic Hadhits]

    In Allah Almighty We Trust

  11. MN Team. I think this is very moderate. What's wrong?

    heck on Your comment is awaiting moderation. Wed, 1st Sep 2010 10:58 PM

    Who will look after the children? Day care centers? What about breast-feeding?

  12. It's very simple.

    Resist and Challenge Religious Fundamentalism in order to have equal rights for men and women, be it Democracy or Dictatorship.


  13. Heck. I think your comment was way off-mark, but, since you were wondering- I worked in two jobs when my daughter was 4 months old. Who looked after her? Her dad, of course! Did I breast feed? Yes, exclusively until she was 6 months, and still do at 20 months. Maldivian law allows an extra hour for that purpose. i was also able to home cook all her food, dress her up every morning and put her to bed every night. Why did he not work? Because we both knew I can earn thrice more than him. Plus, as much as I hate to say this, he was a much better care giver than me.

  14. heck must be the typical example of narrow mindedness afflicting a large percentage of this nation.


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