Teachers Association threatens strike over pay discrepancies and education sector reform

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has announced a nationwide teachers’ strike to protest against pay discrepancies and the state’s failure to improve the education sector.

President of TAM Athif Abdul Hakeem said the strike can go ahead any time, with all preemptive steps having been taken, but noted that a priority would still be given to resolve issues through dialogue.

Athif said that meetings with the education ministry had resulted only in the promise of more meetings

So in late January (2014) we requested to arrange a meeting but there was no response. So sent another letter this month. now we are waiting to discuss our issues. our next step will depend on how that goes,” Athif said.

Pay discrepancies

TAM president said  the association’s main concern is pay discrepancies:

“We are not exactly asking for a raise here, the government can never compensate teachers for their service, that is impossible. We are only asking to be treated fairly. There already is a huge gap between teachers’ pay and the pay for less qualified persons doing less work in other institutions. And now they have increased pay for some,” he said.

Comparing teachers’ pay with that of other institutions, Athif noted that an office assistant who hasn’t completed high school working at an independent institution will earn an amount equal or more than a qualified teacher with a degree.

“Such a teacher will earn around nine thousand rufiya in that assistant director level job. An assistant director at an independent institution will earn more than sixteen thousand. In health sector a nurse with a diploma will earn even more,” he continued.

‘Edhuru Vehi’ Flats

According to TAM, the meeting with the minister in December was cut short due to “lack of time” with some of the issues not raised during the meeting later shared in a letter.

One of the issues detailed in the letter was concern over the ‘Edhuru Vehi’ teachers’ flats in Villimalé . TAM requested the eviction of 27 flats already occupied by unqualified persons and the assurance that all flats were given only to “technical staff” in the education sector.

The letter stated that three of these apartments could be reserved for school heads and senior teachers traveling to the capital.
TAM said that if the issue was not resolved, the organisation would file a case with the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Education sector reform

Other major issues raised by TAM concerned  improving the education sector and the quality of services provided. According to the association, qualified young graduates are turning away from the sector due to poor pay and working conditions.

“Teachers should focus on each and every student in a classroom, but there are 35 students to focus on within 35 minutes. To compensate for this, parents have to pay thousands for private tuition. This is not free public education,” said the TAM president.

The association has requested that the ministry of education involve teachers in discussions regarding the sector. Last week, the association released a report titled ‘Education sector in a deep pit’ – highlighting the state’s “total disregard” towards the sector.

The report stated that 60% of schools in the Maldives are run without a principal, and contrasted reduced spending on education with significant increases in areas such as the military, political posts, and independent institutions.

Teachers’ complaints

An experienced teacher from Thaa Atoll School told Minivan News today that, even though the pay is no match for the work teachers do, they don’t always complain about it.

“They are very dedicated and they work really hard to improve the results. Teachers are never free from their work. They bring books to mark at home, they take extra classes, they guide students in extracurricular activities, they are on-call 24 hours assisting students, even during weekends.”

According to the teacher, the total pay (with salary and allowances) for the most qualified teacher at the school – with a degree in social sciences and a professional degree in teaching – is approximately MVR10,500.

“For most teachers it would be around MVR9000 or less. The person in charge of cleaning up the health center takes home around MVR16000” She said.

A secondary school teacher from Laamu Mundoo complained that overtime payment for teachers has been limited to just 5 percent of their basic salary, which is an average of MVR280 per month.

“We are told that even if we work more overtime hours we will not get paid for that. But how can we be teachers and not work overtime? We need to prepare lesson plans and teaching aids, we have to assist students in extracurricular activities and mark their papers and books, we have take extra classes for students who need that. So basically we are doing volunteer work here” She said.

A teacher from Thaa Atoll Madifushi said that salaries for teacher are often delayed and that the pay for January had still not been disbursed.

“And we don’t have access to teachers text books, chemicals or other equipment in most islands here,” she added.

Other teachers noted issues of retaining senior management staff who are not receptive to changes or the use of technology and modern teaching methods. They also noted the ministry’s failure to monitor schools in islands on a regular basis.

Only as a last resort

Athif reiterated that teachers will go on strike only as a last resort. TAM is hoping for parents’ support, and will be meeting parents through Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs).

“We are currently discussing the matter within our organisation’s committees, we hope parents will stand with us in this. This is about their children’s rights, improving the education sector is a national issue. The less we spend on this sector, the more we will have to spend on prisons. But if parents don’t act, and if the government refuse to act, we will go on strike. But only as a last resort,” Athif said.

According to TAM the organisation has 1500 permanent member and an estimated 4000 Maldivian teachers across the country who will participate. Recent Civil Service Commission data shows there to be 5,676 teachers in the Maldives – 4,855 of them are locals.

“Foreign teachers work here on contract basis, so they are not involved in this officially. Even for local teachers, we are asking for their opinion. We will conduct a survey and see how many of them are with us and if they want to go on strike. It will be their decision. Even then, we will give a chance for the government to find temporary teachers to fill in during that period.” Athif said.


President Waheed calls on educators to instill “good conduct” in Maldives youth

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has today said it is imperative teachers and school management are teaching students “good conduct” like respecting their elders, while expressing the importance of education to national development.

Speaking to mark the occasion of Teachers’ Day, the president said instilling good values in children was hugely important to a country that is “undergoing transformation” like the Maldives, with schools playing a key role in strengthening the social fabric of the nation.

According to the President’s Office website, Dr Waheed also highlighted a need nationally for skilled and informed teachers, as well as providing them with professional development activities.

Relevant institutions were therefore asked to help assist with producing quality, skilled teachers, with the most important consideration being that young people are taught “good discipline based on Islam”.


Parents protest as disabled childrens’ school faces closure

The parents of pupils at Male’s Care Development Centre (CDC) gathered at the artificial beach on Thursday, imploring the government to fulfil its obligation to provide their children with an education.

Amongst the placards held aloft, some read, “Don’t deprive us of education”, whilst others asked “Should disabilities be a reason for being maginalised?”

More specifically, one sign read “Give the CDC a building”.

The Maldives’ only specialist school for disabled children is facing closure after the government failed to follow up on a verbal agreement to extend the lease on its new premises, Deputy Director of the Care Society Aishath Looba explained.

“All children with disabilities should be able to go to school, and the government schools don’t have the opportunity for all of them…a lot of children who come to the Care Society have severe disabilities and it is the only service they receive in the country,” said Looba.

“If the Care Society could not continue with the services provided at the CDC, a lot of the children would have no other place to go. The government are obligated to provide those services for them.”

With finances for the current premises only secured until December, the 41 children – of varying mental and physical disabilities – are facing a future without their constitutional right to an education free from discrimination.

Up until July this year, the Care Society had been running the school from a rent-free premises, but the ending of this agreement has seen the group forced to find an additional MVR48,000 (US$3,100) a month.

The government has provided a new building – just yards from the site of yesterday’s protest – but the extensive repairs needed have meant that the building is unsuitable without substantial investment.

“Renovation is not the word – we have to construct the building,” said Looba

With the lease on this new property set to expire in 2015, Looba explained that this uncertainty was deterring new investors.

“We have been trying to increase the duration of the period, a lot of people have said they could help if the period was longer – say 20-30 years.”

“There’s no choice left without the school”

One parent at today’s demonstration explained the great sacrifice she and her husband had made to bring her children to Male’ from Noonu Atoll to receive the education unavailable to them in the atolls.

“As a parent, I believe even children with disability have to become part of society,” said Ameena, who estimated that up to half of the pupils had been brought to Male’ solely to attend the CDC.

“There’s no choice left without the school. When the CDC closes, the only choice is to return to the island, there is no sustainability in Male’.”

Looba urged the government to decide whether it considered a specialised school important, regardless of who provides these vital services.

She went on to suggest that the verbal agreement for lease extension given earlier this year may have simply been a government ploy to prevent similar demonstrations.

Looba also cited political state of the country as one of the reasons why new sponsors for individual children had been hard to come by in recent months.

“Rent is secured up to the end of december – half from Universal, some from Bandos, and some from the Islamic Ministry. But if we have to try so hard to secure the rent, how can we run the programmes?”

“When we started we had to beg the parents to send their children to school, now the parents are coming and begging us to take their children to school. We have come a long way and the Care Society deserves more respect and support from everyone, especially the government,” she explained.

“There are so many thousands of kids who really require support and are not getting anything special in the islands. This is an example for all parents that they can be an advocate for their children, we want to see parents in the islands saying you should take our children to school.”

“We won’t stop it – even if we don’t get any support – we are going to continue that work.”

At the time of publication Minivan News was awaiting response from the Ministry of Education, whilst ministers from the Housing Ministry were not responding to calls.


Maldives heading towards stability, democratic governance: former President Nasheed

The Maldives is heading towards peace, stability and consolidation of democracy after ten tumultuous years, former President Mohamed Nasheed said at a youth forum organised by the Junior Chambers International (JSI) chapter of Maldives and Dhiyouth at City Hall on Monday night (September 16).

“I don’t really see much room for going wayward now. People might try to rig two or three elections. [They] might try to arrest some people. And there might even be three or four coup d’etats. But, overall, I don’t see this curve slumping too much,” the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate said in his keynote speech at the event, which was held to mark the International Day of Democracy.

“The Maldives will become stable and democratic principles will continue to be instilled. Neither the youth of this country nor everyone else are willing to let go of the rights we have now. In my view, tonight we are celebrating the victory of the youth. Through your efforts, the elderly have received social security, and through your efforts, a prosperous future has been secured for your children.”

The impact of the momentous events of the past ten years would be far greater and more significant than any other ten years in the history of the country, Nasheed observed, advising youth to “build a better Maldives in light of that experience.”

Nasheed was elected president in the Maldives’ first multi-party democratic election in 2008 following the adoption of a democratic constitution. The 2008 election and liberal constitution was preceded by a pro-democracy movement led by the MDP in the wake of unprecedented civil unrest in September 2003, which was precipitated by a brutal custodial death exposed to the public and subsequent fatal shootings in prison.

Free expression and dissent

In his speech, Nasheed argued that the most important prerequisite for youth development was an atmosphere conducive to exercising the rights of free expression, assembly and participation in peaceful political activities.

As 60 percent of the Maldives’ population is youth, Nasheed said political parties have to explain their policies to the youth demographic.

It is also the duty or responsibility of youth to have their say in the formation of a government that would pursue the best policies for young people, their families, and their communities, he said.

Freedom of speech and expression of dissent are “essential bases for nation-building,” he added.

Democratic practices were introduced in the Maldives between 2005 to 2008, Nasheed continued, noting the role and “sacrifices” of youth in pro-democracy activism.

“It was quite recently that people were arrested for a gesture or an expression,” he said. “Even in 2004, 2005, a lot of people were arrested and given serious punishments because of what they said. As long as that practice persisted, most Maldivian citizens were unable to participate in the affairs of the country. When that practice or principle changed, the participation of youth broadly increased.”

In formulating the MDP’s manifesto for the 2013 presidential election, Nasheed said the party believed that the bulk of the policies should target youth.

In contrast, he said, the 2008 manifesto was focused on establishing a social security system.

The 2013 manifesto reflects “the extent to which youth have raised their voices concerning their needs during the past five years,” Nasheed said.

The MDP manifesto – the “result of conducting a democratic exercise of consultation” – includes creating 51,000 job opportunities, conducting a skills training programme, setting a minimum wage, providing higher education opportunities, offering grants and scholarships, growing the entertainment sector, and establishing sports facilities, Nasheed noted.

Nasheed also stressed the importance of rehabilitating youth incarcerated for drug abuse through a “Second Chance” programme and implementing policies for reintegrating drug addicts into society as gainfully employed youth.


Following his remarks, Nasheed participated in an hour-long question and answer session on topics ranging from civic education, family planning, minimum wage, job creation, policies for persons with special needs and feasibility of infrastructure projects.

On the issue of negative campaigning, Nasheed predicted that political parties would learn ahead of future elections that defaming rivals was ineffective and focus instead of presenting comprehensive policies.

“I predict that political parties will present policies much more in the next election rather than do what they’re doing now, which includes attempting to buy votes – people are learning each election that [vote buying] is unsuccessful,” he said.

As a “crude survey” has estimated that seven percent of the Maldivian population are persons with special needs, Nasheed said the MDP will pursue policies to amend building codes to ease access and establish at least one school in each atoll to provide specialised education for students with special needs.

A minimum wage of MVR4,500 (US$292) a month would meanwhile incentivise local businesses to hire Maldivians in lieu of foreign workers who were often paid only US$150 a month, Nasheed explained, adding that small businesses would be exempt from the legally mandated wage.

Asked by “a youth leader currently representing the Maldivian youth to the Commonwealth” whether an MDP government would consider “a democratically-elected youth council and youth parliament” as a forum for youth leaders, Nasheed invited youth interested in politics to forgo “ceremonial” and “superficial” activities in favour of direct participation.

“The real thing is better than superficial activities. Step up to a podium no matter how young you are and participate in real activities – 17, 18 or 19 years is not really that young. At the time I turned 20, I had been in the pillory for 30 days,” he said.


Guraidhoo Island Council stops ballot boxes inside schools citing “too much black magic”

The Guraidhoo Island Council has passed a motion against keeping any ballot boxes inside schools on the island after islanders complained about “too much black magic”, the President of the Island Council Hussain Yameen Mohamed has said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Yameen said that the council have been receiving a lot of complaints from parents and local islanders regarding the issue.

“This time two parents and one man and a woman were affected by the black magic and had to be treated,’’ he said. “The islanders and parents are concerned that if the ballot boxes are kept inside the schools, the black magicians will target the schools and students will be affected.”

Yameen said that the council and the Elections Commission will discuss and decide upon a place to keep the ballot boxes for the second round of presidential election.

“Friday night there was unrest on this island where Maldivian Democratic Party [MDP] supporters confronted the police,’’ he said. “The MDP supporters thought that two spiritual healers on the island were casting spells on the island school and confronted them and police went to the area.”

He said that one person was arrested on charges of attacking a police officer at the scene but have been released now.

“The island council will try its best to make sure that the ballot boxes are not placed in any of the schools,” he added.

Voters on Guraidhoo were reported to have queued for over 17 hours in order to stand on the location of a black magic coconut, ensuring that all voters would choose the same candidate as the first in line.

Multiple reports of ‘fanditha’ (magic) have accompanied the election, ranging from cursed coconuts and witches to black magic dolls.

It was reported on social media today that police on Velidhoo Island, Noonu Atoll, were taking down MDP flags, alleging they had black magic symbols on them.

Minivan News has also learned of individuals in Male’ attempting to purchase conch shells – revered for their alleged magical properties – for large sums of money.

Spells and accusations cast

A MDP supporter on Guraidhoo, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, said that the spiritual healers on the island were supporters of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the MDP supporters went against him when they saw him spilling water around the island school.

“The MDP supporters tried to stop him and the police came and tried to stop the MDP supporters, and then there was a little confrontation between the police and MDP supporters,” he said.

He said that the spiritual healers had left the island the same night.

However, Yameen told Minivan News that the spiritual healers were on the island for a completely unrelated purpose.

“They were here to take pictures of some Quran books that were buried on the beach,” he said.

On September 4, Guraidhoo police station summoned a white magic practitioner to evaluate a young coconut believed to have been cursed by a black magic spell, after it was found near the Guraidhoo school, where the presidential election polling was set up.

In July this year, a Guraidhoo islander said parents of the island have been refusing – and raising their voices against – keeping ballot boxes inside island schools because black magicians were casting spells on the school for election and later it affects the students.

“After the local council election,  the school students started fainting inside the classrooms and this became a huge issue,” the islander told Minivan News at the time. “The parents knew this was related to something like this and called in a group of spiritual healers.’’

He said the spiritual healers forced the spirits to talk to them through the body of the possessed students, who told the healers that they were unable to leave the students as long as the products of sorcery remained inside the school grounds. The spirits reportedly told the healers the exact locations where the sorceress had placed the spells.

Last week, a police team were sent to search for black magic practitioners on Thakandhoo Island in Haa Alif Atoll after MDP supporters were accused of being responsible for the possession of four local children by evil spirits.


Q&A: MDP vice-presidential candidate Dr Mustafa Lutfi

Dr Mustafa Lutfi was appointed as the running mate of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed for the upcoming presidential election on September 7.

He previously served as Minister of Education in Nasheed’s administration, having resigned from his post as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012. The MDP has continued to allege that the change in government last year, was a “coup d’etat”.

Dr. Lutfi also previously served in the cabinet of Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Mariyath Mohamed: What made you decide to accept the position as Mohamed Nasheed’s running mate?

Mustafa Lutfi: I accepted it very happily, not because of the importance or weight of the position offered, but because it is President Nasheed whose deputy I was asked to be.

President Nasheed is someone I deeply respect, as he played the most major role in the democratic revolution which has come to the Maldives. In my opinion, President Nasheed is among the few who has sacrificed much in order to guarantee independence for the Maldivian people – personal freedoms, to save the citizens from the repression they were in, to bring a more fulfilling state of living to the people – and also because President Nasheed is the most loved and respected person in this country. A chance to work with such a well-respected, loved man is a cause for happiness to me. I extend thanks to MDP and President Nasheed for appointing me, as they have done so by placing utmost trust in me.

MM: Many people have commented that by using the slogan “I will not be a baaghee” (nethey veveykah baaghee akah) you are campaigning with a highly negative message. Why was this theme chosen?

ML: I think then there is some misinterpretation. By the slogan, we are not meaning to say that I will not bring about a coup d’etat. What we mean is that we Maldivians are saying as a whole that none of us will be traitors, that we will all say no to coup d’etats.

Previously, we have often talked about the brutality, violence and bloodshed. Besides all of that, I have now come to know, through interviews I am conducting for a book I intend to write, that a far more painful effect has been made on the people – the psychological trauma. This is something we must talk openly about now.

MM: What aspects of governance will you focus on if you are elected?

ML: We are mostly looking at how the country’s development has been set back as a result of the coup d’etat and are focusing on setting that right.

Some people interpret ‘development’ to mean the construction of jetties, or seawalls, or large buildings. But what we mean by ‘development’ is not this alone. The root of development, as meant by MDP, is the individual person. The improvements that come to the person’s health, how his thoughts and ideas are broadened and developed, improvements to the individual’s social status and economic contentment. Our development goes full circle, and covers all aspects of an individual citizen’s life.

Sustainable development can only be achieved through the changes that come to an individual and his way of thinking.

Policies, Implementation and Impacts

MM: We have seen that, even in the previous MDP administration, development projects are completed at comparatively very fast speeds. This has at times given rise to concerns about the environmental impacts of such work. How much attention has been given to environmental impacts during the planning of your new policies?

ML: Sustainable development cannot be achieved if, in the process of development, the environment is harmed. The environment and its protection are very high in our priorities.

MM: The Decentralization Act was passed during Nasheed’s administration. In recent times, we have often heard reports of the councils facing hardships due to both budget constraints and a lack of cooperation from state authorities. Is the MDP aware of this, and are there any plans to empower and strengthen decentralized governance?

ML: I strongly believe that the people must be given the freedom to make decisions on matters that will impact them or concern them. It won’t do to just decentralize governance – they must also be given necessary training, a support structure must be set up, as well as a functional oversight mechanism.

MM: MDP’s education policy details increased opportunities for higher education both locally and abroad. However, there are certain instances where students drop out of school and are thus unqualified to apply for higher education. In such instances, what plans do you have? For example, do you intend to broaden vocational training?

ML: Even in our previous government, under a programme named ‘Hunaru’ (skill) we gave them special training to prepare them for the workplace and even assisted them to find occupation. We also formed a polytechnic to train skilled workers under our technical vocational education programme, both in the atolls and in Male’.

Our aim now is to ensure opportunities for all youth to be able to achieve higher education. If they have to leave school before they obtain the required qualifications, they will have the option of enrolling in either foundation courses or technical vocational training.

Religious affairs

MM: When you were in Nasheed’s cabinet as Education Minister, you faced a lot of criticism from certain opposition parties for allegedly suggesting that Islam and Dhivehi be made optional subjects. In retrospect, do you think that was a wise decision, and would you recommend the same if MDP is elected again?

ML: That has been a much talked about issue.

One topic of discussion when drafting the curriculum was whether we should leave all subjects optional at higher secondary education level. And this too was just one among many topics simply opened for discussion.  However, in the middle of the debate, a group of people brought it to a halt. We were not able to hold a wide and free discussion on the matter, and through the influence of a certain group of people it was so decided that the subjects cannot be left as optional. That is how it happened.

MM: Would you work to make the subjects optional again in future?

ML: This is not at all about what I want. Nor about what the government wants. It is in essence about what the citizens want. The danger here is that these things go in the manner that a particular small group from among the citizens insists upon.  In a democracy, those who speak up and express their opinions are those who get heard. This is why it is important to engage in discussions about matters that will impact you.

A lot of people want to leave the subjects optional, especially higher secondary level students and some parents. Yet they did not speak up about it. The curriculum drafting team will only be aware of the views that are openly expressed. The group who spoke most openly and loudly on this matter were some from among the religious scholars. So this ended as these scholars wanted it to.

MM: It is a common criticism levied at the MDP that the party consists of ‘ladhini’ (anti-Islamic/irreligious) leadership and members. What level of importance is given to matters of the religion by your party?

ML: Our government was one that gave a lot of attention to religion even before. We established a separate ministry to handle matters related to Islam, we built a large number of mosques across the country, we facilitated prayer rooms to be made in schools. Our government was the one that first gave complete freedom to religious scholars to spread their knowledge. For the first time they were able to preach in mosques, streets or other public places, and to bring in foreign scholars.

President Nasheed and the rest of the leadership of MDP perform prayers and other religious obligations just like other Maldivians. The other aspect is belief.  Just saying that one is a Muslim is not enough, it is between oneself and God.

And unlike certain others, we do not lie. We do not try to defame others, or make up tales about people. We do not spread discord. So, as I see it, we are living within Islamic principles. No one can rightfully say that people in MDP are ‘ladhini’.

The biggest difference between us and certain other members of the opposition is that we do not go around saying we are religious, nor we do accuse others of being irreligious.

Moving from GIP to MDP

MM: You were very actively involved in the formation of President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaad Party (GIP).  What was your perception of people’s expectations from a political party such as GIP at that point in time?

ML: We brought on board people with the qualifications to be able to sit on a cabinet were we to be elected to run a government. This included many PhD holders, and people that society would accept as being respectable.

To be honest, we found members by using individuals who we intended to include in our cabinet, and their merit, as our strongest selling point.

MM: Do you notice any difference between now and then in what appeals to people, and what convinces people to support political parties?

ML: There’s a huge difference. Through the work of MDP, the majority of citizens now believe that a people who wants to come to power must approach the electorate with pledges which are based on policies formed with people’s needs in mind.

The opposition and their verbose criticism has assisted us in proving to the people that we are capable of fulfilling our pledges. For example, our pledge about connecting the islands with a transport mechanism. They mocked us and made sarcastic comments asking what would we join the islands with, is it with a thread, and so on. Today, the people see that we have connected the islands with ferry services, making travel between one island and another more convenient than ever before. The people know that MDP will fulfill any pledges that we make, in good quality and at a very fast pace.

MM: You initially joined the MDP government through a coalition between the party and GIP. After the GIP/MDP coalition split up, you joined MDP. What made you decide to do so?

ML: I had an interest in MDP and the work they were doing even when I initially left President Maumoon’s government. If I do join a party, it is my character to become very actively involved in it. However, at that point in life I wanted to focus on one of my life’s ambitions, which is writing. So during those two years, I wrote and published a number of books, while working at a boat construction company of a relative in Thilafushi. I was still doing this work when [President] Waheed approached me to form GIP.

I joined MDP later because I had worked closely with President Nasheed as a cabinet minister and he had won my respect even then due to his energetic approach and his empathy towards the people of Maldives. The leadership of MDP are people who very passionately engage in the reform and democratic movement, and this inspired me.

February 7, and moving forward

MM: Having worked so closely with President Waheed, how did you perceive the role he allegedly played in the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012?

ML: It didn’t at all come across as a shock or surprise to me.

I did have suspicions that Waheed would come out against Nasheed in the latter two years of the MDP administration. I did not, however, expect Waheed to join a group of people and commit an act of treason by orchestrating a coup d’etat.

MM: How much importance will be given to police reform, military reform and judicial reform?

ML: MDP is coming with the intention of conducting things with the best interest of the people in mind – and this too, will be carried out as is best for the people.

MM: At the time of the power transfer, you were serving as the first Chancellor of the Maldives National University. What made you decide to leave the post?

ML: I am one who never backs away from anything that I believe I must do at any given time.

In this way, last year it occurred to me that it is pointless for me to remain as chancellor of the university when the state of my country was deteriorating due to the events we faced. I thought it is more important, and something I must do in national interest, to join the movement against the coup d’etat, to actively work to bring back our democratic rights and freedoms. There are many others who are capable of being chancellor, and yet more people were needed at the time to actively dedicate time to this movement and come out onto the streets.

I believed that it is ultimately more important to express my sentiments against what I believe to be an unacceptable act, an act of treason, being carried out in my country.


‘New wave’ of Maldivian psychedelic art growing despite religious restrictions

Handfuls of sand are sprinkled are carefully onto glass, and a single finger pokes the grains to magically morph them into a moving painting as an animation unfolds telling important narratives about the survival of a nation, against the soundtrack of haunting music.

The form of an old man takes shape, holding a cane in his hand. All around him a street scene of buildings is developed under the sleight of a single hand sprinkling sand, as the other creates perfectly drawn images. Behind the old man is a wall of people, and one of them is brandishing a Maldivian flag. Suddenly the music tempo changes. On the other side of the road a brace of helmeted police officers appear all brandishing riot shields and shaking their batons at the old man and the people. Suddenly, these images of the people are “wiped out” and in their place, a single menacing bulbous face appears.

All these scenes capture the moment that the Maldives was changed forever.

They were created by an enigmatic artist called Afzal Shaafiu Hasan, also known as Afu. He has decided to use his unique talent of drawing with sand to describe what he calls Baton Day, the day after the coup which destabilised the country and toppled the first democratically elected president the Maldives had seen in 30 years.

Afu learned his craft by watching you tube videos. In a short space of time, he had perfected it enough to perform a moving sand art play to a delegation of eight nations at the SAARC Summit in Addu. Later it was performed at an audience of thousands at Raalhugandu area earlier this year as part of an artists’ drive for democracy. Later his recorded performance went viral on Maldivian social media,

“Being noticed is a blessing, but it can bring pressures as well,” he said.

But how did he learn this incredible talent?

“About three years back I saw some videos of sand art by Ksenia Simonova and it was simply amazing. I wanted to try it,” said Afu. “So I taught myself how to do it through hours of experimentation and practice.

“Then just when I got the hang of it, I was given the opportunity to perform for the Heads of States of eight Asian countries, who all met for the SAARC Summit.

“The first performance I did after that was watched live by almost 8,000 people. That’s incredible for Male’.”

Of course practice makes perfect and it takes a lot of pre-planning to get right, just as any animation does. “It is important to get the story right and fit it into the least number of key frames and transitions, while keeping the emotion at all times,” he said.

“Since it is live I don’t have a second chance to get it right.”

To draw the images he uses his hand, and he has grown a long fingernail especially for the purpose of fine tuning details. He refers to this as his “paintbrush”.

Afu’s Sand Art has the air of the theatrical to it. Perhaps that is not so surprising as he counts the great performance artist and choreographer Mohamed Mun­thasir, known as Munco, among his friends from school.

In fact it was Munco who drew his attention to the very opportunity to perform at the SAARC Summit.

“Sand Art combines drawing, creative story-telling, skill and performance” said Afu.

“As soon as I started doing it, I fell in love with the medium, it expresses emotion on so many levels.”

He is also a classmate of the famous Dinba music creator Ishaantay Ishan. Music is a vital ingredient to Afu’s sand art performances. He often uses Hamy on the keyboard or piano and Shambe on the guitar to build up the drama and tension as Afu’s incredible artistic fingers work their unique magic.

Afu also sometimes performs sand art exhibitions to entertain tourists in resorts.

“Sand art is extremely versatile, it can be a pure art form as well as a commercial opportunity for tourism in resorts, but we still have a lot of work to do to develop this art in the Maldives,” he added.
“So far I am the only sand artist in the country. If people are interested in learning it, I would be more than willing guide them.

There is also a connection between Afu’s sand art and Maldivian tradition. Sand is used as a medium to teach children the alphabet and shapes. It is put in a large shallow container and the teacher uses their fingers or a little twig to write on it.

He currently has an exhibition in the National Art Gallery entitled ‘Breathing Atolls,” which features a video of “a sand animation based upon a traditional Maldivian fisherman’s life, called A Maldivian Tale.”

Afu believes that the Maldives is undergoing an artistic renaissance which is helping to enrich the culture of this island nation.

So what motivates Afu?

“The chaos of course, I feel it necessary to say something about it as an artist. That alone pushes me to do something – not just in my sand art, but in my paintings as well.”

And so, Afu’s artwork is constantly pushing boundaries. He is an enigma who seems to be constantly innovating and experimenting with any art form which takes his fancy. He has mastered everything from stamp design, to oil painting and now as his self -taught sand art proves, his talents to innovate know no bounds.

As well as politics, Afu’s oil paintings and sand art also showcase the simple lifestyle of Maldivians in the past.

He is also interested in the environment. One of his sand art animations called “Forever”, which was performed live at Thudufushi Resort in January 2012 shows how human interference and rubbish is causing the coral reefs to die.

He has a talent for showing the fragility and beauty of a moment, something which defines him as a truly great artist.

“Chaos. I feel it necessary to say something about it as an artist. That alone pushes me to do something -not just in my sand art, but in my paintings as well.”

Afu has painted since childhood, but surprisingly has had no classical training.

Asked how he learned of his talent, he said. “I was born with it, I guess. I was good at art at school so when I finished formal education, I joined the Post Office and drew stamps. This is the point I started taking art as a serious profession.”

During the 13-years he worked at the Post Office, he was responsible for creating almost a hundred stamp designs.

Later he was accepted to study a three-year diploma course in graphic design and multimedia in Malaysia.

“I did this, and then I developed my fine art side as a hobby with paintings, performing arts and sculptures. It is mainly all self-taught.”

He says he was encouraged from a young age by his father to be creative, although none of his siblings went into art.

“Dad was a man of many talents – carpentry, calligraphy, poetry and so on, and he inspired me to develop my artistic talent,” he said.

Afu says his inspiration includes local artists Maizan Hassan Maniku and Hassan of Pink Coral as well as more traditional muses such as Van Gough and Picasso.

Painting has always been one of his great loves. Over the years he has created many works of art, and many have been exhibited in the National Gallery.

However during some periods, some of his paintings have also been banned for being too evocative, especially during the Maumoon administration.

A series of paintings Afu did during this time was called the Man-Wall series, which saw man as the people, and wall as the Government. It deals with feelings such as hope, fear and freedom – themes which have returned since the events of 07/02/12.

“One particular painting was removed from the exhibition ‘Maldives Contemporary’ because the Government felt it was not appropriate. At that time there were a series of people going missing, in jails or just randomly disappearing. The wrapping says police line do not cross. The tree was our future and the zebra crossing was the point where our people will have to cross to reach that future,” he said.

“Religion is killing art”

Afu counts himself among part of a “new wave” of artists and craftsmen in Male’, who inspired by the political changes have been promoting innovative artforms and paintings.

All are facing challenges from the establishment, political and religious figures who believe creative arts are sinful.

“They have destroyed the ancient artefacts and they preach art as hara’am,” said Afu. “They have even preached against drawing human beings with eyes as this is supposedly directly ‘challenging God’.”

“In a country where the idea of art is limited to drawing it’s dangerous going beyond that limitation. Art has been off mainstream for a very long time, from the point we converted to Islam back in 1153 AD. That’s my opinion and there’s evidence to back it up too,” said Afu.

Art only very recently entered the mainstream – around 15 years ago due to religious restrictions. Psychedelic art in particular is growing fast, especially digital and doodle art, which is flooding social media right now.

Another artist, who goes by the name of K.D, acts as Afu’s agent. He was also the project coordinator for the SAARC Summit where the sand art was first displayed.

“The situation is as simple as this – religion is killing art,” said KD who is also a painter. “That’s my open view on it.”

He revealed how recently religious scholars in the Maldives had banned drawing human figures with eyes and noses, which they believe go against god. The exhibition was created by an artist known as Siru Arts who held an exhibition of political art without these features.

Afu said: “This exhibition was an asset to the current regime because it has a twisted narrative to the events of the coup.

“Some follow blindly because it’s about religion. It’s sad, but it’s happening all over the world, why not here?

“Here everything that happens reaches to every individual. It matters here more than countries with millions of people where only a little portion of it the population is directly affected.

“This can be dangerous because we’re a nation of just 350,000 people. Here everything is magnified.”

In the modern Maldives the art world is growing, but at the same time, due to religious restrictions, artists have gone in hiding and dare not express their opinions.

“The government needs to keep artists like Afu and others safe and secured away from all these dangerous people,” said KD, who classes Afu as his mentor.

“In my own personal opinion I believe that artists should be more open in their views because the more we stay hidden, the more damage will be done,” he added.

Education, KD believes, is the key to challenging these ideologies.

“This place is filled with talent but no proper guidance or guidelines are implemented. In the current situation we can see how art is growing.”

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government actively supported the arts, introducing venues and practice rooms, intellectual rights for the artist and open forums, the artists say.

Many people in the country have talent, but they have not learned the fundamentals.

Each artist is self taught and as yet no National Art School exists and for the moment art is off the mainstream curriculum. There was an art school called Salaam school, which collapsed following the tragic death of its founder in 2011, Aminath Arif ‘Anthu’.

As an event manager KD has worked with many painters, musicians and performance artists. His main concern is to encourage the government to invest in art in the mainstream education system.

“I believe if art is involved more in the current education system, Maldivian art will grow,” said KD.

Overall, Afu has taken Maldivian art in a new direction.

“My utopian view as a Maldivian is that I live in one of the most beautiful places. My community is small and loving and live a simple life. We are happy.

“But my view on the political chaos is different. I believe what we are going through is healthy and necessary for our country’s future.

“Change shall come, but at a cost. We will be the generation who has to deal with it.”

His beautiful images are crafted out of the very sand which makes up the dazzling beaches that so many tourists frequent.

This in itself is quite symbolic.

The medium makes a statement as much as the art. An image or scene can be wiped out in an instant to make way for a new image.

As the Maldives approaches crucial elections, this also says something about the state of the nation and the events of the last 18 months.

Sand is also strong and fragile at the same time. Can the sand beneath their feet holds the country together or will the single grains just blow away in the wind?

Baton Day, by Afu:

Feelings, by Afu:

Forever: by Afu


Rising religious fundamentalism, conservative thinking impacting women: Department of National Planning

Progress toward achieving gender equality has not kept pace with other development achievements in the Maldives, as reflected by the 12 percent of women who have suffered sexual abuse before the age of 15 while one in three have been the victim of violence, a Department of National Planning study has found.

The study examined how much human development progress has been achieved in the Maldives in terms of population and development, reproductive health and rights, gender equity, equality and empowerment of women as well as education during the period 1994 – 2012.

The “Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014” study was conducted under the supervision of the Department of National Planning (DNP), in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), to determine whether the Maldives has met the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) thematic Programme of Action (PoA) goals.

The study found that “Despite impressive advancements in all development areas, the progress towards achieving gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women have not been the same.”

“Even though, the Maldivian Constitution guarantees equal rights and freedom for all Maldivians without any discrimination, prevailing traditions and socio-cultural norms have limited women’s participation in the workforce and in the community,” the study determined.

“The increasing level of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking has worsened the situation,” it added.

Although the Domestic Violence Act 3/2012 was “a historical milestone for women in the country,” domestic violence and violence against women remains a “major concern” in the Maldives.

“One out of three females aged between 15-49 years has experienced some form of violence within their lifetime. Further, 12 percent of women reported having experienced sexual abuse before their 15th birthday,” the report stated. “Most of the time, the perpetrators are a close family member or intimate partner and the incidence goes unreported and undocumented.”

Victims to not receive appropriate and timely support, since domestic and sexual violence are perceived as a private matter and often go unreported, the study found.

Additionally, “Women continue to be stereotyped and underrepresented at professional decision making levels,” noted the report.

The low level of women being represented in senior level positions is partly due to the “high domestic burden on females,” with women heading 47 percent of households in the Maldives, one of the highest rates in the world, the study determined.

Although women are represented in the workforce, they are “mostly represented in stereotypical roles” such as education (72 percent), health (68 percent), manufacturing (65 percent) and agriculture (64 percent), said the report.

Meanwhile, 40 percent of young women remain unemployed, with 10.5 of the overall youth population being neither employed nor seeking to further their studies, the report added. Employment opportunities for many have been obstructed primarily due to inadequate employment opportunities as well as the mismatch between skills and job requirements.

The report also found that the number of women continuing their studies beyond secondary education is low compared to men. This disparity is the result of “limited access to educational institutions at the island level, domestic responsibilities and hesitance to allow females to study on another island.”

“Special affirmative actions are needed to create more employment and livelihood opportunities for women and to increase the number of women in public and political life,” stated the report.

Despite the Maldives achieving the Millennium Development Goal target to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, malnutrition and anemia are still limiting women’s equality, equity and empowerment, noted the study.

“Poor nutritional status and anemia are significantly high among pregnant women and women of reproductive age, [which] puts them in high risk for maternal mortality,” the report found. “Malnutrition among women puts them in high risk during pregnancy and hinders their full participation in education, employment and social activities.”

Women – and young women’s – health is also at risk due to the lack of access to quality services, particularly in regard to sexual and reproductive health.

“With regard to reproductive rights, men often control decisions regarding women’s reproductive health, often based on religious and cultural grounds,” the report noted.

“[Furthermore,] the sudden growth of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking is an emerging challenge, particularly for women and young girls,” the study stated. “There have been increase towards certain trends such as preference for home schooling and refusing vaccination and other medical services for women based on religious beliefs.”

Violence against women

Despite the extensive provisions in the Domestic Violence act, it has done little to curb the abuse of women, minors and other vulnerable people; the police, the judiciary and wider Maldivian society have made minimal progress addressing domestic violence and abuse, former Gender Minister and Chairperson the Hope for Women NGO, Aneesa Ahmed, recently told Minivan News.

Meanwhile, support for women’s equality has experienced a “significant drop” despite overall progress in improving the human rights situation nationally, a Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) second baseline survey recently concluded.

“Despite the freedoms that the constitution has provided for women, attitudes towards women’s empowerment show a negative trend,” stated Andrew Cox, the former UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP representative in the Maldives.

“Alarmingly, the study also suggests that there has been a regression in people’s sensitivity towards domestic violence and gender based violence,” he added.

Male attitudes have become “more conservative” regarding women’s rights issues, whereas female views have become more supportive of rights in some areas, the report stated.

In a reversal from the 2005 human rights study, more women than men now consider it inappropriate for men to hit their wives. However, significant numbers of respondents stated where there was a “substantive justification” – as opposed to something trivial – “violence against wives was justified,” the report determined.

Both genders in the Maldives were also found to believe that in the husband/wife relationship, women should play a “subordinate role”.

In spite of this culturally conservative shift regarding women’s rights, an “overwhelming” 92 percent ofMaldivians believe that laws and systems to protect women from sexual assault should be reformed, according to the results of a survey conducted by Asia Research Partners and social activism website Avaaz.org.

Of those polled, 62 percent supported an outright moratorium on the practice of flogging, while 73 percent declared existing punishments for sexual crimes were unfair to women.

The international community has echoed this sentiment, particularly in regard to the recent
case in which a 15 year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months’ house arrest for a separate offence of fornication garnered substantial international attention and condemnation.

In March, an Avaaz petition calling for the repeal of the sentence and a moratorium on flogging in the Maldives collected more than two million signatures – a figure more than double the number of tourists who visit the country annually.

Currently, British couples are being asked to avoid the Maldives as a honeymoon destination to force the country’s government to overturn the conviction of the girl, who was given the draconian sentence after being raped by her stepfather, while UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been asked to intervene in the case, writes Jane Merrick for the UK’s Independent newspaper.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla explained the current context of women’s rights in the Maldives to the publication.

“Consider the statistics on flogging: that 90 per cent of the cases are women. Consider the statistics on rape charges: 0 per cent success rate of prosecution, with the latest being the release of four men accused of raping a 16-year-old, on the grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence,” said Abdulla.

“The increasing religious fundamentalism followed by the attempts to subjugate women, both politically and otherwise, should be cause for alarm. This is a country of traditionally very strong women.

“However, increasingly, the Adhaalath Party, a self-claimed religious party which is in alliance with the current government, uses the religious card to scare off women. We women MPs are often threatened whenever we speak against the party,” she added.


President Waheed meets with New Zealand High Commissioner accredited to the Maldives

Bernadette Cavanagh, the recently appointed High Commissioner of New Zealand accredited to the Maldives, presented her credentials to President Dr Mohamed Waheed in Male’ yesterday.

During their meeting, Dr Waheed discussed a number of issues with the commissioner, including recent political developments in the Maldives and the upcoming election scheduled for September, according to the President’s Office website.

The president also thanked the New Zealand government for assistance in strengthening the Maldives’ education sector.