Oceans new – Maldives’ first female boat captain

Aishath Rizna maneuvered Kurumba Maldives’ two tiered speed boat out of the Malé harbour with an expertise surprising for a young captain who’d just gotten her license.

We were sailing against the wind, but her command of the vessel rivaled that of any seasoned captain – a post traditionally held by men. Rizna is the Maldives’ first active female boat captain.

“I feel confident on a speed boat. It’s really cool,” the 24-year-old told us 15 minutes later at Kurumba Maldives’ café lounge. She is sun-tanned, clad in a blue shirt and white shorts.

Rizna, also known as Rizu, joined Kurumba at the Children’s club three years ago, but jumped at the chance to train as a boat captain after Kurumba fleet manager Shameem offered the opportunity.

“The fleet section is traditionally an all-male section. This is very inspirational for the management team,” said a beaming Jason Kruse, Kurumba’s General Manager.

Inspirational Family

Rizu draws inspiration from her family which she says has a history of strong, self-sufficient women – proudly describing her mother’s skills for electrical work and how her grandmother still climbs trees at the age of 67.

She had grown up swimming, fishing, and driving boats as a child on northern Funadhoo Island in Shaviyani Atoll, before moving to Malé for secondary education.

“My father is a fisherman while my mother is a housewife,” said Rizu as she sipped orange juice. “When I was small I used to go fishing with my father on a small boat.”

Rizu said that her family is very proud of her becoming the country’s first active female captain, especially mentioning her father, who is very happy about his daughter’s achievements, encouraging her to move forward.

While school bored her, she always enjoyed snorkeling, diving, water sports. For her, working at Kurumba – and combining captaincy and recreation – is now a “vacation, more than work”.

Journey to captaincy

“When Rizu came, she was very quiet and shy, but you can see her confidence build throughout and now, she leads her own crew,” said Jason.

Rizu described her journey to captaincy as one of difficulty – training for a few hours every day during her free time – while recounting her very first boat lesson in which she spent over two hours practicing how to bring the boat to a perfect stop.

“The first few days were very challenging,” she explained. “It was very difficult but I always thought next time I will do better.”

Along with the practical aspects of boating – acquired from experienced captains working in the Kurumba fleet, she also had to learn the national regulations on seafaring and navigational theory.

“The crew was very helpful. They do not get angry at me even if I make mistakes, but instead they would give me a couple of lessons on how to correct my mistake,” said Rizu of the all-male crew under her captaincy.

Speaking of Rizu’s achievements, fleet manager Shameem shows great pride: “This is something I thought I’d never see.”

Opportunity for women in hospitality

Meanwhile, Rizu rejected rumours regarding female employees in the tourism industry.

“Resort managements have very good rules and regulations and local employees are not allowed to do whatever they want,” she said.

“People think that local employees would start drinking or go the wrong way, but we are not allowed to do any such thing,” said Rizu. “Instead, there are plenty of recreational activities to keep us occupied.”

Jason also highlighted the importance of increasing the female ratio of Maldivian employees in resorts, saying that there is increasing demand from female Middle Eastern clients for all female services.

“We are trying to increase our Maldivian female ration in the resorts. It’s a certain area we are making some changes in order to encourage more Maldivian girls to join the resort.”

Jason shared ideas of developing an all female crew speed boat which would be able to take such clients on excursions where they could confidently enjoy the full Maldivian experience by disrobing before a swim.

He shared Kurumba management’s ethos of breaking boundaries by getting more females into the industry, while pointing out that the resort currently employs two local women as trainee chefs and that the spa department was also headed by a woman.

Heading out from the resort back to Malé, Rizu said that becoming a boat captain is just one step towards her ultimate dream: “travelling to every island in the Maldives in my own boat”.


Making tracks: The Maldives’ first female DJ

‘We don’t need a female Maldivian DJ,’ Angie recalls her first rejection from a local DJ agency.

“They didn’t even check how I played, if I was good or bad, nothing. Just the fact that I’m a female and Maldivian they could decide that they don’t want me.”

While the music scene in the Maldives is growing, for a young DJ wishing to enter the DJ circuit, the venues to play are still few and far between. Throw into the equation that you are the first female Maldivian DJ ever to formally graduate, and there are an entirely new set of hurdles to cross if you are to make your name.

“In 2008, I decided that this was what I wanted to do.” says 26 year-old Aminath Fazleena Abbas, also known as Angie. “Even when I did the course I didn’t realise that I was the only girl, I didn’t think that was possible.”

Angie is originally from Malé, the capital of the Maldives. After travelling abroad to study Electronic Music Production in Thailand, it wasn’t until her return that she realised she was the first woman in the Maldives to do so, she explained.

“I think it’s sad, ” she said. “I’m sure there are plenty of girls that have an interest, but due to the cultural and religious side of Maldives they are unable to do it.”

With no formal clubs in the capital, DJs often get work by playing on nearby islands – either on tourist resorts or at private parties. However, competition for these DJ slots are high – with a few agencies monopolising many of the contracts.

“When I first started in 2013 I didn’t have any contacts – no-one – so I just called resorts from the Visit Maldives group. Most of the answers were that ‘we didn’t need DJs in this resort because they had contracts with different organisations.’ ”

One such reply was particularly blunt: “They sent me a reply after a few weeks, ‘we don’t need a female Maldivian DJ’,” recalled Angie.

“That really demotivated me, since they were the main people. They didn’t even check how I played, if I was good or bad, nothing, just the fact that I’m a female and Maldivian they could decide that they don’t want me.”

“Once we join these organisations, more than 50 percent of what the resort pays go to the organisation, and the DJ gets payed 50 percent or less. So they really don’t like it when someone is around and they are doing it on their own – they want their people to go so they will get the money.”

After some time calling around and working hard, she landed a contract with a local agency and began playing gigs at a nearby resort. However, not everything has been easy since forming the new partnership.

“Normally the resort staff are really nice, it’s just the organisers – people who are fighting for the money. They want to know – is this oriented for them?”

“The pay differs, mostly US$200/300 per night, but when you come to 3-star it will be like US$100. I have once gone to a resort, and I got payed US$75. But since I was new – since I didn’t have experience – I didn’t know any better. I took the money, I just wanted the experience.”

Not only was there an issue with the pay, Angie continued, but also the music had to be compromised in order to land gigs with certain resorts.

“I like to play deep house, minimal, trance, techno, dub,” Angie explains, “But you can’t do it here in the Maldives, because you can’t get places to play.”

“When I did the New Year 2013 gig, I mixed up music that I preferred into it, and it didn’t turn out well. Most of the resorts don’t want that. Because for those who don’t like this kind of music they don’t want to hear it – they want to hear the old – really old – retro kind of music.”

“That was the first time I realised, ‘okay, I have to change to play what they want me to play’. So I did that at first – but now I don’t want to do that anymore, because I can find – though very few – resorts where I can play deep house and I can keep to the range of genres that I like.”

The opportunity for local DJs to play music they are passionate about often comes at parties organised on private islands.

“There are private islands, there I can play deep house, tech house, minimal. They are not looking for people to come and dance, they want good music in the bar at night, so I love that place because I can play the kind of music I want to play.”

Local festivals also provide a place for Angie to play her preferred genres of deep house and minimal. O.T.U.M, Angie explains, is a two-day festival set up by a collective of local DJs and artists called The Underground Movement.

According to the Underground Movement’s statement, “It is important to appreciate that the motive behind such a series of gatherings goes beyond mere merry-making and the fulfillment of a badly neglected need for entertainment.”

Set on a nearby local island, this two-stage festival gives local acts the chance to play to a crowd just for the love of music, without seeking a huge profit.

Angie will be playing at the pioneering festival alongside an eclectic line-up of DJs, with some travelling from Sri Lanka and India, and representing the cutting edge Maldivian dance music scene.

“Let’s say it [the music scene] is getting better, slowly,” says Angie. “Slowly, but it’s happening now.”


Young Indian teacher hospitalised in “very serious condition” after alleged rape

A young Indian teacher working on the island of Dhangethi in Alif Dhaal Atoll has been hospitalised after a group of people broke into her home on Sunday night and allegedly raped her.

The 25 year-old woman is in a “very serious condition” following the attack, said the Island Council President Azim Adam.

“They broke in [to her house] around 2:15am. I came to know about it at 4:00am and I instantly reported it to the police. The girl is now in the atoll hospital in a very serious condition,” Adam said.

A source close to the victim said she was in the hospital’s intensive care unit but was “bleeding uncontrollably.”

“We have put seven pints of blood into her but she is still bleeding. It is a very serious issue. We are planning to send her to India, there is not much more we are able to do here,” the source said, adding that her brother had arrived in the Maldives and was on the island.

The Indian High Commission in the capital Male’ said it had been informed of the incident and had received the woman’s details from the police.

Maldives Police Service (MPS) Spokesperson Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef said specialist teams were investigating the incident. He could not confirm whether any arrests had been made, but said further details would be released to the media at a later stage.

Local media reported that the woman was teaching a private computer course on the island.

Island Council President Adam said the young woman had been working on the island for less than a month, and described her as a “very kind person who was very friendly towards the local islanders”.

Dhangethi is the third largest populated island of Alif Dhaal Atoll, with a population of around 1200 people.

An official from the Indian High Commission noted that a similar case had occurred in 2011 involving an Indian nurse working on an island in the Maldives.

“I told the police that [in 2011] there was a rape case like this whereby a nurse was raped on one of the islands. However in that instance all of the suspects were later acquitted in court,” the official added.


Male’s day of protests: Islam and women key themes

Hundreds of women marched across the Maldives’ capital Male’ in support of deposed President Mohamed Nasheed, before joining the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally near the tsunami monument in its call for early elections.

Meanwhile just several hundred metres up the road at the artificial beach, thousands more pro-government supporters showed up to demonstrate their support for President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

Artificial Beach and Tsunami monument – both key venues for political gatherings – are situated on Boduthakurufaanu Magu [eastern coast of Male’].

Both rallies began at 4:00pm on Male’s and proceeded peacefully with speeches from key members, while the MDP women’s march, “Women’s rally for justice” kicked off from the Social Centre of the other side of the city at 4.30pm.

Minivan News observed many people walking between both rallies and taking pictures, as the sounds of both crowds overlapped. Only a few policemen were seen maintaining the traffic and security.

Though specific numbers on each side were difficult to ascertain, at its beginning the pro-government crowd waving national flags and banners seemed larger with around 5000 supporters – while the MDP rally slowly grew and eventually dominated as more marchers in yellow joined the rally, raising the numbers to perhaps 8,000 at the peak of the demonstrations.

At the time of press, both rallies continued.

“Maldivian women will bring down Tyrant Waheed”

Women's ready for march at Social Center

Maldivian women of all ages, dressed mostly in yellow and waved yellow flags and banners bearing slogans including – “Where is my vote?”, “We demand Justice”, “Say no to Waheed”, “We demand a date for election” and “Let Democracy rule” – marched from main road, Majeedhee Magu and took couple of careful turns to reach the MDP rally without a confrontation with pro-government supporters near Artificial Beach.

In the front row, former MDP Chairperson Mariya Ahmed Didi, former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed and former Tourism Minister Mariyam Zulfa led the female Marchers that stretched nearly 20 meters.

Dozens of men also joined the march, while several others followed the march on motor bikes and cars, as eager onlookers watched and took pictures from the buildings.

Throughout the walk, the women chanted: “Tyrant Waheed, Resign” – a reference to the accusations that Waheed, then- Vice President was complicit in what MDP calls a bloodless coup to force his predecessor, Nasheed out of office.

Speaking to Minivan News, a 34 year old mother of three who came to Male’ from Addu to join the march said that “I did not vote for Waheed, I voted for Anni [Nasheed].”

“We, the women, will show Waheed that he can’t play with our country. Tyrant Waheed has no right to depose the president we voted for,” the woman added, holding a banner that said “We want an elected leader”.

As the female marchers arrived at the tsunami monument they were welcomed fervently by Nasheed and his supporters.

MDP rally near Tsunami monument

Addressing the crowd on the mounted podium, Mariya called out emphatically that “Maldivian women will bring down Tyrant Waheed”.

“The only woman who will stand with Waheed is Ilham [Waheed’s wife and first lady],” she further claimed.

Referring to the brutal crackdown of MDP’s peaceful March on February 8, where women and old were seen beaten by the police, Mariya warned : “Now come with your shields to beat us. But, remember, if you hit even one woman, that is represents a strike on all Maldivian women.”

Nasheed also made a brief speech in which he praised the strength of the women who joined the rally and called out, “Congratulations, Maldivian Women!”

Nasheed further stressed, “Maldivian people want an elected leader, people want early elections”.

Allah’s will”

Aerial shot of the pro government rally

At the protest at the artificial beach up the road, men and women were segregated and gathered to hear Dr Waheed give his first open air speech at a political demonstration as President.

Dr Waheed made an emphatic speech in which he claimed the “people inflicting chaos are real traitors and enemies of the nation”.

“We will not let anyone inflict unrest and violence. Anyone who loves this nation will not torch public property. We will defend this nation with the last drop of our blood. We are not scared to die for this cause,” Waheed said. “Be strong. We will not back down an inch.”

Reiterating that the change of power was not a coup, Waheed claimed, “Today this change has happened because it is the will of Allah to protect Islam and peace of this nation”.

He added that it was every government’s responsibility to provide education and housing for its people, and said he would fulfill those responsibilities.

Surprised observers noted that Dr Waheed, normally of a calm and softly spoken demeanor, spoke loudly and emphatically with a touch of anger.

Meanwhile,in an audio recording broadcast at the rally, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom pledged that the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) would cooperate with Waheed, and congratulated the MDP for joining the all party talks.

“The day the Maldives embraced Islam is the most important day in the history of our country. History proves the introduction of any other religion in this nation could endanger our sovereignty,” Gayoom added.

Further, several speakers from various religious and political parties in Dr Waheed’s national unity government exhibited their support for coalition government and refusal to hold early elections. The crowds waving national flags and banners bearing  slogans including “Maldivians in defense of Islam”, “Maldivians united against corruption”, “Support Dr Waheed for peace and Islam” and “No early elections” hailed “Long live Waheed”.

MDP women’s march:


Body found on shore of Hudhuranfushi may belong to missing Japanese woman

A decomposing female body has been found on the shore of the Adhaaran Hudhuranfushi resort, a week after a 29 year-old Japanese tourist and her 37 year-old husband were reported missing from the property.

A staff member at Hudhuranfushi confirmed that the body found was female, but was unable to confirm whether it belonged to the missing Japanese woman.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that the body had yet to be formally identified and appeared to have been in the water for several days.

‘’The body is too decomposed for us to identify it, but it is clear that it was in the water for a couple of days,’’ Shiyam said. “We are currently running DNA tests, and will get whatever information we can from the results.”

Shiyam said that apart from the missing couple, there had been no other reports of missing persons in the area.

In a statement, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) said that the resort’s management notified the authorities after noticing the that the couple had been absent for two consecutive meals. The couple were staying in a water villa, the MNDF stated.

“The management team went searching for the couple in their room, but the ‘Do Not Disturb’ board was displayed so they did not open the door. But after there was still no sign of the couple later, the management opened their room they found that they were not inside,’’ the MNDF said.

Police and MNDF were called around 8:40 pm on August 17.

MNDF officers have snorkeled around the island and searched the area using Maldivian Air Taxi (MAT) and Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) seaplanes searching for the missing bodies since the report was filed.

Shiyam told Minivan News that “accidents may happen, but we don’t feel that there is anything to be concerned about with resort safety. We don’t feel the disappearance of the Japanese couple reflects on the resort’s safety procedures.”

Two weeks ago Minivan News reported on a British couple found dead following a quad bike accident on Kuredu Island Resort. Emma and Jonathan Gray had been married just seven days before the accident, when the quad bike they were riding on as passengers collided with a tree on the island. The driver, subsequently identified as Filip Petre, the son of a Kuredu resort shareholder, was seriously injured in the accident.


Maldives celebrates International Women’s Day

The Maldives celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day yesterday evening at a function jointly organised by the UNFPA and NGO Thirees Nuvaeh.

Speakers included the country’s first female MP and former Health Minister Aneesa Ahmed, serving MP Eva Abdulla, Sheikh Mohamed Qubadh Abubakru and Savithri Goonesekara, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka.

UNFPA Country Lene Christiansen observed that women in the Maldives carried a lot of responsibility, with the country having of the highest ratios of female-led households in the world at 47 percent. Half of the time this was due to migration of the spouse for work, and in one in six cases, because of the divorce or death of the spouse, she explained.

However female unemployment was three times higher than for men, she noted, and had a mere six percent representation in parliament. In addition, a third of women aged 15-49 had reported suffering physical or sexual violence.

Christiansen also noted the rising practice of home schooling of girls, “which denies them access to the school system including higher level education, and restricts other opportunities in life.”

“The constitution upholds gender equality and non discrimination, but in reality women are disadvantaged and cannot participate in economic and political activities,” she said.

Civil society had a crucial role to play as “a watchdog” for women’s rights, and in ensuring that politicians were held accountable to the female half of their constituencies.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla claimed that the Maldives’ newfound freedom of expression, which many women had fought for, was now being misused “to attack and demean women in the name of religion.”

Instead, Abdulla said, “Islam is the religion that taught us to respect our mothers and our women above all else.”

“We have been reluctant to address this issue head on. Women have been under constant attack for two years and we have not been able to counter it – we simply don’t have confidence [do to so],” she said.

Equality was, she said, about ensuring women had equal access to opportunity – something that had not happened despite the efforts of women to bring about democracy and human rights in the Maldives.

“A lot of women were involved in the last five years of the democratic movement,” Abdulla said, “but [afterwards], men inherited all the jobs.”

In her speech, Goonesekara emphasised that “women in the West had to fight for aspirations for equal life chances and for their rights a century ago. They struggled for the right to vote, to work, and for safe and fair conditions of work and employment.”

The origin of women’s day stemmed from working women, she said, who united after a fire in a US garment factory at the turn of the 20th century that killed 146 women.

“We have to remind ourselves that we are members of the international community,” she said, “and sometimes in our countries our own traditions and governance are seen as something different from those of the international community. But we live in a connected world and are bound by principles of the UN charter on human rights.”

“Equality,” she said, “is a much misunderstood word, but it is precisely about giving women equal life chances and sharing the world with men.”

The event concluded with entertainment including Boduberu/Dhigudhandi by Villigili and Hura Groups, Dhivehi Peoms, Bandhi, Raivaru, and Buzura Dance.