Comment: Underground music scene leads growing youth movement

When I first wrote this article, I introduced my topic explaining that the new MDP government were in the tricky process of negotiating outside influences on the Maldivian population, whilst maintaining their own cultural heritage.

Now, when I come back to update my article I find that the disarray, brutality and suspicious circumstances with which the MDP has renounced its position leaves me lost for words. This short article cannot cover such a controversial and unexpected set of events.

Instead I want to reflect upon my experiences of the Maldives last summer: on my teaching placement with Salaam School, as well as my impressions of the youth movement in Male’, which at the time seemed to be blossoming -albeit in its infancy. I hope to bring to attention of the readers the importance of a creative outlet in the development of a young society, and the passion and virtue I witnessed in the growing Maldivian youth movement.

My experience of the Maldives comes from working under Salaam School; a charity funded ‘mobile’ school, which toured the islands of the Maldives offering pop-up classes in vocational training to unemployed young people. The courses were a great success, and sought to educate youth and strengthen communities.

Salaam School was founded in Male, the Maldives in 1999 by Maldivian local Aminath Arif; an inspirational woman who advocated equal rights to education, she was a mentor to the young generation of the Maldives. I had the honour of teaching a two month course in ‘Computer Administration and Book Keeping’ over the summer of 2011. Unfortunately, I arrived in Male’ too late to meet Aminath, and ultimately, the death of Aminath Arif was the death of Salaam School.

The loss is something which I believe is still felt across the Maldives. Aminath Arif died in a tragic accident on July 8, 2011, and without her management in Salaam School, its courses inevitably ran dry. Without her leadership, none have successfully taken control of the school with the integrity it requires.

In order to understand Salaam School and its intentions better, it helps to look a little at the history, and the trouble that Aminath found when launching the school. When I arrived to teach, Salaam School had been aimed at teaching ICT and the leisure industry, however, Aminath’s original vision for the school was a creative-based education, focusing on music, language and art as a means of tapping creative potential and encouraging freedom of expression. Aminath’s essay, ‘The Maldives Must Value the Arts Education’, written in 2010, can be found on Minivan News, and articulates her struggles when first opening the Salaam School. Aminath writes:

New Maldivian artists, new forms of art and new opportunities developed to a peak in the early 90s and slowly started receding because as the Maldives entered the era of the nineties, political control on whatever brought people together was held in check.”

Then returned the Islamic-educated ‘scholars’, adamant to put a stop to all forms of performing arts and visual images.

Both the intentions, one for political purpose and the other to spread the new messages of Islam, coincided perfectly, brutally fragmenting and replacing the hopes of the Maldivians with confusion, fear and disconnection within themselves, within families and within communities.

In order to contest the growing control over artistic expression and community collaboration, Aminath attempted to set up Salaam School. Unfortunately, Salaam school was never able to reach the goal of becoming a fully fledged arts school, and had to change its primary focus in order to get funding. Now, fast-forwarding to today, the course I taught on the small island of Thimarafushi was the last of its kind. It was a hollow victory to conduct my final exams and leave the small island to return to the capital of Male’, knowing that Aminath was no longer campaigning for the intellectual and creative liberation of the youth of the Maldives.

The fight for liberation is now bestowed upon the new generation. In Male’, the underground music scene is bubbling away under the surface of the city. Live music is an outlet for countless young men and women, who attend secret gigs in various locations across the capital. Heavy metal is one of the newest genres to take off; its loyal fan base spreads the news of upcoming gigs to peers by word of mouth. Recording studios, too, are hidden in garages and outhouses around Male’. Small music shops are popping up on the streets, boasting a whole range of Maldivian and Western instruments.

As well as music, the surfing culture has been growing rapidly. Surfers Against Sewage are cleaning up the beaches, and post hand-made signs along the coast campaigning against litter. Many DJs are hoping to combine surfing and music by holding surfer’s parties, where young people go to socialise and collaborate. Music, as Aminath rightly pointed out, unifies all of these young people and offers solidarity in a climate which seeks to isolate.

Unsurprisingly, the police crack down on any live music or DJs, and they quickly cut off any live music or parties. However, the police’s intolerance to music does not deter the next generation. They are on a path towards a conscientious future: the values underpinning the youth movement are an inspirational mix of heritage, community and environment. Over the next few years, the youth movement will be gathering momentum, and hopefully the authorities will not be able to catch up with them.

I hope to demonstrate that the Maldives would benefit from more charities, like Salaam School, which seek to facilitate a creative outlet for the next generation in the Maldives. The creativity which is burning inside of every young person needs to be praised and encouraged. Without a doubt, the next generation in the Maldives are environmentally and politically engaged. Their efforts to clean up the shores, campaign for democracy and collaborate with their peers demands attention, approbation and encouragement.

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]


Comment: Disempowered women in Maldivian society

I looked at the women outside the Family Court. Some women were pregnant, some were already young mothers. More women came and went, many with an expression either of frustration, desperation, depression, or anger.

Some were fighting to be divorced, some were being divorced, but most of them were fighting for the rights of their children for the maintenance money from their father.

‘Maintenance money’ sounds technical and cold. It is money that children need from their fathers for their basic needs to be met. The Maldivian divorce regulation grants a child Rf 300 (US$23) per month from the father thus turning them into a financial burden for their single parent mothers (or guardian), and a long term social burden of yet another dispensed and ignored sector of the Maldivian society.

How far are the women responsible for the situation they are in?

How educated were they and what opportunities did they forego to abide by traditional and conservative but widely accepted norms in the Maldivian society?

How influenced were they by the cultural beliefs, the religious preaching and their family politics and upbringing? How young were these women when they committed themselves to marriages that left them with one child or more and no husband or male relative to take care of them?

How well informed were they to the rights given to them by their religion?

How misled were they to believe their role was only in the family, to serve their husbands at any time and any moment?

How did they differentiate between their obligations and what they understood as “duties” to the marriage?

What are the stories of these women? Where do they stand in the Maldivian society? What do they know of their constitutional and human rights?

Hundreds of questions raced my mind but I realised how irrelevant all these questions were. The bottom line is these women were powerless and left alone with children with no financial support fighting bitterly a losing battle in a system that was rigid, unjust and refusing to acknowledge the importance of women’s welfare to the betterment of the country.

While Maldives is under pressure to mainstream gender issues, the onslaught of conservative religious preachers is confining more and more women to the four walls of their homes.

Within this isolation, women succumb to a resigned lifestyle removing them from social and professional live, stripping them of their self worth and self confidence over time. It hits hard when the husband starts an extra-marital affair and soon deserts his prime family to start another life with the new woman. In many instances, family and friends joins the deserting husband to re-instate that the man left the woman for reasons such as failing to fulfill the needs of the man, further victimising the woman. Left alone and without love and care, the blamed woman has no one to turn to, within her family or otherwise.

Islam preaches that a divorced woman returns to her father or the eldest brother. Islam, serving to protect the child also expects the Muslim man to provide generously for the child to ensure that the child maintains the highest standard of life as afforded for the father himself.

The truth is the divorced woman’s father has grown too old to care for the divorced daughter and her children; the brother has started his own family (or two families) and is struggling to make ends meet.

Islam gives the men double inheritance to carry these responsibilities. In many instances, divorced women cannot leave the home of her ex-husband because she has nowhere to go. There are many women who continue to stay in the house of the ex-husband, and the divorced couple fall into a pattern of living together without renewing the marriage. On the other hand, it is not always convenient for the man to have his divorced wife living in his house anymore.

While the law on inheritance is unfailingly respected, and men inherit generously, the Maldivian man and the Maldivian courts fail miserably in their religious responsibilities and accountability. The behavior of men and the system is highly secularised when it comes to sharing resources, rights and power with women.

Recently I met a Maldivian lady. She was the typical contemporary Maldivian woman abiding by the social norms, highly defined in her clothing. She stays home looking after three children from a husband who is not home any more. Instead of talking about herself, she spoke about her friend and neighbor. The woman (her friend) had three children and a relationship with a man who supports her financially. He is very good to her and has even built two rooms for her and her children. But he will not marry her.

Women, who are powerless and have not financial independence, slide down on the social scale. They are dependent on men who give them the support that they do not have from relatives and ex-husbands. They succumb to settling down in relationships that are compromised. Fingers point at them for being loose (prostituting) and living in sin.

Here is the difference between choice and compulsion. This situation is created by the Maldivian society. Who is responsible for this increasing issue?

Defining the powerless woman

The powerless women are those who deny their own needs of physical, spiritual and psychological development, do not seek financial independence and do not accept the responsibility of their own well-being. Their financial dependence is self construed and often subject to tribal influences. The powerless women are fearful of stepping out of their familiar disempowering environment; are emotionally dependent, fearful of the unknown; the terror of dislocation and disconnection; scared of predators; devalue themselves; behave like second class citizens; panic about responsibility for their children’s under-performance, and fear of being unable to spare their children from suffering.

Unable to escape their circumstance; insecure about their own role in her life and lastly, refusing to claim their constitutional rights and use whatever structural, institutional or regulatory tools that are available for her to fight for herself.

Powerless women weighs down the social and economical growth of Maldives. Women are poorer than men, carry family responsibilities of children’s upbringing irrespective of the circumstance, and make up half of the Maldivian population. Women head 47 percent of households either as single (when husband remarries or leaves the island to work somewhere else) or divorced parent. The social cost of the disempowered women is high leaving aside reasons of equity and social justice.

The direct consequence of domestic violence results in a crippled workforce and loss of income for both the employer and employee. Disempowered women are vulnerable to manipulation both at home, at workplace and in the society, subject to enforced sex, dependability for her basic material needs and that of her children, mentally and physically unhealthy, more disconnected and therefore less maternal and susceptible to bad parenting.

Confronting the powerlessness and becoming empowered

I glanced back at the women as I left the premises. The common factor that would empower these women was financial independence.

The Maldivian woman must stop curtailing her future when a man enters her life. Women must get informed of their religious and political rights without compromising their individuality and right to a dignified living. Women must become active either professionally or enterprisingly. Women must keep their dreams and not expect someone else to fulfill them. Women must learn to create balance between home and public life.

A financially empowered woman achieves complete independence from socially determined practices. She is able to afford healthcare, education, provide for basic needs and protect and nurture herself and her needs.

Confronting disempowerment and transforming to empowerment must happen at various levels. There is personal development which means assessing personal behaviors, beliefs and expectations, confronting pains and fears, and taking action that empowers. The want and the willingness to be empowered and not to live in the losing circumstance is with the Woman and lies in physical, economic, political and spiritual empowerment.

Who can support women’s empowerment?

Women as mothers and nurturers of the family play a fundamental role in determining the future of their children. Today children grow up in gender defined roles. Mothers must define what they want for their daughters. Influencing and empowering both boys and girls and streamline their thinking to grow up into powerful people, where respect, fairness, sharing responsibility, being accountable and financially independent lies with Mothers who spend most of their time with her children. This is a first step.

Restrictive activities such as motions against women’s participation in various spheres must be stopped. Active inclusion of women through quotas set within a period till women’s participation becomes accepted must be introduced. The political and the diplomatic institutions must assign positions and work to women like they assign it to men. Political parties must stop paying lip service and decorating their windows with women’s chapters. Women in the parties have expressed that although they put selected women for the front-lines of the local council elections, they were not supported like their male counterparts. Many expressed disappointment at the way women in politics were labeled when they ran for office as compared to men who had lifelong records of misconduct.

Compliance laws on polygamy, divorces, child care and alimony, inheritance (including full representation of underage girls and orphan children), compensation and so forth must be covered with civil laws to ensure women are protected and fairly compensated in proportion to what the husband has been able to accumulate in wealth and earning during the marriage.

Women must be educated about “Rung” (customary price money before the marriage), its definition, purpose and the options including what a woman can ask for and under what conditions it must be paid/returned by the man or the woman. Withholding information is a deliberate act of abuse by the state and religious authorities, and women have been misinformed for decades.

Finally it comes down to women to take the leap. The first step lies with women to break through their own glass ceilings. The encouraging factor is some women have done it and so can all others if they will stop the self-fulfilling prophecy of “I can’t make it”.

The perspectives are good and women must capitalise on the opportunities. Each Ministry has a gender focal point. Making them answerable in their roles is something women must do. If you do not want to stay outside the Family Court, begging for child maintenance through a male dominant justice system, live off men, succumb to enforced sex and domestic violence, provide for your children and be healthy mentally and physically, then be truthful to yourself and start earning your own money.

Through individual commitment and participation in formalised groups, women must lobby for changes not compromising the essence of being the woman.

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]


Government failing female entrepreneurship test: Aminath Arif

Despite government pledges to ensure all woman across the country are being given basic support and education, one award-winning female entrepreneur believes that the Maldives currently provides little assistance for educated women hoping to own a business or pursue career development.

Aminath Arif, founder of a vocational training and community development group for young people called Salaam School, told Minivan News that she believed the government is on one hand very committed to grass root education to allow women to provide for themselves on a basic level. However, she added, efforts towards encouraging women to establish businesses of their own and become entrepreneurs were very limited.

Arif last month received a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Women Entrepreneurs Excellence Award for her work in trying to provide training for women and young people across the country’s secluded islands and atolls.

The awards were handed out as part of an exhibition outlining the work of SAARC’s Women’s Entrepreneur Council that represents female business from across the 12 states that make up the association’s membership; such as the Maldives, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.

Arif was one of 12 women to receive the award at the ceremony at the Taj Coromandel in Chennai, in recognition of her “significant contribution to women and youth [and] her initiative in establishing an institute that reaches nationwide, and  her innovative approach to address a very challenging issue.”

Annisul Huq, President for the SAARC’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, addressed attendees during the award ceremony and exhibition, calling for greater government focus on empowering more women to become entrepreneurs in South Asia.

Arif told Minivan News that in the Maldives, women face a unique set of challenges pursuing business ambitions, preventing them from competing equally with male entrepreneurs who are institutionally-favoured by current regulation.

“We live in a very male environment,” she said. “Most women are resigned to it.”

Arif conceded that it was important to accept that a number of Maldivian men are also being marginalised in the hunt for skills and employment within the country, particularly on some islands where young people are provided with limited opportunities upon leaving school.

This lack of opportunities was seen by the Salaam School founder as being a major contributor to a sense of restlessness and lack of self confidence in some individuals. Beyond these shared challenges though, she claimed that women face additional difficulties and stigmas related solely to their gender rather than financial or business acumen.

One particular example, Arif said, were board meetings.

“When a woman sits across a table, she can face attitudes from male colleagues or peers that are difficult to overcome even with a solid business plan,” she explained.

Citing banks as another example of the challenges faced, she claimed that both male and female bank workers had a tendency to look less-favourably on a female business person looking for loans or financial support, solely on the issue of gender and societal attitudes.

In order to try and overcome potential challenges of gender discrimination in business, a step-by-step approach was needed to help encourage a greater entrepreneurial spirit in Maldivian women, Arif suggested.

Arif said that Salaam School was offering vocational certification to women in areas such as office and administration skills, in the hope that females can work closer to home and both support family and develop careers of their own. These skills are increasingly being offered among training in areas such as hospitality and literacy.

The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) suggested that in its experience, it did not believe it was women, but rather small and medium businesses as a whole, that were being the hardest hit in the current national finance market.

“We are not going to differentiate between genders in business,” said a spokesperson for the chamber, who asked not to be identified.

With five of its 18 board members represented by women in fields such as resort ownership, the MNCCI said that its primary concern for its members was in trying to keep small and medium enterprises competitive against larger groups that hold  more extensive resources and funding.

In the current market, the spokesperson claimed that business legislation in the Maldives was failing to differentiate between larger and more modestly-earning companies.

Offsetting societal concerns about women being at a disadvantage in the business world, the chamber spokesperson claimed that the commercialised banks within the Maldives looked towards “low risk investments” as a guiding principal.

The MNCCI said it believed therefore that banking groups in the Maldives looked solely for good collateral on loans rather than at specific genders to inform their decisions on business.


Comment: Self-awareness and spirituality sustains a society

Self-awareness and spiritual empowerment hold the key to freedom and raising the status of people in a society.

Education and economic independence, and financial security no doubt, do impart self-confidence to a person. However if the person is not well equipped with self-awareness and spiritual power within oneself, it is difficult to sustain the confidence that comes with a good education and a good job.

That is the reason why it is not uncommon to find well qualified and well educated men and women, holding powerful jobs weakening and losing their self esteem when faced with a difficult situation in personal or professional life.

That is why we find executive managers, top government officials, members of parliament and other such people who should be role models for our society not demonstrating a constant code of standards, behavior and values.

What is spiritual empowerment?

Spiritual empowerment is not about religious rituals, robes, ceremonies and practices. Spirituality is about awakening the ‘consciousness’ that we all humans have been gifted with. It is the consciousness to recognise the ‘truth’ about self, about relationship of self with the people and nature around. This consciousness helps you to understand and become aware of ourselves and all things that have an impact on your well-being and our inner peace and happiness.

This awareness is empowering because it is the beginning of taking care of your own self as well as understanding others in a better way. Only when you know who you really are and what you really want for your ultimate happiness can you begin to make choices consciously to create realities that result in your happy self. And only then you begin to appreciate the need of others to be happy.

Awakening the consciousness

Your minds are conditioned by the educational system, traditional parenting, religious preaching, and other good-willed people around you to think in the way that conforms to the norms of the society and the prevailing system.

This does not necessarily have to do with ‘spirituality or the needs of the soul’. This conditioning does not get you in touch with your ‘self’. The further you are from your ‘inner truth’ or your ‘true self’, the more powerless you become. You are more vulnerable to exploitation and all the things that can erode your self confidence and self esteem.

Ideally the process must begin at an early age. Values that are primary to building strong and powerful personalities need to be part of family and educational systems.

Personal and social change is a continuous process and so is empowerment. Educational systems that do not provide for developing courage and attitude to rise above social and personal hurdles need to be scraped out rethought and restructured to make the best use of the learning years of a student, so that they can gain a sound mental and spiritual foundation that will enable them to become adults who are economically independent, contribute to the society and service humanity.

The behavior of the empowered person

Empowered people act out of choice. They have a belief system not conditioned by the messages received in the past but based on their wants, choices and values. They align their thoughts, words and actions and do not waste time in criticism and judgment. They create harmonic environments, respect individuality and values diversity is accountable and proactive and implements their activity in a safe way.

Strategies for empowerment, transformation or change lie in values, beliefs and rules. Unless you are willing to analyse, reflect and change any of these strategies (those that do not support the life you love) there will be no change. The tools that support you to change are your thoughts words and actions – a manifestation of your beliefs, values and rules.

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]