Coup silenced the Maldives’ voice on climate change, says Voice of Women founder

Thilmeeza Hussain, founder of the Maldivian NGO Voice of Women – an organization addressing the issues of women and climate change, spoke with Between The Lines at the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit held last month in New York.

Thilmeeza discussed the role of democracy in asserting leadership on the critical issues of climate change.

“From what has happened in the past five years, it is very clear to us, because when President Nasheed came to office in 2008 and we had a democratic election, our country was able to talk in the international platforms with a voice much louder and stronger than ever before, and though we were such a small country we were able to fight on issues, bring international attention to the plight of the Maldivians and other small island states on the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation and what our people had been suffering,” she said.

“And we were able to do that because we had a democracy, so we are able to speak with moral authority because we had that platform. We were a country representing people’s voice. But once we had the coup, the voice of the Maldivian people in the international platform were just silent, dead.

For the past two years, in none of the environmental negotiations, or even anywhere else, you haven’t heard Maldivians talking about environmental issues or issues that are important, issues that are necessary for our survival because the government that is in place, which is led by the leader who led the coup, is not able to go and speak with that moral authority in international platforms any more.”

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Past and current presidents call for national rethink on gender rights

Former and current presidents of the Maldives have highlighted the importance of gender equality to national development on the occasion of International World Women’s Day on March 8.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, as well as former Presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, have all spoken during the last two days on the importance of addressing gender related issues in the Maldives in areas such as domestic abuse and education.

The comments have been made as local independent institutions and civil society groups have alleged that the country has seen a regression in the rights of women and minors in recent years.

Local NGO Voice of Women, which claims to work as an umbrella group supporting other female-focused organisations in the Maldives, said that despite increased participation of women in political activities, there had been a perceived regression in the rights of females and children during the last year.

“The institutions in place to protect them have instead targeted them directly or let them down passively due to inaction,” read a statement by the NGO.

“Experience shows that countries cannot build a true democracy without the full and unhindered participation of fifty percent of our population; today we take the opportunity to recognize the courage and valiantness of the Maldivian women who are fighting against all odds and often times against the most harsh discrimination without taking a single step back, pressing for political reform and to establish a fair democracy in the country.”

The NGO’s statement was particularly critical of the treatment of women under the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, which in recent months has pledged to review laws that it claims have previously victimised women and minors who are victims of sexual abuse.

“The government is unable to destroy the unwavering spirit and determination of the Maldivian women who are confronted with batons, kicked with boots, handcuffed, stomped with shields, pepper sprayed directly into the eyes, and water cannoned while peacefully protesting on the streets or jailed without charges, sexually abused and humiliated while in custody; these heroic women continue to fight for their rights, rights of their children, rights of their children’s children,” the Voice for Women statement claimed.

“They continue to fight for the freedom of their country, for justice, for peace and for democracy.”

Back in April last year, parliament passed the Domestic Violence Bill with broad cross party support as part of efforts to provide a legal framework to protect victims from domestic abuse through protective orders and improved monitoring mechanisms.

In a statement released yesterday addressing the rights of females, President Waheed delivered his best wishes to all women in the Maldives.

“The International Women’s Day is being marked to reflect on the status of women, assess their empowerment, advocate for greater opportunities for women to progress, and seek the support for all for those ends,” read a President’s Office statement.

“It is a high priority of the Maldivian government to support efforts in attaining gender equality in the society. The President highlighted women’s increasing contribution to national development. The increase in women’s contributions to and participation in the development of the country showed the change in the outlook of the people on gender related issues.”

Former presidents speak

Speaking Thursday (March 7) ahead of International Women’s Day, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said that under Islam, men and women were considered equal. He therefore requested an end to the practice of gender discrimination, particularly in obtaining education.

Local newspaper Haveeru quoted Gayoom, who is currently the president of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), as saying that some Maldivian females continued to be denied the opportunity to undertake higher education by their families.

He claimed that “misguided religious beliefs” were often behind such gender discrimination.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed was quoted in local media yesterday as calling for a change in how Maldivian men perceived women in general.

According to the Sun Online news agency, Nasheed told Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters gathered at the Dharubaaruge convention centre in Male’ that greater efforts needed to be made in empowering women “in all areas”.

“Not just because of efforts made by a gender ministry, but through transport ministry as well as health ministry as well as education ministry. We need to incorporate women into our main policies,” he was reported to have said.

Nasheed also called for new methods of protecting women against abuse during his address.

“Conservative” attitudes

Despite the calls of some of the nation’s most senior political figures, a recent national study found support for women’s equality was found to have experienced a “significant drop” despite overall progress in improving the human rights situation nationally.

The conclusions were made in the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM’s) second baseline survey on behaviours and attitudes regarding human rights in the Maldives, which was published December 10, 2012.

Male attitudes have become “more conservative” regarding women’s rights issues, whereas female views have become more supportive of rights in some areas, was one of the conclusions raised in the The ‘Rights’ Side of Life” [report].