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Voice of women engaging in the informal economy

Ahmed Aiham
09 March 2020, MVT 09:21
A woman engaging in the process of 'Fangi Vinun' or thatch weaving. PHOTO: UTHEMA
Ahmed Aiham
09 March 2020, MVT 09:21

Local women's rights NGO Uthema Maldives on Friday noted that not all have benefited from the efforts to bridge disparities within economic classes and shed light on the informal economy of the Haa Dhaalu Atoll.

An informal economy is part of a financial system that remains unreported or taxed. Often cited as unmanageable, the informal sector is crucial for low-income households.

UTHEMA visited Kulhudhuffushi to collect stories of Women at Work. VIDEO: UTHEMA

'Bonbi Naru' (Coir Rope) - Kulhudhuffushi

The women of Kulhudhuffushi are famous for their coir ropes. However, with the recent development of an international airport over the island's signifcant mangrove wetland, labourers iterated that, due to the reduced usable wetland for the rope's production, people are now using old wells and saltwater-filled washing machines to treat the coir.

"These are legal and skilled work done with 100 percent local resources", said Uthema, adding that the informal sector or the grey economy was mostly employed by women.

'Hedhikaa' (Short eats) - Kulhudhuffushi

During Uthema's visit, the organization found various challenges for households engaging in the traditional 'Hedhikaa' business, including the hike in food prices.

During the year-end holidays, usually the peak season for boys to get circumcised, such families tend to make roughly 7,000 short eats on a daily basis. Depending on the amount of commissions, the women tend to pocket MVR 4,000 each month, an amount they claim is inadequate considering the work they do.

A particular family that Uthema met during their visit to the island said they found difficulties in adjusting prices due to a saturated marketplace.

'Rihaakuru' (Fish paste) - Nolhivaranfaru

A local delicacy for most Maldivians, 'Rihaakuru' is produced by slow-boiling 'Garudhiya' (Fish broth) for up to a few days, until it reduces into a thick dark brown paste.

Often cooked using firewood stoves and on open areas of the island, manufacturers on the island of Nolhivaranfaru noted complaints from the Island Councillors.

A typical jar of Rihaakuru sells for MVR 300 (roughly USD 20) and is supplied to corner shops and exported to other islands.

According to the research paper 'Chemistry and microbiology of traditional Rihaakuru from the Maldives', the fish paste was found to be rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids such as Omega-3 and has a high protein content of roughly 60 percent.

Saturday Market - Kulhudhuffushi

The Saturday Market is a pop-up marketplace in Kulhudhuffushi, where agricultural produce and other commodities from nearby islands are brought and sold.

As many of the atoll residents visit Kulhudhuffushi for medical purposes on Saturdays, the marketplace was established adjacent to the Kulhudhuffushi Regional Hospital.

Sellers complained over incompetent regulations for the market, highlighting exorbitant stall prices as compared to business profits.

UTHEMA visited Kumundhoo, Haa Dhaalu Atoll to collect stories of Women at Work. VIDEO: UTHEMA

"These are not undignified fields of work. It is concerning that these socio-economic livelihoods were not protected at the dawn of the 21st century.

Uthema advocated to integrate unrecognized economies into the formal sector and protect Maldivian traditions and heritage. The NGO also urged citizens to vote for political candidates that lobby to safeguard such livelihoods.

Statistics indicate that women earn less than 13 percent compared to men.

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