As the world marks World Humanitarian Day this August 19, a day first commemorated by the United Nations in 2009, to hail the bravery and sacrifices of humanitarian aid workers around the globe, the tenth iteration of this campaign focuses on the theme #WomenHumanitarians.
Regarding the theme, the UN acknowledged that a large number of humanitarian personnel, who risk their lives to save others, are women. Emphasising the importance of such women who strengthen the global humanitarian response, the UN called on world leaders as well as civilians to accord all the humanitarians every protection afforded under international laws.
In celebration of this year’s theme for World Humanitarian Day, The Edition shines the spotlight on nine prominent women involved in humanitarian causes in the Maldives.
Aneesa Ahmed is a renowned women's rights activist, who formerly served as Vice Speaker of Parliament, and Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs. She earned fame (or notoriety, based on one’s perception) when she broke taboo by addressing the issue of domestic violence during her government tenure, as well as for publicly speaking out against female genital mutilation and its harmful effects.
Aneesa is the founder of Hope for Women, a local NGO that works to end all forms of gender injustice, violence against women, and improve women’s rights protection. Her work with Hope for Women included leading sessions regarding gender-based violence with the community, including police and students. She is the second Maldivian woman to receive an International Women of Courage Award, which was conferred to her in 2012.
The current Secretary General of the Maldivian Red Crescent (MRC), Aishath Noora Mohamed began volunteering with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. She was one of the first people to advocate for the promotion of the RCRC Movement in the Maldives.
Noora backed the formation of the MRC, which was founded in August 2009 and remains active as an independent, non-profit NGO providing humanitarian aid across the archipelago. She was appointed as the Secretary General in 2016, at which point she was also on the board of MRC’s Psychosocial Support Centre. She is still an active volunteer in the organisation’s humanitarian efforts to provide psychological first aid and psychosocial support to victims of disasters and emergencies.
Humaida Abdul Ghafoor, more commonly known as Humay, is a co-founder of Uthema, a local women’s rights NGO registered in 2016, which advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Maldives.
A human rights researcher, Humay has long called to increase women participation in the public sphere, and ensure equal rights between men and women. A familiar visage in panels and workshops to raise awareness and spread discourse on such issues, Humay is an active participant in Uthema’s endeavours, which also recently worked with the European Union to launch a dialogue on women’s rights in the Maldives and called to increase efforts to bridge the gap.
Fathimath Thanzeela (Thanzy) dove into humanitarian work in 2007 with the formation of Native Operators on Rights (NOOR), an initiative targeting Awareness and Advocacy on Rights as well as Prevention of Rights Abuse. As part of its core group, alongside activist friends Aminath Shifana and Jenny Latheef, after two years of campaigns, demonstrations and tireless lobbying, NOOR’s work culminated in a rally and petition that would spark the country’s move to criminalise paedophilia.
Presently, Thanzy is a co-founder of 10-year-old environmental NGO Save The Beach, dedicated to the preservation of natural beaches and coral reefs in the Greater Male' Region and across the Maldives. She now works to educate young minds about the environment and ways to protect fragile ecosystems, seeking to reconnect the new generations with their natural heritage and re-instill a healthy respect for it.
Following the tragic loss of her first child to Congenital Heart Disease, Hishmath Faiz (Hishko) and husband Ali Muaz, founded the NGO Tiny Hearts of Maldives in September 2009, determined to help and support other children and parents facing similar harrowing circumstances.
Tiny Hearts works with partner associations to financially aid heart operations for children, support and guide families, and facilitate free consultations and screenings. The initiatives launched by Tiny Hearts work closely with communities and schools to not only medically and financially support children and expectant mothers, but promote the maintenance of healthy lifestyles for a healthy heart. Further, being a career fitness consultant, Hishko is widely heralded by people from all walks of life as a key advocate for making healthy choices.
Despite lacking any background in the health sector, Juwairiya Saeed is one of the main faces behind Cancer Society of Maldives (CSM), a national community-based NGO that aims to reduce the incidence of cancer in the Maldives. Spurred on by the loss of her own father to cancer, Juwairiya set out to do what she could to help others in the same situation.
Currently the Chairperson of the organisation, she is highly involved and driven when it comes to CSM’s initiatives, such as major awareness campaigns, cancer screening programmes, and prevention incentives. Juwairiya can also be found participating and overseeing the exercises of CSM’s special Cancer Support Group, a safe space where psychosocial care is provided for cancer patients, survivors and their families.
The former First Lady was one of the founders of the Society for Health Education (SHE), one of the first NGOs in the Maldives. Along with the rest of the founding team comprising Dr Naila Firdous, Naila Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu and Nasheeda Ahmed Riza, Nasreena Ibrahim formed the organisation to address issues concerning thalassaemia, counselling and psychosocial support, sexual and reproductive health, and health education.
SHE is also the country’s national affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and is currently one of the largest NGOs in the Maldives. Despite mixed reactions to her political affiliations, Nasreena was undoubtedly one of the pioneer women in the field of humanitarian work in the Maldives, and her incentives, still going strong today, are undisputed.
Shafeea Riza is one of three women who founded Family Legal Clinic (FLC), an independent NGO which provides free legal services to any and all individuals facing issues related to family and domestic violence. The initiative is the first of its kind in Maldives, inspired by similar pro bono legal clinics that the young lawyer came across during her studies abroad.
Driven by the belief that access to legal help should not be a privilege afforded by a few, Shafeea and her friends established FLC in August 2014, thus giving a voice to disadvantaged people and empowering survivors. Many of FLC’s initiatives, including research and awareness programmes, regular pro bono legal consultations and workshops, originated from Shafeea’s vision to help people help themselves. Now powered by 17 lawyers who lend their legal expertise to victims of family-related concerns, Shafeea herself is known to be intimately involved in all of the NGO-run activities.
The former Minister of Gender Affairs is a front-liner in the fight to combat crimes committed against children. She co-founded and is the Executive Director of Advocating for the Rights of Children (ARC), a local NGO that promotes the well-being, health, safety and education of children in the country.
Zenysha played a key role in ARC’s activities to protect the rights of children, provide them with better opportunities, and give every child in Maldives a voice. She has also spoken up for more education opportunities for girls, and women empowerment. During her ministerial tenure in the previous administration, Zenysha was vocal in ensuring the rights of children on a governmental level. Following the change in power with the election of the new administration, we anticipate her return to the active humanitarian forefront.