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Female parliamentarians: Setting the bar for future generations

As the 2019 parliamentary election draws closer, take a look at some of the illustrious women who graced the Parliament since its inception in 1933.

Mariyam Malsa
28 March 2019, MVT 10:26
Artwork featuring a woman in traditional Maldivian garb. Females used to play a greater role in the governing people. PHOTO: SHIMHA / ART_BY_SHIMHA
Mariyam Malsa
28 March 2019, MVT 10:26

The World Bank statistics for Maldives in 2009 revealed that 6.5 percent of the Maldivian Parliament consisted of women, a figure that fell to 5.9 by 2013.

In stark contrast, women made up 49 percent of the total population in 2009, while as many as 35 percent of Maldivian households were found to be headed by a female in the same year.

On the political front, women have been making their presence known at politically fueled gatherings and protests since such scenes became commonplace in the capital city after legalization of political parties in 2005.

Undoubtedly, with only a handful of MPs to voice out a female perspective to the legislative process, the women of Maldives are vastly under-represented in the political sphere. The five women currently serving in the 85-member Parliament are outnumbered by their male counterparts.

Today, as political tensions rise and voters prepare to cast their ballots, once more, women make up only 35 of 395 candidates contesting for Maldives' 19th Parliament. Regrettably, several capable women were pushed out of the running as a result of primary elections held internally by political parties.

Thus, there is a certain irony that lies in the existence of several historical accounts, all attesting to a past where Maldives was a matriarchal society that saw the rule of a great many Sultanas.

Although the amount of female political participation could use a boost, the few women who did serve in the Parliament broke multiple barriers and established themselves as extremely capable politicians.

The following are a few of these illustrious women from whom any aspiring female politician can draw inspiration from, regardless of political allegiance.

Moomina Haleem

First elected female Parliamentarian Moomina Haleem. PHOTO: HOPE FOR WOMEN

In 1975, Moomina Haleem became the first woman to be directly elected to the Parliament. Upon conclusion of her first term, Moomina ran for a constituency in Male’, with the support of several women.

Moomina revealed that the encouragement she received from a group of women in the capital was a major motivational factor in her decision to run for Parliament.

Following her tenure in Parliament, Moomina became the first woman to grace the Maldivian cabinet in 1977, when former President Ibrahim Nasir appointed her as Minister of Health. Among her services as Health Minister, Moomina’s effort to rein in the 1978 nationwide cholera outbreak is of particular note.

The cabinet position was the culmination of Moomina’s long history in the health sector. Being the first Maldivian woman to complete higher studies in nursing, Moomina was appointed matron of the first government hospital which was established in 1967 with the aid of Britain in Male’. She held the position until her election to Parliament.

Mariya Ahmed Didi

Minister of Defence Mariya Ahmed Didi. PHOTO: INTERNET

Uz. Mariya Ahmed Didi is a former parliamentarian who represented the Machchangolhi North constituency in Male’ for four consecutive terms since being elected in May 2009.

Aside from her service in Parliament, Mariya, who earned her law degree in the United Kingdom (UK), is renowned for being the first Maldivian woman to be qualified as a lawyer.

In 2007, the U.S. Secretary of State conferred the International Women of Courage Award upon Mariya. The award is presented to women who have demonstrated considerable leadership, courage, resourcefulness, and willingness to sacrifice for others while promoting women's rights. Notably, the prominent activist was the one to organize the first women's rights rally in Maldives.

Mariya was appointed as Minister of Defence in November 2018 by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, thus becoming the first female Defence Minister in Maldivian history.

Rozaina Adam

Rozina speaking at a campain gathering held for the upcoming parliamentary election on April 6. PHOTO: LUBNA / AO NEWS

Currently representing the constituency of Meedhoo in Addu Atoll, Rozaina Adam was initially elected to the 17th Parliament as the lawmaker for the constituency of Thulusdhoo in Kaafu Atoll.

Known to work mostly on children’s and women’s rights and development issues, Rozaina joined the then opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in November 2013 and went on to become deputy leader of the party’s parliamentary group in June 2014. Rozaina also served as a member of MDP’s National Congress.

At the time of her entrance into the parliamentary scene, Rozaina was a member of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP). During her time in the party, she served on the DRP council and filled the positions of president and vice president of DRP’s Women's Wing. Notably, Rozaina was also briefly a deputy leader of the party in 2013.

Anara Naeem

Makunudhoo MP Anaara naeem. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/ MIHAARU

Anara Naeem, a prominent Islamic Scholar, represents the constituency of Makunudhoo in Haa Dhaalu Atoll which has a population of approximately 1,200 people.

Also a legal practitioner, Anara holds a degree in Sharia and Law from the University of Qatar. What makes her truly notable is her election into Parliament in 2014 as the only representative of Adhaalath Party.

Known as a strong Islamic presence in the Maldivian political arena since its creation in 2005, it is a celebrated fact that the only parliamentary representative of Adhaalath Party happens to be a woman.

Eva Abdulla

Eva Abdulla speaking at the debate held by TVM for the parliamentary elections. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB / SOCIAL MEDIA

Eva Abdulla currently represents Galholhu North, a constituency within the populous capital city of Male’. Politically allied to MDP, Eva has represented the constituents of Galholhu North for two consecutive terms and is campaigning to be re-elected for a third term.

Notably, Eva is the first Maldivian MP to attain membership in the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the first international organization founded with the mission to consolidate democracy between parliaments across the globe. Eva was unanimously elected to IPU’s Committee of Women Parliamentarians in 2012.

This committee has provided women MPs with a global platform to provide their input within international decision making for 30 years and has proven to be an effective way of strengthening ties between female parliamentarians across the world. IPU currently has 178 member parliaments and has been in existence for 130 years.

Fatima Ibrahim Didi

First female Speaker of Senate Fatima Ibrahim Didi. PHOTO: FATIMA IBRAHIM DIDI FAMILY

Fatima Ibrahim Didi served as the first female President of the Senate between 1953-1954, which was during the presidency of Mohamed Amin Didi.

Being the eldest daughter of Faamudheyri Kilegefaanu, she held the title of Princess Fatima Tuttu Goma and was offered the throne in 1953 which she eventually refused.

Fatima Ibrahim Didi was known to be fluent in Arabic and Sinhalese in addition to the local language, Dhivehi.

The way forward

Aside from the incredible achievements secured by the aforementioned women, the fact is that the parliamentary representation of women in Maldives remains well below the desired level.

As more and more women enter the economic and political spheres and assume influential positions, the importance of effective representation at policy level duly increases.

However, it is perhaps too early to despair of a political system that is less than 20 years old. In the 21st century alone, Maldivian women have witnessed a great many firsts in matters of gender equality, and the collective efforts of NGOs, movements and hundreds of resilient women certainly pave the road for this trend to keep moving forward.

If the 'People's Majlis' is to ensure consideration of every citizen's concerns and live up to its name which essentially translates to the council of people, more women need to be elected for greater female representation.

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