Project MonMa in the Maldives

Project Monma travelled to the Maldives in March of 2016 to learn more about women’s perspectives on the changing political situation in the country.

Democracy was ushered into the small Muslim country for the first time in 2008 when President Nasheed was elected to power. However, when he was thrown out in 2012 democracy took a downward spiral. Project Monma travelled to the Maldives to learn more about the affect the changing political situation in the country has had an affect on women and girls.

In an interview with some of the female staff from the small NGO Hope for Women in their office in the centre of Male, they explained how the move to democracy had not been good for women nor had the new found freedom of speech.

They explained how before there were limits on who could preach Islam, now anyone could. They said a small group of extremists in the country were using religion as an excuse to oppress women and were using their new found freedom of speech as a means to do so. Girls were being told that they needed to obey their husbands and were not allowed leave their homes without a man accompanying them.  ‘Women don’t have freedom,’ they said. ‘And the problem is women don’t question these things.’

Hope for Women is working to counter these violent attitudes by going to schools to speak with young girls and use Islamic scholars to teach that violence is not Islam. ‘Democracy has been exploited by people who want to oppress women,’ said one of the women.

The Society for Health Organization, an NGO working on women’s issues in Male, agreed that democracy had encouraged the rise of Islam in the country, which had not been good for women. They also attributed this to the new freedom of speech which given many extremists from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia a platform to promote their views that are against women and girls having rights. They are advocating that women must be subservient to men and are using social media and public meetings to spread their message. They also explained how women were starting to cover up more which was not something that happened before.

We next visited Transparency International, the only independent organization observing elections in the Maldives. We met with two young women, both who had returned from studies abroad and wanted to bring a more free and fair governmental system to the Maldives. Their efforts have been received with death threats. 

‘There has been a failed transition to democracy which has led to instability,’ one woman explained. ‘Most Maldivans want to have democracy but when it comes to rights it is difficult especially with Islam and women.’

‘The role for a man and a woman has changed a lot,’ said one of the women. ‘They have changed for the worst. Democracy and Islam are a constant negotiation.’

Our final meeting was with a researcher in a small café in Male. ‘One of the worst things that has happened with the democracy movement was Nasheed giving a platform to the radical Islamic groups. They now have an Islamic ministry where preachers are promoting a more radical view of Islam. They are promoting child marriage for example,’ she explains. ‘We never had this before. We do not need an Islamic ministry.’

‘I feel like there is a loss of our identity,’ she says. ‘There’s no freedom here, no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion. You have to be a Sunni. The constitution says that if you are not Muslim then you are not Maldivan.’ She looks at me concerned and reminds me to not use her name, she is worried about death threats.

Project MonMa in the Maldives

Project Monma travelled to the Maldives in March of 2016 to learn more about women’s perspectives on the changing political situation in the country.

Democracy was ushered into the small Muslim country for the first time in 2008 when President Nasheed was elected to power. However, when he was thrown out in 2012 democracy took a downward spiral. Project Monma travelled to the Maldives to learn more about the affect the changing political situation in the country has had an affect on women and girls.

In an interview with some of the female staff from the small NGO Hope for Women in their office in the centre of Male, they explained how the move to democracy had not been good for women nor had the new found freedom of speech.

They explained how before there were limits on who could preach Islam, now anyone could. They said a small group of extremists in the country were using religion as an excuse to oppress women and were using their new found freedom of speech as a means to do so. Girls were being told that they needed to obey their husbands and were not allowed leave their homes without a man accompanying them.  ‘Women don’t have freedom,’ they said. ‘And the problem is women don’t question these things.’

Hope for Women is working to counter these violent attitudes by going to schools to speak with young girls and use Islamic scholars to teach that violence is not Islam. ‘Democracy has been exploited by people who want to oppress women,’ said one of the women.

The Society for Health Organization, an NGO working on women’s issues in Male, agreed that democracy had encouraged the rise of Islam in the country, which had not been good for women. They also attributed this to the new freedom of speech which given many extremists from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia a platform to promote their views that are against women and girls having rights. They are advocating that women must be subservient to men and are using social media and public meetings to spread their message. They also explained how women were starting to cover up more which was not something that happened before.

We next visited Transparency International, the only independent organization observing elections in the Maldives. We met with two young women, both who had returned from studies abroad and wanted to bring a more free and fair governmental system to the Maldives. Their efforts have been received with death threats.

‘There has been a failed transition to democracy which has led to instability,’ one woman explained. ‘Most Maldivans want to have democracy but when it comes to rights it is difficult especially with Islam and women.’

‘The role for a man and a woman has changed a lot,’ said one of the women. ‘They have changed for the worst. Democracy and Islam are a constant negotiation.’

Our final meeting was with a researcher in a small café in Male. ‘One of the worst things that has happened with the democracy movement was Nasheed giving a platform to the radical Islamic groups. They now have an Islamic ministry where preachers are promoting a more radical view of Islam. They are promoting child marriage for example,’ she explains. ‘We never had this before. We do not need an Islamic ministry.’

‘I feel like there is a loss of our identity,’ she says. ‘There’s no freedom here, no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion. You have to be a Sunni. The constitution says that if you are not Muslim then you are not Maldivan.’ She looks at me concerned and reminds me to not use her name, she is worried about death threats.

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