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Lost in Decentralisation?

May 5, 2010

In January this year President Nasheed met with a hoard of women from the outer islands in a workshop titled ‘Role of Women in Development’ organized by the Department of Family Protection Services. The women met President Nasheed with suspicion and reserve.

These were women from what was previously called the ‘Women’s Development Committees’ or WDCs. Mostly fans of Gayoom, these women were definitely no fans of HEP who had refused to reinstate the power of the WDCs through the decree of the WDCs and the Island Development Committee (IDC). It should be noted here that the WDC automatically got a seat in the IDC.

The women who attended the meeting had one very specific and reasonable demand: the WDCs to be part of the new local governments. The government, to the horror of the women present, floated the idea of WDCs working as NGOs. Originally the government wanted to get rid of the WDCs and go for quotas within the local councils.

The quotas were modeled similar to those that can be found in the Scandinavian countries. Women were to get at least 30% of seats (the ‘ men’s rights activist in the Majlis will later contest this). The WDC women, suspicious of the government, refused to accept only the quota system and insisted that the WDCs be recognized. In the end it was decided that both the WDCs and the quotas will be included in the bill.

Ya-di-ya-di-yaaa….three months later the bill finally gets voted in with MDP members walking out in protest. The main issue being that of how the atolls will be grouped together. Actually, let me change that. The main issue was, who could shove more muscle in the parliament, MDP or DRP? After a testosterone filled battle inside the parliament, inside various Haruges, across the FM air waves, and in fiesty ‘mouth fights’ in holhu ashis , the DRP wins. MDP MPs sulked, threatened and are now busy scheming on how to get back at DRP.

And nobody, not Eva, not Mariya, not Rugiyya, not Rosaina, not Visam took up the issue of quotas for women. This issue should have been one of the central debates of the whole decentralization bill. Yet when the bill passed the quotas have simply disappeared within the pages. And mind you, it wasn’t just the quotas that got lost but the seat that was previously reserved for the WDC member in the Island Development Committee is not translated as an automatic seat in the island councils!

The bill describes in detail the functions and the statutory rights of the WDCs which can be summarized as

1) they can own assets
2) they can play an advisory role to the Island Committee

So basically, when the big boys are making the decisions the women’s committee (who would very likely play a role in making tea and providing other refreshments) may or may not be asked for an advisory role.
This is just the island council. No quotas for women are given for city councils.

The women in MDP who were advising for the quotas to be put in place have good reason. Quotas have proven to be a good way of ensuring women’s participation in many countries, Norway and Sweden included. India is currently debating on setting quotas for women in the parliament. It is a tried and tested way of giving women the boost that is needed for society to normalize the idea of having women in important posts.

In the atoll/province debate we have lost the opportunity to be a progressive nation where women are given the access to public spaces where important decisions (such as that about hospitals, schools and harbors) that will directly affect their lives are being made. MDP didn’t lose this particular round. Aneh Dhivehin did. And that includes DRP members as well.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Knox permalink
    May 5, 2010 11:55 am

    Why the evil drp.

    I agree about the quota’s in island councils, it should be allocated. Although setting female quota in parliament would be neither productive nor called for. If the right woman steps up the people will choose her, it is evident if you look at the parliament of today.

    Even if yu=ou are feminist don’t try to wrench logic out of it.

    • Midhfa permalink
      May 10, 2010 4:22 pm

      How would you define the “RIGHT” woman?

      and how do you expect women to step up when people openly say women should not be allowed to rule? Or than women do not belong in the public sphere?

      And how do you justify quotas in local councils but not in parliament? Both are essentially representative bodies. and if I were to apply your logic about quotas in parliament to the issue about local councils, I could say “if the right women step up the people will choose her”

  2. Fali permalink
    May 6, 2010 3:53 am

    Firstly, Eva, Mariya, Rugiyya, Rosaina, and Visam are not there in the Parliament under a special gender tickets but under party tickets so they will just follow the herd of their respective parties. Secondly, being a woman doesnt mean in most cases that she’ll be a champion of women’s rights. Women function under the results of the gender socialisation as much as the men. And thirdly, the majority of the Parliamentarians does not understand or comprehend what affirmative action is and why it is needed. I think that trying to improve barriers to women’s empowerment at such a level should’ve been accompanied by a strong advocacy component so that people including parliamentarians understand that quotas are not about giving people a free ride, and that it is a necessary special measure to provide an even playing field. And finally, I believe Eva did introduce an amendment to include the 30% quota in the local elections bill, but it was struck down by the majority party.

  3. Midhfa permalink
    May 7, 2010 4:12 pm

    I think Eva introduced the amendment to phrase that each sex should not constitute less than 30% as opposed to a minimum of 30%. This is a better way of framing the quota provision and are being utilised in many countries that are hostile to ‘reservations’

    And I would also like to point out what Fali has pointed out, the women who are in parliament have a much stronger alliance to their parties than to being a woman. Additionally, they don’t have the ‘critical mass’; the minimum number of a minority group needed to make a difference, in the parliament. and so they remain as just tokens; women who do not represent the interests of women.

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