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“My life, my choices” Shaaha, 21 years old

I am a journalist, an artist and a business woman. I can support my family while working towards my financial independence, I can provide for them. Just because I am a woman people think that I need someone – a husband, they say – to provide for me and my family.

If a woman or girl says that she wants to study, to build a career, people should listen to and support her.

‘Even if you get married you can still do all that’, they often tell me. But in Maldives how does that work in most marriages? Only a few marriages work that way and it’s believed that as a woman once you have kids you are supposed to leave your job or your studies to stay home and take care of your family. Any mother who is working while having a small child is considered irresponsible both as a mother and as wife.

I think it is hypocritical when they say that ‘you can do all that when you get married’. Maybe some women can but in reality most can’t.

It is a common belief here in Maldives that once you are an adult you should get married as soon as possible, you should find someone to support you. As if a woman would need a man to move forward, a man to look after her family. A woman cannot take care of her family alone even if she has multiple jobs, even if she has a degree? Does she need a man to provide for her?

I am working and I think that I can provide for my family without a husband.

I don’t want to get married yet. But there is definitely a lot of pressure. And it is all just due to this common belief that you need a man to support you, you need a man in your life to support you in every way. Things are changing but there are still limitations for women, there are still norms about how women should behave.

While I am standing for gender equality, I want to inspire my younger sisters. As children they have seen a lot of things, including divorce. Maldives is one of the countries with the biggest divorce rates and no matter where you look you will find divorced people. Marriages break all the time and that it is not as nice as it seems to be.

I want my sisters to know that I did everything I could for them and I want them to aspire to be independent women who provide for themselves as opposed to depending on someone else.

I will get married and I will have kids but only when it is the right time for me, when I am ready to make that commitment. I strongly believe that any woman or girl of any age should be given the right to make decisions for herself without being told ‘as a woman you need to walk this path’.

Tatiana Almeida/UNFPA

Tatiana Almeida/UNFPA

Countries should act to empower women and should take steps to eliminate inequalities between men and women as soon as possible by:

(a) Establishing mechanisms for women’s equal participation and equitable representation at all levels of the political process and public life in each community and society and enabling women to articulate their concerns and needs;

(b) Promoting the fulfilment of women’s potential through education, skill development and employment, giving paramount importance to the elimination of poverty, illiteracy and ill health among women;

(c) Eliminating all practices that discriminate against women; assisting women to establish and realize their rights, including those that relate to reproductive and sexual health;

(d) Adopting appropriate measures to improve women’s ability to earn income beyond traditional occupations, achieve economic self-reliance, and ensure women’s equal access to the labour market and social security systems;

(e) Eliminating violence against women;

(f) Eliminating discriminatory practices by employers against women, such as those based on proof of contraceptive use or pregnancy status;

(g) Making it possible, through laws, regulations and other appropriate measures, for women to combine the roles of child-bearing, breast-feeding and child-rearing with participation in the workforce.

 By Tatiana Almeida/UNFPA

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