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UNDP Maldives holds first policy forum on community dialogue

UNDP Maldives holds first policy forum on the need for community dialogue, with a specific focus on initiating issue-based dialogues at the community level. The forum, held in Capital Male, was primarily focused on Lhaviyani Atoll.

Lhaviyani Atoll belongs to the central Maldives which has four inhabited islands and a population of approximately 12,000 people. The key objective of the forum was to share the lessons learnt from the existing work that UNDP Maldives have been doing in the past couple of years on improving social cohesion through community dialogues.

The forum was well attended by participants from community leaders of Lhaviyani Atoll, Members of Parliament, Atoll and Island Councilors, the Local Government Authority and several key government line ministries including Ministry of Law and Gender, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Finance and Treasury.

Furthermore, NGOs Transparency Maldives (TM), International Federation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Hope for Women also participated in the forum and shared their experiences on community participation and dialogue.

Several participants spoke highly of the importance of community dialogue.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Shoko Noda, UNDP Resident Representative, spoke on the cost of social deterioration, which she argued could not be overlooked.

“Social tensions, polarization and a general absence of constructive dialogue within and between different communities at national and local level remains as key challenges to development,” said Ms. Noda.

“Small communities are the worst affected during times of socio-political unrest and polarization. This is why constructive dialogue and citizen participation becomes so important” she added.

Meanwhile, Ms. Hamdha Mohamed of Lhaviyani Atoll Naifaru Women’s Development Committee also echoed similar sentiments.

“We shouldn’t think of issues as just the responsibility of a particular group or agency. Every problem, no matter how small or big, affects everyone equally” she explained.

Mr. Abdul Raheem, who represented local NGO ‘Naifaru Juvenile’, spoke about the important role of NGOs in ensuring peace and unity within communities.

However, Raheem expressed concerns over lack of space for civil societies to engage effectively in community-level dispute resolution largely due to limitations in existing legal framework of NGOs and due to lack of understanding of how civil societies can contribute to development.

“NGOs play a very important role in ensuring peace and unity within communities. But there’s not enough space for civil society to engage effectively due to limitations in legal framework and in understanding of civil societies. These need to be addressed at the policy level and NGOs need to be considered as vital partners in development. Then only can a culture of dialogue be fostered in Maldives” Abdul Raheem Nashid, Naifaru Juvenile

During the session, Island Councils of the four islands of Lhaviyani Atoll – which includes, Hinnavaru, Naifaru, Kurendhoo and Olhuvelifushi – expressed their interest and support towards organizing community dialogues in their respective islands on key issues faced by their communities.

Preparations are already underway to hold issue-based dialogues with communities of Lhaviyani Atoll on key issues that affects the communities which is expected to begin in the second quarter of this year.

The Programme Coordinator of UNDP’s Integrated Governance Programme, Ms. Yasmeen Rasheed noted that people of seemingly different perspectives, be it of political beliefs or otherwise, still holds on to same moral values.

“Often times, issues get escalated due to lack of communication and dialogue amongst members of these island communities. So, having such avenues for people to freely express themselves without holding back  for fear being judged or unheard really makes a great difference,” She said.

“It is a long road ahead, but it is worth walking towards that pathway, if change is to happen,” She added.

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