“More people are confident that women can lead all spheres of our economy and young people are very supportive of this notion. Seeing this happen made me realize that we the ordinary, deem to make the extraordinary possible and we are the contributors for global sustainability.”
Presented with Her Majesty The Queen’s Young Leaders Award in June 2016, for her work in transforming the lives of others and making a lasting difference in her community. Safaath Ahmed, women’s rights activist from the Maldives spoke to us about why the participation of women in all aspects of the political process is essential to building a sustainable world. [5 minute read]
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: Could you tell us a bit about your journey and your role?
Safaath Ahmed: I began to promote women’s rights and democracy in the Maldives as a result of my own experiences in the world of work. After completing my Master’s degree in finance abroad, I returned home with the optimism to bring new innovation into the financial sector of my country.
However, during most of my job interviews I found people more interested in my “family achievements” than my academic ones. It also made me realize that maybe no matter how far I can go, there is no future for us all if we do not embrace change and try to overcome this archaic thinking. With education as the only asset I had, I decided to start advocating for women’s empowerment within my country.
I went on to assist a group of dynamic ladies to create an NGO called, Women On Boards (WOB) in the Maldives, the first NGO to specifically advocate for gender diversity and the importance of women in leadership. I served as the Secretary General of WOB for nearly two years. At WOB, I directed awareness events for gender equality (including some to promote the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals), assisted in introducing several capacity development training programmes within the Maldives and promoted the important role of Small Island Developing (SID) States.
Today, I am working to establish an NGO named, “Women & Democracy” in the Maldives. The NGO, currently in its pilot phase, will highlight the issue of underrepresentation of women in political leadership. This NGO intends to empower women in political leadership and will promote the essential role of women in sustaining and building a democracy.
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: How does your current work contribute to global sustainability?
SA: WOB became the first NGO in the Maldives to openly advocate for women in leadership. In the Maldives the issue of underrepresentation of women was less spoken of, but with this campaign the whole of the Maldives is recognizing the need to address this issue.
More people are confident that women can lead all spheres of our economy and young people are very supportive of this notion. Seeing this happen made me realize that we the ordinary, deem to make the extraordinary possible and we are the contributors for global sustainability.
After nearly two years of work in the arena, WOB will highlight the issue of underrepresentation of women in political leadership. This NGO intends to empower women in political leadership and will promote the essential role of women in sustaining and building a democracy. I believe that the political arena is where we find the most evident proof of underrepresentation in the Maldives and even in the world. Advocating for this issue and assisting women in acquiring the necessary tools to successfully participate in all aspects of the political process is essential to build a sustainable world.
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: Why does empowering women help make the planet more sustainable? And is economic empowerment the most crucial aspect?
SA: To answer this question, it’s interesting to think to ourselves about: ‘how can men alone make a planet or let alone a community, more sustainable just by themselves?’
After all, united we stand more powerful than one alone. If we are really to think about this, we are living in the longest humanitarian crises our world has ever seen, and that is the “inequality of women”.
The Maldivian economy, let alone the global economy, will not survive neither exist without the empowerment of women. Gender equality is the antidote to prosper our global economy together and to mitigate ourselves from unwanted economic and financial crises.
In my opinion, every aspect of empowerment thus has a positive colossal correlation with the economic empowerment of women. Whether it’s advancing women’s rights, providing access to education, or whether it’s the empowerment of women in businesses or governments, we are talking about providing women a platform to excel the quality of their lives. And this is exactly why I strongly feel and believe that we must empower women in every aspect of life.
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: How can men in particular lead on the empowerment of women as leaders?
If we want an equal society, men in particular need to play a bigger role. Men as leaders in the civil society, in businesses and the government must get fully involved in the efficient implementation of effective strategies to advance women’s rights everywhere.
I also believe that young men in particular should lead to empower women, as our future depends on young people. The other day I met a young woman, she’s 23 years old. She wished to speak to someone and somehow found me along the road. She told me that even though she got married at an early age, she always dreamt a life that served a greater purpose for her than just being a housewife.
Post marriage, she wanted an education for herself and wanted to pursue her dream to become a teacher, but for the past three years or so she has been pleading for her husband’s permission. She constantly told me that she couldn’t defy her husband given her love for him. I also felt heartbroken to have listened to her story…I felt helpless for her! I asked her, “How old is your husband?” She instantly replied to me, “He is 23!” His age took me by so much surprise and made me realize how much work remains to be done to ensure the prosperity of our future generations.
We need to motivate our young men… empower them to climb the mountain, to chase their dreams but to never leave our young women behind.
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: What would you tell the world at this crucial time on climate change?
SA: Maldives is often dubbed as the most extreme case of climate change, given that we are the flattest country on Earth.
My nation is beautiful, it’s naturally gifted and we are probably one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but we are on the verge of extinction.
With the recent groundbreaking, Paris Climate Accord, we witness good progress, and for Maldivians this serves as a mean to save our existence itself. This treaty sets our pathway to achieve 100% clean energy, and rather than saying ‘what does this mean for us’, it’s time to make this treaty our strength and our moment for action.
I don’t think that I’ve seen this much unity within governments from all over the world over something for as long as I can remember.
We must now show from our actions that we are as strong as we voice ourselves and we will revolve our daily lives in protecting our planet and our people.
Thomson Reuters Sustainability: What gives you hope?
SA: We must never stop believing! I always believe that if we have faith and hope it makes us all better people…gives our lives more meaning! My hope, truly, is for my nation to become a first world country…my hope is to see a free democratic Maldives, a prospered Maldives built on the strength of collective human capital, where young people seek opportunities and not crime, a Maldives that lifts it’s women to become leaders, a Maldives that will tell the world that we have done it, now won’t you?