Discrimination of women is still a real problem here in the Maldives. It is seen everywhere; in political, social, economic and cultural circles.
It is true that there have been huge strides made against it; the fact that seven out of 19 cabinet ministers of the current administration being women -including defence minister- is definite proof of this.
We also recently saw the appointment of Maldives’ first female spokesperson at the Maldives Police Service and first female deputy speaker- who became the first woman to preside over a parliament sitting in the country’s recent history. Various work is being done to empower and encourage women as well, including conferences and workshops.
But is it enough?
Some of the choices for the ongoing Indian Ocean Island Games (IOIG) 2019 proves that gender bias against women is still a dominant factor in sports.
TRAINING CAMP WITH EUROPE’S “TOP COACHES”
The men’s national volleyball was given the opportunity to train in Serbia this month, and Sports Minister Ahmed Mahloof -who secured the agreement in June- had boasted that this was a first for the country.
While the men’s volleyball team was the first Maldivian team to get training in Serbia, the minister also bragged that that they will be training in “one of the most well-equipped training facilities in the world” by the “top coaches in Europe.”
The training camp was reached under an agreement with the Serbian sports ministry, and it is entirely possible that the offer was only extended to the male team.
But in the instance that something could be even the slightest bit unfair to another group of people, does the ministry not have the choice of turning it down or taking a rain check?
If that is not a reason enough, why take the risk of exhausting the men’s team just days prior to the Indian Ocean Island Games; the team traveled to Serbia from 3-14 July, the games started on July 18. Jet lag is very real and quite detrimental to one’s health and performance.
While the men’s team enjoyed training with the top coaches in the most-well equipped facilities, the women’s team trained in Vaavu atoll.
Then, there is the choice for flag bearer for the opening ceremony.
The prestigious honour was given to basketball star Ahmed Zabeer.
While the athlete chosen and his contributions to sport are not the factors here, it does leave room to question whether the Maldives Olympic Committee (MOC) executive team’s decision was the best, or even fair.
Especially given the fact that the country’s number one table tennis player, Mueena Mohamed, had already announced the decision to retire from the sport after the competing in the 10th edition of the Indian Ocean Island Games.
In addition, Mueena has won medals at the last two editions; silver at the 2011 games and a bronze at the table tennis women's doubles event at IOIG 2014 along with partner Aminath Shiura.
MOC’s executive board comprises of 13 members, out of which two are women. Since 2012, the International Olympic Committee requires National Olympic Committees to have 20 percent female representation criteria.
A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
Despite the obvious but possible “unintentional” discrimination, the girls are proving that they are a force to be reckoned with.
As such, the women’s table tennis team made history on Sunday after winning Maldives’ first gold medal in a team event at a multi-sport international event. The only other gold medal the country has won was by sprinter Hassan Saaid, who won the men’s 100-meter sprint at IOIG 2015.
The four members in the women’s table tennis team are; 11-year-old Fathmath Dheema Ali, 15-year-old Aishath Rafa Nazim, Fathmath Jumana Nimal and Mueena.
Maldives won three out of the five games played against host country Mauritius, with 15-yo Rafa taking the all-important tie breaker in the end. Dheema also won the fourth game in the final, after a minor setback in the first.
Athletes such as Dheema and Rafa gives us hope of kicking sexism out of sport, after all they are the future!