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Thursday December 8th, 2022

The Maldives: Once Matriarchal Society is pushing women away from Leadership Roles

ECONOMYNEXT – The Maldives is on track for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) on quality, inclusive and lifelong learning opportunities for Maldivians, but is stagnating in achieving the goal of Gender Equality.

A webinar on the Role of Women in Maldivian Society, organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, South Asia on November 7th, heard that although laws have been passed supporting increased roles for women, implementation of these regulations has been poor.

Panellist Dr Marium Jabyn, co-Founder and Chairperson of Equal Rights Initiative, points out that there are more women law graduates than males and more female batch toppers, yet those numbers are not reflected in public service or in the corporate world. Even where women are appointed to the Bench, she states, they are rarely assigned even a minor criminal case. That’s indicative of society’s perception of a woman’s role, she points out.

The webinar which included MP Jeehan Mahmood, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Child Protection and Gender, and Yumna Rasheed, entrepreneur, and Founder of ‘The Gift Basket Maldives’, was moderated by Journalist and Media Consultant Raaia Munavvar. The keynote address was by Lakshmi Sampath Goyal, CEO of Centre for Civil Society, India.

Despite the enactment of several laws, Domestic Violence Prevention Act (2012), Sexual Offences Act (2014), and Gender Equality Act (2016), the application of these legislations leaves much to be desired Jabyn notes, stating that there are some atolls which have no women police officers. Victims of abuse are often advised by the first point of contact, to accept the situation and return home.

Even when women apply for leadership positions in the legal system, they are often advised by clerics that such posts are not for them. Society’s perception of women too must change she says, adding that often there is a preference for male clerics or religious scholars to deliver a religious discourse. Women themselves, she says, do not accept that they are good enough for these roles.

“Family courts in the Maldives is a women’s court,” she says pointing out that one would hardly find any women flocking to the other Courts, as they do the Family Courts. That, she adds, is owing to the gaps in the support systems available to women.

The amendment to the Decentralisation Act in 2019 allocating 33 per cent of seats to women in local government paves the way for the election of 370 women. However, the story is quite different at the People’s Majlis (Parliament) level in this once matriarchal society, where of the 87 MPs only 4 are women.

MP Mahmood, whose parents did not adhere to the strict stereotyping of gender roles, says her entry to Parliament was an eye-opener. Having previously worked in women-led enterprises, she had ‘the shock of my life’ on entering parliament, where there is a ‘very gendered view on how to do politics; where the louder one is and name calling is the name of the game. She had asked her father for guidance on how to adapt to this new situation and was advised to be herself and more assertive to break the model.

Jabyn concurs, stating that in the legal field too, those who are louder, usually the male, are perceived as being the better lawyers. The younger generations grow up with certain expectations, only to face a harsher reality when they enter the real world, Jabyn says.

Getting pregnant while a Member of Parliament was quite another experience Mahmood says. Standing Orders do not address the issue of pregnancy, and she was determined to attend every session and be present during the voting period even if it meant not taking a toilet break, to prove that women do not have to compromise on their womanhood to be in leadership roles.

They are worn thin, she says, with just four women in parliament, and the need to be in as many committees as possible. She has proved her ability to read and understand budgets and points out that the absence of appropriate policies makes it difficult to question inadequate financial allocations for areas such as food and health. It is, she says important for parliamentarians to be cognizant of the fact that “We are legislating not for one gender, but for both the genders.”

The trick is also to continue asking questions without giving up, Mahmood says, adding that after more than two years of prodding, the Maldives is set to open a separate rehabilitation centre for females on November 13th.

Yumna Rasheed, who has handled World Bank and UN projects for the Maldivian government, says on returning to the workforce after maternity leave, she was told she would not be able to cope with the work, despite her education and experience.

But she chose to turn a deaf ear to criticisms and carry on.

Rasheed turned to business to cope with insomnia and says the opportunity to introduce locally produced crafts to the market has given her much satisfaction. She put the long sleepless nights to good use, designing and crafting local products to break into an imports-dominated market.

She says she had concerns about discussing her insomnia publicly, but when she did, she received a positive response. The Covid-19 pandemic provided women more opportunities to become entrepreneurs and break out of the stereotypical role of homemaker and caregiver; “many women came up with business ideas,” a change from what it used to be three to four years earlier.

The panellists stress that though gender parity has been achieved in the field of education, and though more women are in civil service, they continue to be in lower-paying, clerical positions. MP Mahmood states that maternity leave and other family needs result in women taking that much longer to reach leadership positions. A recent study reveals that women are treated far worse in the private sector and small business enterprises, where there is little or no adherence to Employment Law, Mahmood points out. Forty-four per cent of the informal workforce is women, she says, and they have little or no social protection.

The situation is worse for disabled or otherwise vulnerable women such as widows, senior citizens, the girl child, and migrant workers the webinar heard.

And as Jabyn points out, there is a disparity between the needs of women who live in the North and South atolls, too.

If these issues are to be adequately addressed, says MP Mahmood, then they must be all represented at decision-making bodies.

She also says that males who promote gender equality must be given more space both in the Maldives and across the world. Rasheed adds that while women bring more value and awareness to the table, ‘true change comes when women do not have to be better but are accepted as just as good.”

While previous generations had the support of extended families, freeing up women to concentrate on careers, in today’s nuclear families both partners must share family responsibilities, says MP Mahmood, who adds that younger generations must be brought up to be aware of gender biases but away from such practices.

It is heartening she says that women colleagues include girls on their campaign teams and make a point of supporting women in whatever their needs are. In her case, she constantly reminds herself that she not only ‘represents the rural, but also the rural women.’ Jabyn points out that though Maldives is on the right path, more needs to be done in terms of gender sensitization.

Clearly, one would expect that gender parity in education would result in women’s emancipation, especially when the Maldives was formally a matriarchal society.

Jabyn’s doctoral research centered on women in public life, and she says it is time to ask where these perceptions of a support role for women and leadership for men come from; “is it Islam or have we created it ourselves?”

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Sri Lanka in deep talent drain in latest currency crisis

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka businesses are facing a drain of talent, top business executives said as the country suffers the worst flexible exchange rate crisis in the history of its intermediate regime central bank and people lose hope.

“We are seeing a trend towards migrating,” Krishan Balendra, Chairman of Sri Lanka’s John Keells Holdings told an economic policy forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“We have seen an impact mainly on the tourist hotels side, quite an exodus of staff (migrating) to countries we have not seen in the past. 

“We have seen people go to Scotland, Ireland. It has usually been the Middle East and Maldives. Australia seems like a red hot labor market at the moment.”

Sri Lanka’s rupee collapsed from 200 to 360 to the US dollar after macro-economists printed money to suppress rates.

Sri Lanka operates a ‘flexible exchange rate’ where errors in targeting interest rates are compensated by currency depreciation especially after the 1980s.

Classical economists and analysts have called for the power to mis-target rates and operate dual anchor conflicting monetary regimes should be taken away to prevent future crisis.

Currency crises are problems associated with flexible exchange rate central banks which are absent in hard pegs and clean floats.

“Something new we are seeing is that older people, even those in their 50s, which was a surprise, are looking at migrating,” Balendra said.

Businesses are trying to retain talent as real wages collapse.

Balendra said as businesses they see some stability returning and based on past experience growth is likely to resume, and they were communicating with the workers.

“We have a degree of conviction that the economy should get better, its the stability phase now and it will get better going forward so without the way our businesses are placed we should see good growth,” Balendra said.

“We can’t chase compensation that’s just not practical and we are not trying to do that especially if people are looking to immigrate but what we can do is show the career opportunities in the backdrop of the situation that people would rather stay here because its home.” 

Sri Lanka unit of Heineken says it is also trying to convince workers not to leave, with more success.

“We are all facing the effects of brain drain and it’s not just the lower levels… What we are doing is a balance of daring and caring,” Maud Meijboom-van Wel – Managing Director / CEO, Heineken Lanka Ltd told the forum.

“Why I say daring is, you have to be clear in what you can promise people, when you make promises you have to walk the talk. So with the key talents and everyone you need to have the career and talent conversations.

“I am a bit lucky because I am running a multinational company so my career path goes beyond Sri Lanka so I can say if you acquire certain skills here, then you can move out of here and then come back too, that is a bit easier for me but it starts with having a real open conversation with walking the talk – dare and care.” (Colombo/Dec7/2022)


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Despite losses, Sri Lanka to resume “park & ride” transport after complaints  

ECONOMYNEXT –  Sri Lanka’s state-run Transport Board will resume its loss-making City Bus service from January 15, 2022 Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena said, after the service abruptly discontinued with the state-run firm’s director board citing losses.

The City Bus service was introduced in 2021, under the government of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from Makubura to Pettah and Bambalapitiya.

The service was started to reduce the number of automobiles travelling to and from Colombo and suburbs by providing a comfortable, convenient and safe public bus transportation for passengers and riders who use cars and motorcycles as their means of transportation.

During the time period in which the service was initiated, there were 800 hundred vehicles that would be parked and would use the system, Gunawardena, who is also the Transport Minister, said.

The service was later collapsed due to inconsistencies in scheduling and it was completely stopped after

“Without informing the Secretary or the Minister of the relevant Ministry, the Board of Directors have come to a conclusion that this is loss making route and must be halted,” Gunawardena said.

“The users of the City Bus service brought to our notice and therefore I gave the Secretary to the Ministry of Transport the approval to start the City Bus service from January 15.”

“If we stop all loss making transport services then massive inconveniences will occur to the people in far parts of the island.”

The chairman of the state run Ceylon Transport Board has been asked to handover the resignation letter by the Minister Gunawardana citing that the head has failed to implement a policy decision approved by the government. (Colombo/ Dec 06/2022)

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Sri Lanka may see rates falling next year: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s interest rates are high and hurting small businesses in particular but interest rates are required to maintain stability, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“One is, all of you want to know what’s going to happen to the interest rates?,” President Wickremesinghe told an economic policy forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“I wish I know. The governor has told me that the inflation has peaked. It’s coming down. You all understandably want some relief with the interest rates to carry business on.”

“I understand that and appreciate the viewpoint. It’s not easy to carry business on with such high interest rates. On the other hand, the Central Bank also has to handle the economy. So maybe sometimes early next year we will have a meeting of minds of both these propositions.”

Sri Lanka’s interest rates are currently at around 30 percent but not because the central bank is keeping it up. The central bank’s overnight policy rate is only 15.5 percent but the requirement to finance the budget deficit and roll over debt is keeping rates up.

Rates are also high due to a flaw in the International Monetary Fund’s debt workout framework where there is no early clarity on a whether or not domestic debt will be re-structured.

After previous currency crises, rates come down after an IMF deal is approved and foreign loans resume and confidence in the currency is re-stabilished following a float.

This time however there has been no clear float, though the external sector is largely stable and foreign funding is delayed until a debt re-structure deal is made.

Sri Lanka’s external troubles usually come because the bureaucrats do not believe market rates are correct when credit demand picks up and mis-uses monetary tools given in 1950 by the parliament to suppress rates, blowing the balance of payments apart.

The result of suppressed rates by the central bank are steep spikes in rates to stop the resulting currency crisis.

A reserve collecting central bank has little or no leeway to control interest rates (monetary policy independence) without creating external troubles, which is generally expressed as the ‘impossible trinity of monetary policy objectives’.

However, it has not prevented officials from trying repeatedly to suppress rates, perhaps expecting different results.

After suppressed rates – supposedly to help businesses – trigger currency crises, the normalization combined with a currency collapse leads to impoverishment of the population.

The impoverishment through depreciation leads to a consumption shock, which also leads to revenue losses in businesses.

The suppressed rates then lead to bad loans.

In the 2020/2022 currency crisis the sovereign default has also led to more problems at banks. Several state enterprises also cannot pay back loans.

“…[T]he bad debt that is being carried by the banks is mainly from the private sector or the government sector,” President Wickremesinghe said.

“Keep the government sector aside. We’re dealing with it. How do you handle it? Look, one of our major areas of are the small and medium industries. You can’t allow them to collapse, but they’re in a bad way.”

Classical economists and analysts have called for new laws to block the ability to central bank to suppress rates in the first place so that currency crises and depreciation does not take place in the first place.

Then politicians like Wickremesinghe do not have to take drastic and unpopular measures to fix crises and there will be stability like in East Asia.

Sri Lanka had stability until 1950 when the central bank was created by abolishing an East Asia style currency board. The currency board kept the country relatively stable through two World Wars and a Great Depression.

In 1948 after the war (WWII) was over “we stood second to Japan” Wickremesinghe said.

“But we started destroying it from the sixties and the seventies,” he said. :We started rebuilding an economy, which was affected by a (civil) war, and thereafter the way we went, is best not described here.”

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