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Cablegate: Maldives: U/S Fore Meets with Women Leaders On the Eve Of

VZCZCXRO5771
PP RUEHBI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #0423/01 0740314
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 150314Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5659
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0751
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 9967
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 6936
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 5014
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 2164
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 7510
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 5213
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1891
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000423

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

DOL/ILAB FOR TINA MCCARTER

STATE FOR SCA/INS, DRL/IL FOR LAUREN HOLT

MCC FOR S GROFF, D NASSIRY AND E BURKE

TREASURY FOR LESLIE HULL

E.O 12958: N/A
TAGS: KWMN PREL PHUM MV
SUBJECT: MALDIVES: U/S FORE MEETS WITH WOMEN LEADERS ON THE EVE OF
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

REF: COLOMBO 284
1. (U) Summary: On March 7, the eve of International Women's Day,
visiting Under Secretary of State for Management Henrietta Fore held
a round-table discussion with female political and business leaders
in Male'. The participants said that female contributions to civil
society and the economy are generally unappreciated in Maldives, and
the role of women may be declining due to increased Islamic
fundamentalism. U/S Fore highlighted to her interlocutors that a
Maldivian citizen was honored by Secretary Rice with the
International Women of Courage Award. End Summary.

ECONOMIC RIGHTS LIMITED

2. (U) During U/S Fore's March 7 visit to Maldives the day prior to
International Women's Day, she held a discussion with women leaders
in business and civil society. One participant said that Maldivian
women have traditionally played a strong role in economic activity,
but their contributions are rarely recognized. She described
inheritance laws unfavorable to women that permit husbands to
maintain control of assets that wives are bequeathed. Such
treatment is symptomatic of a prevailing attitude in Maldives that
women are incapable of handling money, discussants said. U/S Fore
noted that the women present clearly demonstrated that females could
succeed in financial enterprises. She suggested that female
business leaders select one bank from the few present in Maldives
and focus on negotiating special loan packages and marketing
targeted to women.

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS UNDER THREAT?

3. (U) One discussant voiced support for a quota for women within
the People's Majlis (the legislature). Another noted that although
females in Maldives' political parties generally agree on certain
women's issues, they feel intimidated within male-dominated
political parties, and generally do not advocate strongly for
women's issues. U/S Fore praised one notable women's rights
activist, Mariya Ahmed Didi, recipient of the Secretary's
International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award.

4. (U) The group also discussed the increased impact of Islamic
extremism (a topic raised in several other meetings with U/S Fore,
covered septel). Although the rising use of conservative Islamic
dress is readily apparent on the capital island of Male',
interlocutors told the Under Secretary that on several other
islands, almost all women now wear coverings. They said this is
antithetical to traditional Maldivian custom, in which a woman's
face should not be covered. While no one condemned wearing the
veil, the women in the meeting described the shift to its use as one
symptom of increased Islamic extremism in the country. They worried
that if fundamentalism takes root, it will further infringe on
women's rights.

MALDIVIAN IWOC RECIPIENT TOPIC OF DISCUSSION

5. (SBU) At meetings outside of the women's forum, various
Maldivian officials praised the decision to award Maldivian citizen
Ms. Mariya Ahmed Didi the Secretary's IWOC Award (reftel A).
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Shaheed posited that the award
served as recognition of the Maldivian reform efforts underway.
Other officials expressed pleasure at the award, and gave similar
pro-government interpretations. On March 9, however, Shaheed
contacted Ambassador Blake and asked him to provide a public
explanation of the award's criteria. Shaheed said that some in
Maldives speculated that his familial connection to the winner
played a role in her selection. (Note: Shaheed was previously
married to Didi's sister, with whom he has a son. They are
divorced, but he maintains good relations with her family, including
Didi, a personal friend. End note.) He worried that hardliners
were especially critical because the award recipient is a vocal
anti-government member of the opposition. The Ambassador provided

COLOMBO 00000423 002 OF 002


information about the award selection process to the Minister and
offered to give an interview to local media.

COMMENT

6. (SBU) The concerns Maldivian women shared with U/S Fore bolster
our assessment that finding ways to empower local women may act as a
counter-balance to Islamic extremism. Through public diplomacy
efforts and Embassy-wide outreach, we will continue to emphasize the
need for greater gender equality. It is interesting to note that in
meetings with American officials, government ministers co-opted the
IWOC Award recipient as part of the broader reform agenda. However,
Didi herself has strongly criticized the slow pace of
democratization and urged the government to do more. For the local
audience, and especially in facing anti-reform hard-liners, Foreign
Minister Shaheed sought to create some distance from Didi and
provide the objective criteria for her selection.

7. (U) Under Secretary Fore has cleared this cable.

BLAKE

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