Preparing Women Leaders to Contest for Local Council Elections
The children giggle and chatter as they wait for their parents to collect them. As the last of them shakes her hand and leaves with a cheery “Bye, Aunty” (the moniker for teacher), Fahumeena Hussain, 30, lets out a sigh. She gathers the papers and crayons from the desks and stacks them in a neat pile on the shelf. Even though the pre-school session is done for the day, her job is far from over. She has to hurry to fulfil her other role at the Women’s Development Committee (WDC).
As the Vice-President of Baa Atoll Hithaadhoo Island’s WDC, Fahumeena has her work cut out for her. There is a big meeting today. She goes over the day’s agenda, and calls the President of the Committee to re-confirm some action points. Fahumeena is very excited about this meeting. One of their members, who had participated at a training specifically targeting the women of WDC’s, will be sharing her experiences tonight. Conducted by an NGO on her island, the training had been supported by the Small Grants Facility of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“We have all heard about Democracy, the Decentralisation Act and Local Governance. Today I am going to tell you how women have a central role in making these work for our community,” the guest of honour and her fellow WDC member commences the session and Fahumeena avidly starts taking notes.
“Back in 2012, I had lost the chance to participate in this first training. I heard really good things about the exercise though. I even collected the workshop materials from her,” Fahumeena nods in the direction of the speaker. “In fact, I was inspired to contest in the WDC elections because of the trainees’ feedback on the integral role of women and how we can be agents of change,” she continues.
- Trainings supported by the Small Grants Facility of the Integrated Governance Programme of UNDP
- Trainings targeting women of WDC and hopefuls for the local council seats conducted by NGO HIDA of Baa Atoll Hithaadhoo Island
- Training detailed how local councils should operate, and their roles and responsibilities. Focused on the Decentralization Act.
The information session is especially helpful for Fahumeena, as she plans to participate in the UNDP-supported second round of trainings by HIDA, the same NGO who undertook the training targeting the women of WDC. The theme this time would be focused on training people for the Local Council, and Fahumeena has decided to contest for a council seat in her island. “With the Local Council Election coming up, there couldn’t be a better time for this training,” Fahumeena says eagerly.
As the day dawned for the training for council hopefuls, facilitated by representatives from knowledgeable government institutions and civil society groups, Fahumeena joined many other men and women from her island who came inspired to take up leadership positions in the community.
Being a nascent democracy, the formation of Local Councils, and the changes to the role and operation of WDCs brought with it a considerable degree of confusion surrounding the different mandates and legislations. People were not aware of how these institutions were supposed to operate. According to NGO HIDA, prior to their trainings, the people of Hithaadhoo Island, especially the women, had only limited awareness about how a decentralized system works or how a Council Office was supposed to function.
At the training, Fahumeena shares with the group that being the VP of the WDC has made her realise the challenges that exist in a local governance system. She says that things are not always as clear cut and obstacles are many, especially for women in leadership positions.
The training focused on how local councils should operate. It detailed the important aspects of the Decentralization Act, including the functions and responsibilities of a Local Council and how the council should communicate and interact with the community.
For the hopeful women contestants from the island, the training has been empowering. “Women of Hithaadhoo have always been homely and somewhat docile. Our role at the community level has oftentimes been limited to cleaning and cooking for functions and such. This has been creating a gender imbalance in our community at a time of such rapid changes. Therefore such a training is necessary,” one of Fahumeena’s fellow participants said.
“I am now more certain that ever in my decision to run in the upcoming Local Council Election. I hope to bring change and show others that being a woman is not a reason for us not to be able to participate in our community’s affairs. After all, anything a man can do, intellectually or otherwise, so can a woman,” Fahumeena concludes with a clever grin.