In 2012, Aneesa Ahmed received the International Woman of Courage (IWOC) award by the U.S. Department of State. While serving as Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, she raised the issue of domestic violence at a time when the subject was taboo. After leaving the government, she founded the NGO “Hope for Women” and began conducting sessions on gender-based violence with students, Maldives Police Services, and other frontline workers.
When religious scholars began identifying female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) as a practice supported by Islam on national radio, Ms. Ahmed asked the government to intervene, and spoke out publicly on the harmful effects of FGM/C. By openly discussing issues like these and promoting awareness through her NGO, Ms. Ahmed plays a key role in bringing these issues into public discourse and pressing the government to take action.
We caught up with Ms. Ahmed to reflect on her work since receiving the IWOC award five years ago.
1. In a perfect world, women and girls would:
In a perfect world, women and girls would: live free from all forms of discrimination, violence and injustice, and participate fully in all aspects of public life.
2. In three words, what does courage mean to you?
Courage means: conviction, leadership and perseverance.
3. What’s your favorite memory from the International Women of Courage Award ceremony and/or your time on the exchange program?
Meeting and conversing with the then First Lady, Michelle Obama, a truly remarkable woman of substance.
4. What other International Woman of Courage stands out to you from your time in the United States?
Jineth Bedoya from Colombia. She struck to me as a woman of extraordinary courage and strength to have withstood the atrocities inflicted on her, and become an inspiration to all who work for gender justice and human rights.
5. How did the International Women of Courage Award change your work?
It did not change the work I do. But it impressed upon me that working for uplifting the oppressed pays off, and motivated me further to continue working for justice and equality for women.
6. What’s the secret to getting things done and making progress on the issues that matter to you?
The secrets to getting things done are engaging stakeholders in the design and implementation of programs, self-control, nonpartisan and alternative approaches to overcoming barriers without losing sight of the end goal.
7. What do you think is the biggest barrier to progress in your work?
Complacency of state and societal actors stemmed by cultural beliefs and widespread misconceptions about issues that matter most to us together with the non-committal attitude and helplessness of our prime beneficiaries.
8. What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of? Are there any projects you’ve worked on since the award?
I take great pride in being the first and the only woman, thus far, to have presided over the Parliament of my country since independence. I am also proud to have been conferred the second highest order of merit with a title by the state the year after I received the Woman of Courage award. I have, in fact, worked on many projects since the Award.
9. Who is your role model and why?
My role model was my mother because of her commitment and dedication to social work, leadership and her refusal to lose hope and give up in times of adversity.
10. What should the next generation of women leaders know about leadership and courage? What can they do to continue your work?
Believe in yourself, don't quit and strive for more as long as women continue to be denied their rightful place.