An Open Letter from a Laadheenee Dhivehi Woman

Loabivaa Dhivehi Anhenunnah,

It is International Women’s Day and here I am in the dark, at my Ladheenee feminist table, by myself, writing a letter because apparently a lot of things need to be said. Yes, you heard me. Apparently, a lot of things need to be said. 

So, how did you end up at this Ladheenee feminist table by yourself you ask? In the darkest corner of the room no less. Next to me is a little girl who has stolen some hedhikaa. Now before I dive in, apologies in advance dear reader for the all the table analogies. I am doing so because I am certain that you are all very familiar with the concept of women sitting at tables for our liberation. So, here I am. By myself. It’s a little lonely at the Ladheenee feminist table. I have often looked over at the ‘real’ feminist table and wondered how I ended up here by myself. I tried waving for attention but they just don’t seem to be able to see or hear me. It is astonishing! Perhaps I’m a ghost? I wonder what structural issues led to this situation?

Never being one to turn my nose up at self-improvement, I decided to do some self-reflection in case I am suffering from structural deficiencies. Kahchah elhi bingaa and all that jazz. I am a bisexual atheist Dhivehi woman after all. A criminal in the eyes of the Dhivehi criminal justice complex. Paradoxically, I am also non-existent according to the Dhivehi constitution. 

I am not entitled to a Dhivehi identity of my own. I cannot live and love openly, and with dignity in the country that is my home. I cannot vote. I cannot work. I cannot run for parliament. I can’t even hold my lovers hand in public. I could do all these things if I pretend to be someone I’m not. What I’m not is a cisgender Muslim Dhivehi woman.

It might be cliché to say this, but, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. To illustrate, here are some words from Sojourner Truth. It is from a speech delivered by Truth at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, almost a 170 years ago. It is about the rights of Black women in America during the era leading up to the suffragettes and first wave white Feminism

“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.”

I am not in any way equating my lived experience with that of Sojourner Truth. However, sitting alone here at my desk in my dark Laadheenee corner, listening to the sound of crunchy hedhikaa, Truth’s sentiment resonates deeply with me. This is because in Truth’s time, white women were just as complicit in her oppression whilst they themselves demanded equality with white men, the very basic unit of white patriarchy.

If not for the desire to placate white Patriarchy, for whose privilege, convenience and peace of mind did white women in Truth’s time marginalise women like her?

By extension, if not for the desire to placate Dhivehi patriarchy, for whose convenience are women like me ignored, sidelined and talked at by mainstream Dhivehi feminists at their decision making table? “Allies” who can only go so far in their intersectional crusade without leaving a heel print upon my legally non-existent criminal face.

I am sure there will be women reading this who will find issue with what I’m saying and the way I’m saying it. You might say that there is enough room for all women to make their case without tearing each other down. You might insist that all women are oppressed by Dhivehi patriarchy and its institutions and laws. As far as blanket generalisations go, this is true. But, it is a generalisation that fundamentally serves the narratives and needs of cisgender Muslim Dhivehi women. It is not in the least intersectional, despite how much you appropriate the language. Women like me are already torn down. We cannot lose the rights we’ve never had. This is a pain much deeper than any inconvenience to you. 

Take for instance parliamentary hopeful and current MP for Galolhu Uthuru, Eva Abdulla, who is widely hailed by Dhivehi feminists as a feminist icon. Eva recently shared a photo from the campaign trail where she is smiling for the camera with a constituent who is proudly showing off her niqab. In the tweet, the constituent says: “My MP came by. We agree a woman should be able to make her own decisions, and that we support each other. #womenrights #niqabirights @evattey“. The context for this being that Dhivehi niqabi women are discriminated against in the workplace and the larger public sphere for their attire.

While I’m glad that niqabi rights are gaining traction, in a country where religious conservatives are pandered to 24/7, I cannot be certain whether MP Eva and other women who supposedly practice intersectional feminism would be so comfortable doing the same with me. Do you think Eva would take a picture with me? Do you think she would share it if I uploaded it with hashtags for LGBT+ women’s rights in the workplace? Do you think she would use it as part of her campaigning? Let’s not be naïve. This is all part of her political campaigning. To publicly associate with Laadheenee women like me would be political suicide.

Cisgender niqabi women, as evidenced by the recent public protests against Laadheenees, already have many privileges over women like myself. We all remember what happened the last time Laadheenee people gathered at the same spot to advocate publicly for our rights. We haven’t gathered there since.

Women like me might be confined to unlit corners but we aren’t blind. We see how the rights of certain kinds of women take centre stage at our expense. I don’t find your selective empathy brave, and your ignorance and apathy to our suffering is horrifying. It also speaks volumes about your privilege. FYI, you can be oppressed and privileged at the same time, hence intersectionality.

So, when will it be my time to come out of this corner? When will women like me get a seat at the table? Am I not a woman too? 

It is Women’s Day 2019 and Dhivehi women like me are left to guess whether we are part of your celebrations (saying diverse women are welcome doesn’t cut it). It doesn’t matter to me what mainstream Dhivehi feminists say to each other in their insular little bubbles. What matters to me is having allies who in the very least can openly support the idea of women like me existing. Allies who have the integrity and self-reflexivity to understand their own internalised fears and biases. Allies who recognise me as a Dhivehi woman, just like them. 

Also, because I have a feeling some smart-arse is going to tell me that they take all the risks while I hide behind an anon account, this is for you. If you are afraid of speaking out for Laadheenee women such as myself, don’t take credit for hypothetical risks you don’t take. My presence is an inconvenience to you, and your tone of annoyance is not appreciated. Without my presence, you could go your merry way advocating for the rights of women such as yourself. You have done so thus far.

It is 2019. It is Women’s Day. Sitting here at my dark corner desk I think of all the women, both dheenee and laadheenee, who will occupy reygandu tonight and wonder when will Dhivehi women like me feel comfortable and safe occupying our own skin in the country that we call home. 

Bala ahannaky ves anheneh noontha?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s