‘Working’ for Gender Equality

By Aishath Imthaau Ismail, Operations Assistant at UNDP Maldives

April 3, 2023
Image: (María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post) via The Lily

Culture shapes us, as much as we shape culture. 

In my culture, for example, historically and in many aspects even to this day, there are strict gender roles that dictate what men and women should do and how they should behave. Men are often expected to be strong, dominant, and independent, while women are expected to be nurturing, submissive, and dependent. These gender roles can be reinforced through socialization, media, and other cultural institutions, influencing the way we see ourselves and others. As a woman, these are stories that I have heard passed down from my great-grandmother to my mother and has in some ways been a lived reality for me as well.

Gender bias and women’s marginalization prevents us from reaching our full potential and with that comes this overwhelming feeling, a wall of distrust and insecurity. Is such an enabling and safe environment possible? Or is it just a utopian construct? 

As I got ready to join the workforce, I was told that the working culture, especially in some sectors, remains dominated by hegemonic and toxic masculinity. Former US President Barack Obama’s words resonated in my mind - “If you look at the world and look at the problems, it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.” 

Naturally, my first time walking into the UNDP Maldives country office, I was curious and anxious to know how the people around me would be like and how the culture of the working environment would feel like. As time went by, I was positively surprised by the welcoming faces, and the determination to ensure gender balance and equity in the workplace.

I was welcomed with messages on the walls outlining the importance of mutual respect, of ensuring equality. There was understanding and genuine compassion reassuring me of a collective support system to break down the barriers that hold us back at times. I was surrounded by individuals who put a conscious effort into working towards improving their self-growth while helping others grow and creating an enjoyable working environment. With an inclusive culture, gender remains central to UNDPs work, from cross-unit collaborations and perspective building sessions to game nights and cook offs, empowerment and balance is at the heart of everything that the team does, done with a feeling of community and togetherness.

With a Gender Focal Team, which I am today a part of, dedicated to working on gender equality and women’s empowerment aspects, and with corporate priorities aligned to the same, and with all our work intrinsically focused on this, this was a living, breathing thing at UNDP. We walked the talk. We felt this and worked towards this in our minds, and in our hearts. 

At UNDP Maldives, it is not at all the scary world my working friends warned me about. “It’s the people, it’s the environment, it’s the pantry and the talks that make it all worth it” as my colleague, Aishath Ilma summed up my workplace the best.  

The culture created here at UNDP Maldives ensures women’s active participation with equal opportunities for all, which has proven to me that gender equality can be incorporated into all aspects of work and life, creating an inclusive and safe working environment for all. If I walk out of here tomorrow, this is my takeaway. Something I would try to emulate wherever I go.