IWEE Sheroes 01: Hon. Moomina Haleem
A few days back Dr Mariya Ali and I went to meet the First female minister in Maldives who also happens to be the first woman directly elected by the people to the People’s Majlis (Parliament) in Maldives. Honourable Moomina Haleem’s popularly known as “Mootha” in her circle is an inspirational lady who is also a well-respected philanthropist. A sweet smile, sparkling eyes and a house filled with warmth and hospitality, I felt an immediate connection with her. Mariya has known Moomina for decades and has always talked of her fondly and after meeting her personally, I could understand why. There other guests visiting her while we were there and it was clear from their interaction and the stories they revealed that Moomina had made a positive impact on many lives she touched by investing in their education.
After her studies, Moomina started working in November 1963 as the matron of the hospital, when the country was still a sultanate. When Mariya asked her what drew her towards this field she narrated the story of Ibrahim Didi who had a daughter studying with her and who was suffering from hepatitis. Owing to lack of ignorance doctors were unable to advise rest or avoidance of chillies as must be recommended to patients of hepatitis- She pursued medicine, as people were very ignorant in the Maldives of precautions when disease struck. Moomina was send to Colombo to study on government expense, she distinctly remembers that it took them 4 days to arrive in Colombo by sea. Moomina believes that her formal education in this sector really benefitted people of Maldives. She recalls that one guy started studying statistics in Bombay and pointed out that there is one year, and one month particularly when suddenly mortality rate for mothers and new born babies had gone done. What had happened that month he had asked? Moomina fondly remembered with a twinkle in her eye that it was then she revealed to that man that in 1963- 1stof October, Moomina had joined the hospital! That string evidence of success gave us goose bumps!
At the hospital, Moomina made several contributions and often went over and beyond her duty to make things work. She started midwifery courses and the first time she realized the need to do so when she discovered that babies were being delivered without the midwives not looking at the birth canal! ‘How did they even know when the baby was coming when they weren’t even looking?’ she asks…
In 1972, Moomina was also quite proactive when the Her Majesty the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh had visited Maldives. During their visit, the Duke asked for a machine which no one knew how to use. There were no leaflets/ pamphlets. At that time, Moomina had informed them nobody had use the machine with the ether. So, Moomina was pouring open ether on to the mask on the face. But the disadvantage was that she was inhaling it as she was short compared to her male colleagues and the table was high. Table was high. Because of this she had even lost her baby of 5 month into her pregnancy. So, he sent a qualified anaesthetist from the ship, QEII, to train the doctors to give anaesthesia.
We then asked her how she entered the political space. Moomina revealed that 10 women in Male’ wrote a letter signed by 10 women requesting her to stand for the elections to the parliament. Moomina was busy, however, since parliament those days met once in 3 months and only during the night, she agreed. There were nominated members by the government there were present even before her- Aminath Husain her aunt was the Speaker of the Parliament but Moomina was the first elected member. Moomina remained a parliament member during Nasir’s government, and was the only women for a number of years. “Before that there had been nominated women parliamentarians like my mother and two others during the first president Mohamed Ameen’s time, but I was the first one to be elected’’ revealed Moomina.
She also recalls of the time when girls went to school at night and boys went during the day. And the sessions place in the same building, it was called Madharsathul Sanniyya. Women led this school with the principal as Aminath Hussein.
Moomina also shared with us how she told people that she will not put her hand up for something she doesn’t believe in. Nasir the President at that time wanted to take off the language Dhivehi but Moomina she didn’t vote. Ibrahim Fareed didn’t vote and lot of people didn’t vote because Moomina didn’t vote. As a result of that bold stance Dhivehi stayed otherwise Nasir wanted to wipe off the language. While talked about that particular instance Moomina proudly picked her grandfather’s poetry and showed it to me while praising his high quality writing.
When asked about the problems she faced when working in male dominated environment she said she had no problem at all! Firstly, because she had education and had studied English in Sri Lanka. She also scored very good marks in Dhivehi. Secondly;
‘Men never gave me trouble also because I was elected by people- a big majority had voted for me’ And thirdly, and most importantly when I asked her if the men created any problems for her as she was the only woman, she laughingly replied; ‘Of course not, I delivered all their wives and did not charge a penny’.
Moomina remained in the parliament for quite some time after which Nasir made her the health minister. She also proudly showing picture of the treaty of independence signing with the British in 1965 and told us excitedly that she knew all the people in the picture well. Her late husband was in the picture too.
When we asked for her secret for success. She said that no one knew public health as much as she did at that time. Also, because she had gone to a College of Nursing where the four-year course included Nursing, Midwifery and Public health.
‘’ I completed a Post Graduate course in management and administration in Melbourne Independent College of Nursing, Australia.’’ she added. ‘’My education did not go to wasted and helped many people considerably.’’
Her contributions to the country has been recognised by President Mohamed by awarding her with the prestigious “Kilege” title in 2010. She continues to contribute to many charitable causes both in England and the Maldives.
Moomina inspires us and gives the message to women and girls –
“Whatever you are doing work hard and do your best!”