RAP Publication 1999/15

Maldivian Gender Roles
Bio-resource Management


By: Dr. (Ms.) Hemal S. Kanvinde

M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
Chennai, India

Edited by:

Marlynne E. Hopper

The designations and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area, or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author alone and do not imply any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO.

ISBN: 974-680-163-5

Technical support:

Dr. Revathi Balakrishnan
Regional Rural Sociologist and Women in Development Officer
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Bangkok, Thailand

Cover Credit:

Apinya Petcharat
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Bangkok, Thailand

For copies write to:

Regional Rural Sociologist and Women in Development Officer
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
39 Phra Atit Road
Bangkok 10200, Thailand

This document was prepared as one of a series of studies on the gender dimensions of biodiversity management in Asia. This series was initiated by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in 1996. A study on gender dimensions in biodiversity management in India has been published.


FAO recognizes that rural women hold the key to the livelihood security of millions of the households and to achieve conservation and sustainable use of plant and animal diversity. Rural women's roles as food providers and food producers link them directly to the conservation and sustainable utilization of genetic resources for food and agriculture. Centuries of practical experience have vested in rural women in South Asia the unique knowledge and user perspectives about local crop, marine and livestock management systems. Rural men and women in small island countries have lived in a symbiotic relationship with the land and marine diversity that provides livelihood resources and contributes to household food security. Yet, seldom the gender specific roles of men and women in small island countries of South Asia are documented in association with bio-resources management. Under FAO Regional Women in Development programme on gender concerns in natural resource management and household food security, series of studies were commissioned to document gender roles in bio-diversity management in South Asia. This case study on Maldives is one of them.

The study examines the gender roles in livelihood resource management in the ecosystem context of Maldives archipelago, rich in natural wealth, particularly marine bio-diversity. The marine wealth and mangroves are integral components of the livelihood resource base to this small island nation's dispersed communities. Gender specific roles and associated knowledge have played an important part in harvesting of bio-resources for households' productive activities. The publication of this document is very timely since it coincides with the FAO's special focus on Small Island Countries this year.

It is hoped that the key information presented in this case study and its recommendations for managing the bio-resources of the Maldives, will be a significant step ahead toward integrating gender concerns in the development agenda and mainstreaming women in bio-diversity management.

Prem Nath
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Bangkok, Thailand

April 1999




Gender analysis deals with the socially constructed roles and relationships among men and women in their day to day activities. There is a wide spread misunderstanding of the distinction between the gender mainstreaming paradigm and the exclusively women-centered development approaches, though both are complimentary to one another. In our efforts in planning for equitable development and sustainable use of bio-resources, it will be crucial to understand gender relations in the community and gender roles in resource management.

In 1996, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, initiated a series of studies on the “gender dimensions in bio-diversity management”, in SAARC countries in Asia. M S Swaminathan Research Foundation was invited to undertake this study, first in India and later in Maldives. The studies carried out in India have been published in a book titled, “Gender Dimensions in Biodiversity Management”, by Konark Publishers, New Delhi.

The present publication documents the results of the study carried out in Maldives by Dr.(Ms) Hemal Kanvinde of the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation during March, 1998.

The study draws our attention to the richness of the biological wealth of Maldives as well as to the shared and independent roles of men and women in the use of conservation of terrestrial and marine bio-resources. The study documents the gender roles in the management of the bio-resources of Maldives. The analysis of landscape and roles of men and women has led to relevant recommendations including a framework to develop and sustain People's Biodiversity Registers by local communities. These proposals for community involvement in bio-diversity management could facilitate the process of mainstreaming both gender and biodiversity in all development activities.

I am indebted to Dr.(Ms) Revathi Balakrishnan, Regional Rural Sociologist and Women in Development Officer of FAO Regional Office, Bangkok for inviting us to undertake this study and to Dr.(Ms) Hemal Kanvinde for carrying out the study with care and devotion as well as for preparing the report. Above all, my thanks go to the Government of Maldives for the help and advice extended for carrying out this study as well as for their commitment to promoting rapid economic development rooted in the principles of ecological and social sustainability.

1999M S Swaminathan
Chair, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation
And UNESCO Chair in Ecotechnology

3rd Cross Street, Taramani Institutional Area, Chennai (Madras) - 600 113
Telephone: (044) 2351229, 2351698, Fax: +91-44-2351319
E-mail: [email protected]


We thank the author Dr. (Ms.) Hemal Kanvinde, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation for undertaking the study on “Roles of Men and Women in Bio-Resource Management”, in the Maldives. The study examines the issues of gender dimensions in the community life of Maldives, particularly as relevant to using and caring for the biodiversity heritage of the small island country.

We gratefully thank the Government of Maldives for approving and supporting the study through the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture (MoFA). In particular the author thanks, Mr. Jadullah Jameel, Director General of MoFA for his interest in the study and Mr. Hassan Maniku, Director, Marine Research Section for sharing his insights on Maldives. She acknowledges gratefully the support of Mr. Ibrahim Shariff of the MoFA for providing guidance as well as helping as an interpreter. A study of this nature that focused on life styles and household resource management concerns, is possible only through the generosity of communities that shared their knowledge and experience with the author. We thank them all for helping us with the study.

We thank M.S. Swaminathan for supporting this study and similar efforts of RAPS Women in Development programme.

Women in Development Service
Sustainable Development Department Group (RAPS)
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Bangkok, Thailand

April 1999


The Maldives archipelago is rich in natural wealth, particularly marine biodiversity. Traditionally, the country's island-based communities have depended on these resources for their food and livelihood security. Maldivian men have proven their skills as fishermen, harvesting tuna, shark, reef fish and a variety of other species from the lagoons and waters surrounding their islands. Women have traditionally played the major role in agricultural and household production and childcare, as well as in drying and processing fish and producing a range of local fibre-based handicrafts. Gender roles and associated knowledge have played an important role in these harvesting and productive activities based on bio-resources. Indeed, these local knowledge systems and community-based practices have effectively ensured the sustainable harvesting and conservation of the archipelago's natural capital, helping to conserve the extent of biological diversity over time.

This study analyses the natural and human endowments of the Maldives on the basis of landscape and lifescape characteristics. This approach makes it possible to take into account the importance of the country's ecological, social, economic and political environment to community activities and farm life, as well as the nature and direction of resource flows, and resource use and management within the landscape. Using such a landscape-lifescape approach to analyse and achieve an understanding of gender dimensions is, in many ways, compliments FAO's “Socio-economic and Gender Analysis” (SEAGA) framework for gender planning. In the case of this study, the socio-economic framework is expanded through the incorporation of a larger bio-resource environmental aspect.

One of the primary objectives of this case study is to provide an overview of biodiversity management systems in the Maldives. This also the traditional systems which have served to conserve the country's natural wealth while, at the same time, enabling island communities to harvest these bio-assets to ensure their own survival. The main focus of the study is on Maldivian gender roles in bio-resource management. In this context, the study examines how gender roles have traditionally played a part in the sustainable utilisation and management of natural resources and biodiversity. Different roles and responsibilities of men and women in harvesting and managing terrestrial and marine-based resources are identified and analysed. The analysis covers, for instance, gender roles in land and water management, household agricultural production, seed selection, and harvesting activities, home gardening, commercial agriculture, fishery related activities, etc.

In addition to traditional conservation practices, the study also considers the more recent institutional and legislative framework for biodiversity management in the Maldives. In this context, some of the relatively newly introduced means for in situ conservation are analysed, including marine protected areas and protection for valuable species.

Emerging trends pose new challenges for the future sustainability and management of the natural resources of the Maldives. Global threats related to increasing greenhouse gases and an associated rise in sea level are of real concern to an island nation where most of the population lives on land with a negligible height above mean sea level. On a national level, rising population pressures, increased pollution, economic growth, and growing demands for space threaten the resource base on which a large part of the population and economy depend.

At the same time, lifestyles and traditional practices are gradually changing. With the mechanization of the traditional fishing boats since the 1970s, for instance, time and distance constraints facing fishermen have dramatically reduced, opening up vast new fishing areas. These trends, together with their attendant effects, have implications for the use and management of the Maldives' natural resources in the future. Furthermore, they have increased the need to strengthen and expand existing mechanisms aimed at sustainable resource management.

In this context, the study makes a number of recommendations which will, it is hoped, provide guidance to a country already concerned with the need to balance developmental and environmental objectives. Among these recommendations, the following are particularly important:

As the Maldives enters the next phase of development, the current gains on gender equity should be consolidated and further expanded. The country faces the persistent task of managing economic growth balancing it with conservation of natural wealth. The atoll communities have both the traditional knowledge and capabilities to manage their bio-assets in a responsible manner. These communities of men and women are to be well supported in the management of bio-diversity and responsible use of bio-resources.

Hyperlinks to non-FAO Internet sites do not imply any official endorsement of or responsibility for the opinions, ideas, data or products presented at these locations, or guarantee the validity of the information provided. The sole purpose of links to non-FAO sites is to indicate further information available on related topics.

This electronic document has been scanned using optical character recognition (OCR) software. FAO declines all responsibility for any discrepancies that may exist between the present document and its original printed version.







1.   Introduction

1.1   Natural Capital: Dispersed Diversity
1.2   Cultural Capital: A Unique Combination of Cultural Influences
1.3   Human Capital: Population, Education, Employment and Lifescape
1.4   Governance

2.   Biological Diversity of the Maldives

2.1   Terrestrial Biodiversity
2.2   Marine Biodiversity Resources and Livelihoods

3.   Biodiversity Management

3.1   Institutional Framework for Biodiversity Management
3.2   Legislative Framework for Biodiversity Management
3.3   Conservation and Protection in Practice

4.   Gender Dimensions in Bio-resource Management

4.1   Land Ownership and Management
4.2   Water Resource Management
4.3   Gender Roles in Agricultural Production, Seed Management and Harvesting
4.4   Home Gardens, Biodiversity and Household Food Security
4.5   Commercial Crop Production and Gender Differences
4.6   Medicinal Plants and Traditional Practitioners
4.7   Wildlife Management
4.8   Gender Roles in Harvesting Marine Resources and Post-harvest Activities
4.9   Emerging Gender Concerns in Bio-resource Management

5.   Conclusions and Recommendations


Annex .1   Framework for the Preparation of a People's Biodiversity Register for the Maldives


Table 1     Population Distribution by Age Group in Male' and the Atolls
Table 2     Employment Distribution of Women and Men by Sector in the Maldives (1985 and 1990)
Table 3     Employment by Sector of Woman and Men on the Atolls, 1985 and 1990
Table 4     Employment of Men and Women in Senior Government Positions
Table 5     Comparative Employment of Men and Women in the Public Sector
Table 6     Distribution of Different Plants Species
Table 7     Tree Species Used for Timber
Table 8     Medicinal Plants and their Uses
Table 9     Major Tuna and Tuna Like Species
Table 10   Commercially Important Sharks
Table 11   Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Maldives
Table 12   Gender Roles in Land Management
Table 13   Gender Roles in Agriculture
Table 14   Seed Selection and Storage Techniques for Selected Crops on Kela Island
Table 15   Gender Roles in Fisheries Harvesting and Post-harvesting Activities
Table 16   Fish Harvesting Techniques in the Maldives


Figure 1.   Profile of an Atoll and Lagoon
Figure 2.   The Fresh Water Lens
Figure 3.   Different Habitats: A Cross-sectional View
Figure 4.   Land Use Patterns on Kela Island
Figure 5.   Household Water Harvesting System
Figure 6.   Mixed Farming in a Typical Family Plot
Figure 7.   Sample Home Gardens on Kela Island


Box 1.   History of Agricultural Development in the Maldives
Box 2.   Mangrove Resources in the Maldives
Box 3.   Bats in the Maldives: Biodiversity's Friends or Farmers' Foes?
Box 4.   Formation and Erosion of Islands
Box 5.   NGO Efforts to Protect Maldivian Bird Life
Box 6.   Mechanisation of Traditional Fishing Boats and Family Food Security


Map 1   Republic of Maldives
Map 2   Marine Protected Areas in the Maldives


Landscape/LifeScape and Bio-Resource Management
Maldivian Gender Roles in Fisheries Harvest and Post-harvest
Multiple Roles of Maldivian Women


ARTEPAsian Regional Team for Employment Promotion, New Delhi
CBDConvention on Biological Diversity
CITESConvention on International Trade in Endangered Species
EEZExclusive Economic Zone
EIAEnvironmental Impact Assessments
ERUEnvironment Research Unit
GDPGross Domestic Product
GEFGlobal Environment Facility
ILOInternational Labour Organization
IUCNInternational Union for the Conservation of Nature
MoFAMinistry of Fisheries and Agriculture
MPAMarine Protected Areas
MPHREMinistry of Planning, Human Affairs and Environment
MRSMarine Research Section
MWASWMinistry of Women's Affairs and Social Welfare
NCPENational Commission for the Protection of the Environment Resources
NGONon-governmental Organization
PBRPeople's Biodiversity Register
SAARCSouth Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
UNCEDUnited Nations Conference on Environment and Development
UNCLOS IIIUN Convention on the Law of the Sea
WMOWorld Meteorological Organization

US$ 1 = Rufiya (MRf) 11.82 (February 1998).