Fathimath Inaya, a seasoned diplomat with a career spanning 22 years in the foreign service, has been appointed as the Maldives’ first female Foreign Secretary. Inaya, who embarked on her foreign service journey in 1996, served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs until 2018. She held the position of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs during the tenure of former President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

The President’s Office confirmed her appointment as Foreign Secretary, a role equivalent to the position of Minister of State. Inaya’s diplomatic experience includes serving as a non-resident ambassador for Singapore and Thailand.

President Mohamed Muizzu, despite his public advocacy for women’s empowerment and gender-equal opportunities, has been subject to criticism for the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles within his administration. This critism was amplified when Muizzu appointed merely three women to his 22-ministry cabinet, with some political commentators describing his cabinet as “a setback for women’s empowerment.”

Notably, no women are serving in the ministerial rank at the President’s Office. The sole woman in the State Minister rank in the President’s Office is Dr Aishath Ikram, serving as the Secretary to the President on Public Policy.

Inaya’s appointment brings the total number of women appointed to the state minister level positions in the current government to nine, with 22 women serving at the deputy minister level. However, political commentators have described Muizzu’s cabinet as “regressive” in terms of women’s empowerment.

In contrast, the administration of former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has positioned itself as a champion of women’s empowerment, with women constituting 33 percent of its cabinet. Of the 18 ministries in Solih’s cabinet, six were led by women. In comparison, women lead only 13 percent of the ministries in Muizzu’s 22-member cabinet.

In response to allegations of gender disparity, Muizzu earlier asserted that despite women’s low representation in the cabinet, his administration would prioritise appointing women to leadership roles in state-owned enterprises (SOEs). He also stated that his Progressive-Congress Coalition—comprised of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the People’s National Congress (PNC)—will aim for 20 percent female representation in parliament in the forthcoming 2024 Parliamentary Elections.