MPs today signed a declaration supporting the elimination of violence against women, recognising the problem of domestic violence facing the Maldives and undertaking to bear it in mind when legislating.
The signing marked the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a UN-led initiative to encourage countries to create and enforce laws punishing violence against women and girls, increase public awareness and strengthen collection of data on the issue.
“We must demand accountability for the violations, and take concrete steps to end impunity. We must listen to and support the survivors,” said UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
Kendhoo MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, parliamentary group leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), read the declaration on behalf of parliament this morning, promising that MPs will “take all steps to secure women’s rights, and will not accept sexual, physical and other forms of violence against women. We resolve to ensure that the state implements these measures and condemn all forms of violence against women and girls.”
During the debate, Maduvari MP Visam Ali of the DRP said a survey by the former gender ministry showed that one in five Maldivian women aged 15 to 49 had been sexually or physically abused by their partners.
One in nine suffered physical violence, she said, while one in eight had been sexually abused as a child. “We are stunned when we hear these statistics,” she said. “But the offenders have not been punished to anywhere near these numbers.”
The Maldivian culture of trust was partly to blame, she said, after the signing.
“Maldivian women place a lot of trust in their husbands and relatives, and most often the abuse comes from these people. There is an aspect of Maldivian culture that means because of this trust, women don’t speak about [domestic violence]. I think this is the part that has got to change,” she said.
A lack of sensitivity towards the issue among the police force added to women’s reluctance to come forward, she continued, “because police are an institution mostly made up of men, and they don’t feel the pain of this.
It’s only recently that women have become involved in police work.”
Even when domestic violence was reported there was a lack of protection and support for the victims afterwards, with no physical infrastructure and few institutional processes to support the victims.
“Maldivians also lack confidence and trust in social workers and counsellors; many are new and half-baked, so if I go to one and they talk about my problems to other people afterwards, then that’s my life lost,” she said.
Male’s congested living conditions were contributing to the problem of domestic violence, said MDP MP for Galholhu North Eva Abdullah, with cramped living conditions forcing large families to live together in small spaces “with a lack of breathing space.”
“Families and distant relatives are cramped together in small rooms,” she said. “A set up that makes it difficult for women to report [domestic violence].”
Thulusdhoo MP Rozaina Adam emphasised the importance of raising awareness of women’s rights, arguing that many Maldivian men used religion to justify discrimination against women.
“Girls need to be taught about equal opportunity,” she said, as many are told they are inferior to men.