A march to celebrate International Women’s Day ended in confrontations with police on Thursday night in Male.
After the march’s intended route past the Presidential Palace and the People’s Majlis was blocked by police barricades, a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) contingent refused to disperse.
Around 200 women staged a sit down protest outside the Majeediyya School until well into the evening, with a further 100 outside the nearby Bank of Maldives (BML) main branch.
Banners calling for the resignation of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, and banners in support of former President Mohamed Nasheed were held aloft. Over loudspeakers, the voices of protesters denounced the police for blocking what they insisted was a legal right of way.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam stated that the area around the Police Headquarters, the Presidential Palace, and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Headquarters were protected against such demonstrations.
Regulations dating from previous administrations prohibit the entry of large groups of people into the area in question, reported Shiyam. An opposition protest outside MNDF headquarters, assisted by elements of the police, led to the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed, allegedly “under duress”.
People were able to move freely into and out of the area, from multiple locations, past solitary watchmen on the eastern sides of the security zone.
Noorban Fahmy of the MDP Women’s Wing assisted in organising the sit-down protest on the outskirts of the security zone: “We were marching in protest of violence against women and in celebration of International Women’s Day,” she said.
Fahmy insisted that this was the predominant aim of the initial march which was attended by women of all political affiliations.
Gender issues in the Maldives
Domestic violence is a well-documented issue in the Maldives. In 2010, a ground-breaking study conducted by the Ministry of Gender and Family reported that 1 in 3 women between the ages of 15-49 had suffered some form of physical or sexual violence during their lifetime.
Whilst acknowledging that these levels are relatively low by global standards, the report drew strong associations between such violence and mental, and physical (including reproductive) ill-health.
The issue of violence against women and the recent political unrest were combined earlier in the week as security forces turned high powered hoses on women who had gathered outside the President’s Palace on March 6.
The drenched women, who demonstrated within the prohibited security zone, were then forcibly removed by security personnel. No such incidents were reported on Thursday.
Thursday’s protesters were accompanied by some men “for the women’s security”, Fahmy told Minivan News. The area immediately in front of the police cordon outside of the People’s Majlis was reserved for women exclusively during the sit-down.
In order to maintain the spirit of the Women’s Day march, men were politely requested to stand back. After this part of the protest ended and the women headed back to the Raalhugandu area, some men remained to talk to the security representatives manning the cordon.
It has been reported that at this stage, around nine in the evening, students from Majeediyya School emerged to complain about the noise, arguing their right to an undisrupted education.
The disapproval of the students has been disputed by an eye witness, as has the likelihood of their presence in the building at such a late hour.
The women’s MDP supporters eventually relented, returning to the MDP camp in the Raalhugandu area at around 8:30pm after a brief demonstration outside the headquarters of Villa Television (VTV) where they chanted ‘traitor TV’ to staff members.
The VTV station is part of the Villa Group, the Maldives’ largest private company, owned by Jumhooree Party MP Gasim Ibrahim. The Jumhooree Party formed a prominent component of the December 23 coalition which lobbied for the removal of former President Mohamed Nasheed.