Comment: Mosque, story of my country

This article was first published on www.patheos.com. Republished with permission. 

I feel the weight of a nation on my shoulders; a nation that is too often spoken of in the global community in terms of its natural beauty rather than in terms of its people. And I wonder whether my individual experience reflects the experiences of all those Maldivians, who share this fate of having their life experiences casually set aside whenever their country is mentioned. ‘Maldives has really beautiful beaches, right?’ I am often asked. ‘Yes, and very interesting people.’

Most of us are Muslims, living in about 190 of the 1200 islands that form our country. Islam is the state religion, and the constitution requires all laws made in the country to abide by Islamic principles and all Maldivian citizens to be Muslims. As young Muslims, growing up Maldivian is a privilege that few of us seem to appreciate. Our community is mostly Muslim; our education system, our laws, our traditions and ethos are loosely based around Islamic principles; we have historically been spared the sectarian disputes that have plagued many other Muslim communities worldwide; almost always, no matter where we are on an inhabited island, we have a mosque within walking distance.

That is not to say we don’t have our share of difficulties. Our rather reserved society has failed to respond to the spiritual, social, economic and other needs of our youth demographic, and we are suffering the consequences. Many young people are becoming either disillusioned with religion or radicalised by groups who promote sectarian violence and Takfiri ideologies among others. Faced with a general lack of everything: proper housing, jobs, educational opportunities, space for self-expression, and for many kids, even a stable family environment – Maldives has one of the highest divorce rates in the world -, many young people are turning to drugs and delinquency as outlets for their emotions and frustrations. To top it all, in an environment rife with corruption and political discord, the growing disillusionment of youth from the political process and social structures is resulting in young people becoming more sidelined from the general community.

In all of this, the failure of the Mosque – as an institution representing religion – becomes apparent. The sermons coming out of the Mosque almost always address matters relating to creed, never relating them to issues that are more directly connected to socio-economic problems. When such matters are addressed, often there is a huge disparity between the preachings of the religious scholar and the tested and proven principles of human sciences.

Moreover, the Mosque is often not a welcoming space for women. In the past year or so, I have carried out a project to photographically document the differences between the men’s and women’s prayer areas. Not all mosques have a women’s area. Of the mosques that do, some mosques have the rainwater drainage pipes coming from the roof ending right at the women’s entrance. Others have women’s prayer areas too small, especially for the number of women who come out to pray Tarawih in congregation at the mosque during Ramadan. And of all the mosques in the capital that I have been to, few have a women’s area that shares the general ambiance of the prayer area used by the men.

This general lack of consideration towards women is doubled by the lack women’s access to the lectures given by scholars (most importantly, perhaps, foreign scholars), in the men’s prayer areas of the mosques. Moreover, no female Islamic scholar in the country holds, or in fact has ever held, a public lecture in a mosque.

Despite the odds, though, Maldivians are inching their way forward. Young people are trying to beat the rising rate delinquency. Despite the failure of the mosque to address human rights, administrative justice and other important issues, the youth are filling the moral gap as they know how, with the help of international and local rights groups. Female worshipers are increasing at mosques, especially for Tarawih and Eid prayers.

Maldives is a country that is moving forward currently, perhaps, in spite of its mosques. The community, and often its most vulnerable, are suffering the consequences and compensating for the current failure of the Mosque. I hope that one day, the Mosque will be an institution that drives and contributes to our progress. For that to happen, the Mosque has a lot of catching up to do.

Aisha Hussain Rasheed is a Maldivian Muslim woman, who believes our Islamic heritage is the key to our future, if only we know how to use it. You can follow her on Twitter @ishahr and on Facebook.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Judge may bar defence evidence in ‘airport protest’ cases

A criminal court judge overseeing charges against 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the airport has allegedly said he may bar the defence from calling witnesses if evidence by the state is sufficient to prove charges.

Some 14 women and one man were arrested on March 5 while carrying posters calling for former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The freedom of assembly act prohibits protests at airports. The penalty is a MVR150 fine or a six-month jail term, house arrest or banishment.

Lawyers claimed the women were not protesting, and requested the opportunity to present defence witnesses. But criminal court judge Sujau Usman said if the testimony by ten police officers proves charges, he may not allow the defence to present evidence.

Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges, without allowing him to call defence witnesses.

The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the move as “contrary to international fair trial standards.”

Former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was also not allowed to call the majority of his defence witnesses in a weapons smuggling charge. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail by the same bech that oversaw Nasheed’s trial.

The opposition has held nightly street protests and mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 over Nasheed’s sentencing, but it is rare for demonstrations to take place at the airport in view of international tourists.

Among those arrested were Malé City deputy-mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice-president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed.

One woman, Yumna, says her passport has been withheld over the charges.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Ali Azim has been charged with obstructing police duty during a mass protest on February 27. The first hearing is scheduled for May 25.

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“Social stigma, religious and social culture” hinder women’s sexual health, says Hope for Women

Young women’s sexual health is being compromised by “social stigma, religious and social culture,” argues Fathmath Nazeefa, Advocacy Officer at local NGO Hope for Women.

According to Nazeefa, many young Maldivians refrain from accessing the limited sexual health services due to these societal pressures.

“It is apparent in many cases we are lacking information in the family-planning area, early sexual engagements, and in gender stereotyping, which actually makes women to go ahead with child bearing practices even though that is not in their best practice,” Nazeefa told Minivan News.

Her comments came after the body of a new-born baby was discovered in a house in Maafanu yesterday. After local media reported that an 18-year-old committed infanticide after having hidden her pregnancy, police have today confirmed the girl in question was arrested this afternoon.

After being taken into custody at around 2:20pm, the girl’s will be detained for up to fifteen days pending a court appearance.

Nazeefa expressed particular concern over a lack of sexual health education for young women which prevents them from making informed choices.

“To prevent this, we need to educate the young minds starting from adolescents on human anatomy, reproductive health, and build their capacity to protect themselves from being sexually exploited.”

A lack of sexual education, argues Nazeefa, is “depriving [women] of their sexual rights and human rights as well.”

“The ultimate objective has to be the empowerment of girls and women so that they make the right choices,” she concluded.

Rise in Infanticide – DNP reports

Yesterday’s news of the abandoned baby girl – discovered after the mother was forced to seek medical treatment by her family – has brought attention to the issues surrounding sexual health services available to young women.

Local media reported yesterday that the 18 year-old gave birth on her own in the family bathroom, with family members unaware of her pregnancy.

According to one family member, the girl didn’t admit to giving birth – even during a doctors appointment arranged by her family.

“However, doctors kept questioning her about her marital status,” a young female member of the family told local newspaper Haveeru.

According to Maldivian law, the repercussions for fornication out of wedlock is flogging for both the man and the woman involved.

The Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, and it’s justice system is based on a hybrid of common law and Islamic Sharia.

Some critics of the justice system have also highlighted the lack of accountability for men in cases of extra marital fornication.

“These women are tainted for life and forever looked down upon. There were a couple of men too, but the islanders did not react in the same way against the men. They seem to be more easily accepted back into society, their sins are generally forgiven or forgotten in time,” a former court official, who wished to remain anonymous, had previously told Minivan News.

Issues regarding a lack of support services for women with unwanted pregnancies in the Maldives have been well-documented in the past.

A report entitled ‘Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014‘, carried out by the Department of National Planning (DNP), claimed that incidents of infanticide and unsafe abortions are symptoms of a lack of sexual education in young Maldivians.

The report identified, “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents and youth population.”

Infanticide also appears to be increasing, as demonstrated by media reports cited in the study, which included several new born babies and few premature babies abandoned in parks, buried in secluded places, or thrown into the sea.

“These are clear indications for the need of life skills programmes and reproductive health education,” the study suggested. “Access and utilisation of contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies must also be advocated to minimise these issues.”

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Baby girl found in bag pronounced dead

An abandoned baby girl who was discovered inside a bag at a residence in Maafanu, Malé, has been pronounced dead today.

The baby was discovered at midnight last night, police told Minivan News, estimating that the she had been left inside the bag since yesterday.

Police then took the baby to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), where the child was pronounced dead at 1pm today. Local media have reported the incident to have been infanticide.

The mother of the baby has not yet been taken into custody, added police, who declined to give any other information about the mother and father of the child.

Local newspaper Haveeru has reported family members as saying that the cause of death was suffocation.

Sources from the family, who had not been aware of the pregnancy, were also reported to have said the 18-year-old had given birth alone in the bathroom of her residence on Friday.

“From her stomach, or her actions, we were not aware that she was pregnant. However we previously questioned her about her not getting her menstruation periods,” a family member told the paper.

“She replied then that her periods are irregular, and that it is the norm to have three or four month delays. She was agile and often climbed up the stairs to the third floor with bottles of water and things quite easily. However, it raised suspicions that on Friday she was often clutching her belly,” the family source continued.

The family member said that people in the household had questioned her out of concern on Friday as she was bleeding profusely. The girl, however, refused to admit anything was wrong though the family eventually took her to hospital.

“She didn’t admit to anything even after she was taken into hospital on Friday. However, doctors kept questioning her about her marital status,” a young female member of the girl’s family told Haveeru.

“Then yesterday she confessed that she gave birth alone and flushed the baby down the toilet. The people of this house were sleepless with fright when today she said she gave birth and put the baby into a suitcase in the room.”

Family reported the matter to police after the girl’s confession. The mother is still hospitalised.

The family is said to have expressed regret about the incident, stating that they would have taken care of the infant if the girl had confessed rather than resorting to infanticide.

Issues regarding a lack of support services for women with unwanted pregnancies in the Maldives have been well-documented in the past.

A report entitled ‘Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014‘, carried out by the Department of National Planning, claimed that incidents of infanticide and unsafe abortions are symptoms of a lack of sexual education in young Maldivians.

The report identified, “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents and youth population.”

Infanticide also appears to be increasing, as demonstrated by media reports cited in the study, which included several new born babies and few premature babies abandoned in parks, buried in secluded places, or thrown into the sea.

“These are clear indications for the need of life skills programmes and reproductive health education,” the study suggested. “Access and utilisation of contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies must also be advocated to minimise these issues.”

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Comment: Equality for women is progress for all

Dr Akjemal Magtymova is currently acting UN Resident Coordinator and the World Health Organization’s Representative to the Republic of Maldives.

This year the United Nations in the Maldives is commemorating the 39th International Women’s Day. The theme for the day is “Equality for women is progress for all”. The Maldives has made remarkable achievements and addressed some critical issues in achieving gender equality.

Having endorsed a number of important international conventions and declarations, the country has made progressive efforts in positively translating these commitments into domestic legislations and policies.

The 2008 Constitution eliminated legal barriers that bar women from running for the highest public office as well as introduced affirmative measures to address inequalities for the first time. Furthermore, the Domestic Violence Act ratified in the year 2012 provided a much needed legal framework in protecting women from being subjected to forms of domestic violence and abuse.

Realizing gender equity is a road with milestones and there are difficult challenges ahead in achieving substantive results on gender equality and women empowerment. The Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3) can be seen as a compass in the road to “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment”: the Maldives has achieved one of the MDG3 targets of gapping gender disparity in primary and secondary enrollment while the remaining two targets on women’s political and economic participation are yet to be achieved.

Statistics from 2006 Census indicate 59 percent of women participate in the country’s labor force as opposed to 79 percent of men, despite the number of women enrolled in tertiary education being higher than that of men. In the Civil Service, only 25 percent of women earn more than MVR 15,000, although they represent more than half of the workforce meaning that the majority of women in civil service are working in lower ranks.

When it comes to their representation in key public positions, women are heavily under-represented in all three arms of the state. According to statistics from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Maldives remains at the 126th position in terms of female representation in the People’s Majlis, with just 5 female parliamentarians in the 77 member legislature. Furthermore, only 59 women have been elected to office in the 2014 local council elections compared to 1,025 men. There are only nine female judges and magistrates in judiciary with no female representation on the Supreme Court bench.

These data show that the Maldives need to make significant efforts towards gender balance to translate the equality guaranteed in the Constitution and laws into equality of results.

Social norms and stereotypes that expect women to undertake the bulk of domestic work are often a barrier to greater female participation in public life. In order to enjoy equal access to employment women should have access to services such as childcare facilities. Domestic violence is also one of the factors that prevent women from assuming greater roles in the society and public.

Mere complacency in addressing these issues could reverse the gains that have been already made so far. Focus needs to be drawn on measures that are required to accelerate the achievement of substantive gender equality in the society. Sufficient budgetary and human resources need to be allocated by the state to strengthen institutions to effectively mainstream gender into legislation and policies.

Every woman and girl, regardless of her economic status or where she lives, has equal rights to shape her own future and the future of the country. Human history has shown that women can be, and have been, at the forefront of positive societal advancements.

There are many able Maldivian women who are examples and inspiration for many more. These women, not only play an effective role in the local communities and the Government, but also contribute significantly beyond the national boundaries by actively engaging in regional, international and global forums and foreign diplomacy. This is a positive example providing inspiration for individuals and their communities to help unfold the potential of women to inspire change and development.

To borrow the words of the UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon, “the importance of achieving equality for women and girls is not simply because it is a matter of fairness and fundamental human rights, but because progress in so many other areas depends on it.”

Wishing the Maldives further advancement in its development milestones and gender equity. The United Nations will remain a partner to support this progress through its collaborative programmes.

Happy Women’s Day!

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Climate injustice an opportunity for more sustainable justice: Nasheed

“I see the injustice created by climate change as an opportunity,” said former President Mohamed Nasheed stated in his keynote address at the “Women Rising for Climate Justice – A Day of Action” event held in Male’ on Thursday night.

Women, poor women in particular, face greater hardships and challenges from climate change injustices, he noted, adding that Nasheed said that three women died for every man who died in the 2004 tsunami.

The event was organised by local NGO Voice of Women (VOW) with Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN). It was also in collaboration with ‘One Billion Rising for Justice‘ (a global campaign to end violence against women, calling for justice and gender equality).

Recalling his visits to temporary shelters for victims of the tsunami in Maldives, Nasheed said that hardships faced by women after such a disaster were also far greater. Commenting on the impact of climate change on health, he said the effects were also felt more strongly by women, as individuals and as caregivers.

Conflicts and wars that result from that scarcity of natural resources caused by climate change also have a greater impact on women, Nasheed said.

“We see that women stand up when they face hardships. When women stand up and take action, I believe things improve in a more sustainable manner,” he continued. “I have found their [women’s] work, courage, and willpower to be of an amazing level, especially because of how my life turned out to be in the past two or three years. I am sure you will work to find a solution for this issue. And I believe you can find those solutions. And I believe you can save this world.”

In addition to Nasheed, Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim also spoke at the event, pledging to raise his voice on behalf of women in climate change issues. He also said increasing women’s participation and protection of women’s rights in social and economic planning is very important to minimise the impacts of climate change.

A statements of encouragement and solidarity sent from female leaders involved in climate change justice was also delivered at the event.

Among those who sent the message were former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, the founder of WECAN Osprey Orielle Lake, and Director of Climate Wise Women Tracy Mann.

A song produced by VOW ‘Climate Justice, Vow with us’ was performed live at the event, before all attendees signed the WECAN declaration ‘Women of the World Call for Urgent Action on Climate Change & Sustainability Solutions’.

The declaration

The declaration was ratified at the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit held in New York in September 2012. Described as “the clarion call to the women and men of the world” – the declaration targets the global women’s movement for climate action and sustainable solutions “to put the world on notice that women will take action at all levels”.

Calling for the fulfilment of existing international agreements on women’s equality and climate change, the declaration makes a number of demands from governments and communities.

Notable demands of the declaration include the call for a binding climate treaty to reduce carbon emissions under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), demands to bring atmospheric CO2 concentrations to below 350ppm, to protect 20 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020, and 40 percent by 2040 in marine preserves and sanctuaries.

In terms of energy, it demands the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and the introduction of carbon taxes, increasing investment in conservation, energy efficiency, and safe energy, divesting from “dangerous and dirty” fossil fuel developments (such as fracking and deep-water oil drilling) while also rejecting greenhouse gas emissions reductions through high-risk technologies (such as nuclear energy, and geo-engineering).

In climate funding, the declaration demands prioritising and increasing of adaptation funding to build community resilience for ‘”those most affected by climate change” and making them more accessible for community-based groups, including women’s groups.

The declaration also calls for “common but differentiated responsibilities” between the global north and global south in resolving the climate crisis and implementing new economic indicators and structures that encourage sustainability and abandon models for limitless economic growth.

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Flexible working arrangements introduced for mothers in the civil service

The Civil Service Commission has amended the regulations to allow flexible working hours and the option to work from home for pregnant women and women with children under three years of age who have “no proper caretaking arrangements”.

With the regulation coming into effect today, any eligible female civil servant can now apply to make such arrangements under a separate contract.

The amendment requires the human resource committees of all institutions to formulate a standard procedure for flexible work hours and working from home. These standard procedures should include criteria for allowing such work arrangements – to address difficulties in services that may arise, as well as the amount of work and time period required for the arrangement.

With both flexible work hours and working from home, employers will not get the normal one hour break in the afternoon, and institutions are allowed to reduce the employees salary if their working hours fall below that normally required.

As of December 2013, there were 24,207 civil servants in the country – approximately 54% of them women. Nearly 75% of women in the civil service work as teachers, nurses, and administrative staff.

A subsidised childcare system and allowing women to work from home through the internet was part of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) manifesto pledged by President Abdulla Yameen.

The Minister of Defense has earlier promised a day-care center for the Maldives National Defense Force.

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Comment: Islamic Scholarship and Maldivian Women – My swim against the tide

This article first appeared on Manzaru. Republished with permission.

As a Maldivian woman, and as a pursuer of Islamic scholarship, the issue of how Islamic scholarship relates to the women of this country is one that I have been faced with at various points of my academic and personal life. One thing, I found, is undeniable – there are huge challenges for women in the field of Islamic scholarship in our country.

In the Maldives, Islamic scholarship – at least on the level of public discourse – is a field almost completely monopolised by men. In Maldives, an Islamic scholar must have a beard, at least the potential to have one. A Maldivian Islamic scholar must wear his pants short, or at least must be able to do so without uncovering part of his awrah. Women, by their very nature, are unable to fulfill these conditions.

It is true that as a principle, Islam does not prevent women from studying Islamic sciences or from preaching Islam based on their knowledge. Aisha, my namesake – I have always been proud to say – and the Prophet’s wife (Peace be upon him and may Allah be pleased with her) is an Islamic scholar, who is shown as a role model to Muslim women. It is also true that many women, including myself, have been issued licenses to preach Islam by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, and previously by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. One must ask, however, how often these women do, or are given the opportunity to, address an audience at all, not to mention one comprising both genders. One cannot help but wonder whom among these women is given the opportunity to be at the forefront of the Maldivian stage of the eternal strife to promote Islam.

Thus, all issues relating to women are given but a rather reluctant and half-baked coverage – women’s education, women’s employment, marital responsibilities, family commitment, etc, are all discussed only from a man’s perspective.

The current discourse of Maldivian scholars on women’s education and employment is impractical, if not illogical. It is their stand that Islam does not prevent women from pursuing higher education. Women, in fact, are encouraged to pursue a degree in professional fields such as medicine, education, law, psychology, etc. After all, women do need the services of doctors, educators and lawyers. Who better to provide these services to women than female professionals? Thus, Maldivian women are encouraged by Islamic scholars to build dreams upon dreams of a professional career along side those of love, husband, children, family and home.

The oxymoron presents itself once these women – after having spent several years toiling away under thick volumes of reports and case studies, being trainee teachers under the supervision of stricter than hell supervisors, dissecting dead bodies, attending to injuries, and assisting surgeons in operation theatres – choose to fulfill the Sunnah of marriage and forming a family. Now, there’s no denying that the primary role of a woman upon marriage is that of a wife – and upon having a child is that of a mother. But if women are encouraged to train as professionals, should women also not be encouraged to work as professionals? Should women not be provided with suitable circumstances where they can pursue a career without undermining their roles as wives and mothers?

Unfortunately, all that I’ve heard to this day from Maldivian scholars is that women should be content to be housewives, and that being a mother is the biggest honour of all.

The same goes for the issues of marital responsibilities and family commitment. I heard a Sheikh recently speaking on radio of men who work all day and return home only to find an unwelcoming wife at home. It was his claim that this is one of the main contributors to the breakdown of marriages in our society. While I do not deny that many men do in fact grind daily to earn a good living for their families, I can’t help but wonder whether women do nothing at all. The way I understand it, it is a division of labour – women ought to take care of the family, men are the bread-winners. Neither task is more important than the other – neither can be considered harder, or easier than the other. In the end, both partners of the marriage are supposed to provide each other with support.

When a man returns from office, returns from work and spends all his time going out with friends, reading the news, or watching television, is he not neglecting part of his responsibilities? Could it not be that a woman whose emotional needs and expectations from her husband is more likely to be unwelcoming to him wheh he comes home from work to change and go meet with his friends?

The half-bakedness of the scholarly address applies even to the issue of Hijab. This age-old issue, discussed, re-discussed, and then discussed yet again has been focused only on women. The focus of the Hijab issue is so much on the female gender that one cannot help but wonder that perhaps an awrah is defined in Islam only for women. I recently watched a televised sermon of a Maldivian Islamic scholar in which he recited verses 29 and 30 of Surah Al-Nur which translate as follows:

Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. (29) And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed. (30)

Unfortunately, although the Quran first commands men to lower their gaze from viewing Haraam and to protect themselves from committing illicit deeds, the Sheikh only translated the verse that relates to women’s Hijab. Allah’s Command to believing men was purposely ignored.

Such oversight may perhaps be excused if Maldivian men do generally follow the Command to lower the gaze and guard the chastity. This, sadly, does not seem to be the case. Allah is Most Gracious, Most Wise – he limited man’s awrah to what is comprised between the navel and the knees – as opposed to the whole body of the woman, with a few body parts being the exception. Even so, many men – especially, many young men – seem unable even to cover this small area. In order to follow pop fashion – or, hip hop fashion (you name it) – many young men deem it necessary to let their pants fall way below their waist, not to mention that they deem it unnecessary to wear undergarments. The result – I’d rather not divulge in.

Another issue not to be forgotten is that of pornography. Maldivian Muslim men, like their brothers all around the world, seem to be acting under the impression that as long as you don’t view the awrah of a Muslim woman, it is permissible to view the awrah of other women in general. In the end, the general effect of dehumanising and objectifying women has been unavoidable. Reports of sexual crimes against the female gender, including crimes against children and the elderly, have been on the rise in Maldives – it is impossible to say whether the rise is in the number of crimes or the amount of reports (it in all probability is both) – and all that Maldivian scholars have been able to say is that women should cover themselves better and the government should implement Hudud.

It is my belief that Maldivian scholars find it easy to speak the same words and to address the same issues in the age-old manner without looking at them from any different angles. And this, I  believe, is the ultimate wrong.

I do realise that I am only raising issues here – I have not proposed any solutions.

I have, however, started my own personal swim against the tide. I have chosen to have a child and to work. I have decided that I, as the mother of my child, will take the primary responsibility of feeding, bathing, playing with and rearing my child. I will not delegate these pleasures to a maid or babysitter. I have also decided that I, as a graduate of Shari’ah and law, will practice the law. I will pursue a career, but on my own terms. I work from home. And because my child is a toddler now – who rarely sleeps during the day and refuses to leave me and the laptop alone –  I work when he, along with the rest of the world, sleeps.

Is it easy? No. Is it a sustainable solution? Definitely not. By Thursday – weekends in Maldives are Fridays and Saturdays, and that’s when I sleep – I can’t wait for the week to end. I am always wishing for one more hour in the day and a few more minutes to the hour. But, for me, it is a start.

I also have chosen to start my journey, preaching and pursuing the values of Islam, by addressing issues that many other graduates of the Shariah are shying away from. I do this with the full understanding that this is a path filled with obstacles. Be it as it may, it is my belief, that if no one else will, I ought to do the hard – and perhaps the right – thing.

I am a Maldivian woman. I am a pursuer of Islamic scholarship. I swim against the tide.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Justice elusive for female victims of violence

Violence against women remains one of the greatest scourges of our time. It is disgraceful that even today, for many women and girls everywhere, violence is lurking around street corners, in workplaces or in their very own homes. And too often, justice is elusive.

In Busia, Kenya, in June this year, a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped and thrown into a six-metre-deep pit latrine, breaking her back and leaving her with obstetric fistula. Police chose not to prosecute the men, instead ordering them to cut grass around the police station as punishment. The news unleashed a rare outpouring of public indignation and a petition was signed by 1.4 million people. The “Justice for Liz” campaign led the Chief Justice of Kenya to call for immediate action in the case.

Why did it take agitation by 1.4 million people to begin the process of justice which is the victim’s fundamental human right?

Halfway around the world, in Auckland, New Zealand, when a 13-year-old girl had gone to the police to report that she had been raped by three young men, one of the first questions she was reportedly asked was: “What were you wearing”. This was in 2011. Two years later, after many similar attacks by the same gang, it took a public exposé to rattle the authorities into action. The Independent Police Conduct Authority of New Zealand has been ordered to look into the handling of these cases and police are now finally conducting the investigations they should have begun two years ago.

Sadly, these are not isolated cases. Such crimes occur on a daily basis in countries across the world, but they rarely make headlines or lead to public outrage and action by high-level officials. In most parts of the world, women are too ashamed or fearful to report violence, particularly sexual violence, to the police. And when they overcome various societal barriers and taboos to file a complaint, they are all too often met with callous, insensitive official reactions, effectively blocking all access to justice.

Violence against women and girls has been perpetuated by centuries of male dominance and gender-based discrimination. Building on deeply entrenched social norms that frame women’s worth around discriminatory notions of chastity and “honour”, violence is often used to control and humiliate not only the victims, but also their families and communities. It is essential to challenge such notions, which often permeate the justice system itself, resulting in a vicious cycle of impunity and further violence.

The UN Committee on the Elimination on Discrimination against Women and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women have been documenting violence against women, its causes and consequences in all parts of the world and recommending measures to eliminate such violence and to remedy its consequences. These recommendations must be taken seriously. States are obliged by international human rights law to ensure that the criminal justice system, at every stage, is free of gender bias, including in investigation, prosecution, interrogation and protection of victims and witnesses, and in sentencing.

The suggestion that women have a propensity to lie and that their testimony must be corroborated or treated with caution should be eliminated from every level of the judicial process, as must the idea that women invite sexual violence by being out late or by dressing in a particular manner.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, let us do our part to eliminate the harmful gender stereotypes that help perpetuate a climate where violence against women is considered acceptable or “deserved”. Violence is simply and totally unacceptable – no matter what she was wearing.

Navi Pillay is the UN Human Rights Commissioner

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