Women lead defense of Maldivian democracy: Huffington Post

Recent upheaval on the subject of birth control in the United States serves as a reminder of the way religion can be used as a tool to infringe on the rights of women, writes Mary Keck, Professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Southern Indiana, for the Huffington Post.

In response to a coup d’état against their first democractically elected president on February 7, thousands of women gathered in the capital of the Republic of the Maldives. They marched in support of early, free, and fair elections. Although their stalwart protests were met by arrests and water cannons, they are undeterred. The struggle to maintain democracy in the Maldives is ongoing, and the women of this island nation know what is at stake.

The persistent activism of Maldivian women has been recognised around the globe. On Thursday, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama stood beside Aneesa Ahmed after presenting her with the International Woman of Courage Award. Ahmed was not the first to be recognized for efforts to advance women in the Maldives. Mariya Didi was honored by Condoleeza Rice in 2007 for similar accomplishments. She was taken into police custody shortly after the coup.

Despite the courageous acts of these women, inhumane practices like flogging are still used in the Maldives mainly as a punishment for females accused of adultery. This Indian Ocean nation may have achieved democracy in 2008, but its constitution rests on an Islamic foundation, which is advantageous to many who wish to assert their fundamentalist beliefs.

A rising tide of extremism has threatened to crash over the Maldives for some time. In early December, the Adhaalath Party (a religiously-based political organization) fumed at the current government’s failure to arrest protesters advocating for freedom of religion. One of the protesters was blogger Ismail Rasheed who sustained a skull fracture when attacked during the gathering. Later that month, the parliament pushed a resolution to ban Israel’s El Al airline, which offers travel to and from the islands.

On February 7, hard-line Islamists raided the National Museum destroying Buddhist and Hindu relics and statues. This fanaticism isn’t only seen in street protests, but the use of violence in the name of Islam has seeped into the country’s political system.

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