As darkness fell over the cramped city of Male’ on the eve of January 3 this year, a woman’s body was found in a suitcase dumped in a construction site. She was 30 years old.
A few days later, her boyfriend was charged for her murder.
On June 22, a little boy lost both his parents. His father was stabbed with a knife and died in a hospital. His mother gave herself up to the police for the brutal offense.
At the age of 21, she now sits in a cell, her dreams crushed and her hopes dead. The prospect of spending her long life in prison would torment her. Perhaps a more agonising pain for her is the fear of facing what her son might think of her when he grows up. Her fateful act was the tragic climax in her struggle to leave a disruptive relationship that was a daunting trap for her.
The pain and suffering these two women endured represent the lives of many others in the Maldives. They include women, children, girls and boys, aged parents and also men. They are the victims of domestic violence – a social reality locked up as a family secret and never discussed by lawmakers in the country until Monday.
Rozaina Adam, MP, young and educated, explained what she meant by domestic violence as she presented her bill to the heavily lopsided parliament – with 72 men and only five women as its members.
“Domestic violence is the violence or acts of violence that occur between married couples or between divorced couples or between family members or between members in a household”, she said. “It may be someone inflicting violence on his/her wedded partner, it may be a guardian inflicting violence on a child or someone inflicting violence on his/her elderly parents… like any other society in the world, it’s a reality in our society too.”
Her definition outlined the space where domestic violence occurs. She also brought the relationships between the victims and offenders of these horrendous actions into public focus.
A home is meant to be a safe and happy place for everyone. In Maldives, like many traditional societies, people grow up and spend their entire lives surrounded with family, relatives and neighbors. It is however, a place of indescribable horror for the victims of domestic violence.
The victims live their lives in constant pain and fear, insecurities and uncertainties, distrust and breakups. The gruesome realities they face make them strong enough to bear the pain but often, too weak to get out of it or end it.
Home is a boundary known to them, no matter how gross it is. Sometimes, leaving home means crossing over to uncertainty and face a greater fear of the unknown. They absorb the worst atrocities in their homes, imposed on them by their supposedly loved ones. In effect they hide their woes silently behind a smile or a deadpan mask, until life is forced out of them or it dies within on them, like it did for these two women.
Research, media reports and official records indicate a staggering level of domestic violence in the Maldives.
A study in 2007 showed, one in every three women aged 15-49 experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.
According to an official source, 620 cases of abuse were reported to them from August 2005 to 2009. They include 200 cases on sexual abuse, 150 cases on physical abuse, 50 cases of rape and 50 cases on neglect and more. The number of cases reported to them on average stands at 145 per year since 2006.
On Sunday evening, the Deputy Minister of Health and Family, Ms Mariya Ali informed that the number of reported cases on domestic violence now stands at 100.
These statistics reveal a shocking truth, considering the clandestine nature of domestic violence, the stark absence of relevant legislation and the lack of necessary support for victims. It confirms the high prevalence of domestic violence in our small Muslim society and the urgent need to address it through law.
Since July this year, the local media has reported 9 incidents of rape including two cases of gang rape in the past week alone. Health officials warn that the incidence of rape could be much higher as rape is far more common among married couples.
Meanwhile, the political and social space in Maldives continues to get filled by a religious narrative that reinforces women as sexual objects. For instance, a question and answer posted on the website of Ministry of Islamic Affairs dominated by a religious pressure group called the Adhalaath Party reads:
“It has become very common for a woman to tell her husband ‘I do not want to sleep with you’, ‘I won’t do as you say’, ‘I will live my life the way I want’. What does Islam say about such women?”
The answer was provided by Sheikh Usman Abdulla – a renowned and respected Islamic scholar.
It says: “the main purpose of being married is to fulfill your sexual needs. In reality, the woman cannot say that. She has to obey her husband. Islam says if your husband wants you, you have to go (to him) even if you are cooking (in the kitchen). While this is how it is (in Islam), what the woman said is not acceptable in Islam.”
The impact of such narrative on women and children should not be under-estimated – especially in view of the general profile of the victims and the offenders. According to the reports on abuse, 9 out of every 10 victims were females and nearly 6 out of every 10 victims were below 18 years. It also revealed 8 out of every 10 offenders is a friend or a family member of the victim. And in 5 out of every 10 cases, the offender is the victim’s boyfriend or husband.
The horrific reality reflected by the records of abuse emphasizes the dire need for legislators to get their act together and treat domestic violence as a nonpartisan issue. It requires unequivocal support for the proposed bill by all parliamentarians. No one desires a repeat of the violent actions that unfurled at the beginning of this year.
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