The Ministry of Gender and Family, the Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences 2007 suggest that one in every three women undergo some kind of abuse through their life, be it physical, psychological or sexual abuse.
For this reason, as a woman working to empower women, I felt a ray of hope on November 25, 2009, when the parliamentarians endorsed their commitment to the campaign to stop Violence against Women in the Maldives.
Unfortunately, the recent discussions held at the last meeting of the People’s Majlis (Parliament), before they went into recess, were shocking to some of us. Some of the parliamentarian’s crude remarks denote discrimination against women that is unacceptable for the lawmakers of the Maldives.
This is not the first time that such discriminatory, undermining and sexual language has been used toward women on the parliament floor.
The Maldives Constitution ratified in 2008. Chapter 2, article 17 states that everyone is entitled to rights and freedoms without discrimination of any kind including race, national origin, color, sex, age, mental or physical disability, political or other opinion, property, birth or other status, or native island.
In this respect, the United Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Maldives ratified in 1993, specifically stipulates equal rights to women, to stop discrimination against women and places an obligation on the state to provide and protect the rights of women.
It is interesting to note that the parliamentarians did not question the sex of the candidates at the time when the names were sent to the Majlis by President of the Maldives, and when they reviewed and approved the names for the five membership positions of Human Rights Commission (HRCM).
The discussion heated up when it became apparent the President [Mohamed Nasheed] had sent female nominations for the President and Vice-President of HRCM, which are high positions.
Why is it that the thought processes of the parliamentarians then turned upside down? The parliamentarians did not debate over why women were not nominated for bench of Supreme Court, nor why there is only one woman elected for both the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and no woman sitting in Elections Commission.
The majority of the public and private sector do not provide equal opportunities for women when it comes to decision-making positions. These high positions and are not barred by Islam, and neither by the Maldivian Constitution.
The media lacks awareness about women’s rights and the importance of promoting gender equality. The misconception spread about gender equality is that women and men are equal. This is incorrect – the correct account is that men and women are biologically different because of their sex but gender is socially constructed.
This means that there are positions or jobs that the society believes that either men or women can do. This is the interpretation that the parliamentarians had when they had the discussions on the last day before recess.
If women’s names had been approved by parliamentarians according to their first deliberations, the approval should be based on their competency. The deliberations on the Majlis floor indicate lack of knowledge about women’s issues and women’s problems.
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