In Mauritania in North Africa, force-feeding young girls is a cultural practice under the socially-held belief that fat women are beautiful, desirable and a valuable asset, increasing the social status of the whole family.
Girls as young as five are forced to eat to gain weight, by means that can only be described as torture. Some die in the process.
In Mauritania, this cultural ‘norm’ is practiced openly and is accepted as the way they do things. In the Maldives too, we have cultural ‘norms’ which are accepted as the way we do things.
Ignoring and hiding physical and sexual abuse of women and children within the family has been the way we had handled this social problem in the past. The issue of violence within the home or domestic violence, has been a taboo subject so hidden that it did not even have a name, until now.
Today, we can actually call it something : geveshi aniyaa.
The Domestic Violence Bill submitted to the Peoples’ Majlis today by MP Rozaina Adam has a Dhivehi name, the Geveshi Aniyaa ge Bill, which formally lifts the final taboo against domestic violence, complete with a reference for everyone to use.
Now we know what it is, in name and deed. Now we can talk about it freely and be heard.
At least we think so.
Addressing social taboos can be difficult in any society, regardless of the human cost. Resistance to addressing domestic violence has been observed for many years in the Maldives.
On March 8 2002, the Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Security addressed the occasion of the International Women’s Day, where she said :
“If we want to make our environment safe, free and conducive for all individuals, we have to start openly talking about the actions of perpetrators of violence… Issues of violence must be viewed as societal concerns rather than a private issue, and it must be seen as the responsibility of all to work towards eliminating violence from our society.”
Then, of course, we did not have a word for the issue. Nor were we ‘all’ prepared to take responsibility for it.
It was the way we did things.
But much has happened since then.
Supported by various UN agencies in the Maldives, the issue of domestic violence kept being looked into by those who were concerned about the issue.
Several studies were conducted and some of the findings were so disturbing that these were never made public. How can people ill-prepared to talk about something, face up to the reality of it?
However, several dedicated people kept chipping at the thick wall of the social taboo of domestic violence and we can say that today, the wall has finally fallen, thanks to all those who persevered.
In 2007, a major piece of research was conducted by the then Ministry of Gender and Family, entitled The Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences.
This study revealed that one in three women between the age of 15-49 had experienced physical and/or sexual violence, including childhood sexual abuse at some point in their lives. The study also revealed that one in five women in the same age group, had reported experiencing violence from an intimate partner. These findings showed the extent of the problem of violence within Maldivian homes.
The representatives of the Maldivian people in the People’s Majlis today referred to the Geveshi Aniyaa ge Bill, and repeatedly reminded those listening that geveshi aniyaa exists in the Maldives, that it must not stay hidden, that it is a problem that has to be addressed through the law.
This historic bill is the first of its kind in the country. It brings a ray of hope of justice to the many women and families affected by domestic violence in this country.
When it comes to domestic violence, the way we do things has to change. It is no longer acceptable to hide this social ill.
Today’s bill promises to be the first step to protecting and providing justice for a large number of Maldivian women and children.
Today the representatives of the Maldivian people will vote to accept this bill to the Majlis and send it for approval by a special committee. As we watch the process unfold, we must not forget that the people who will most benefit from this bill are those least able to fight for the protection and justice this bill can potentially provide them.
For this reason, every voting member of the Majlis has a responsibility to support this important piece of legislation to secure justice that a large number of women and children of this country have long awaited.
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