FAIM’s “Let’s Talk” initiative launches with discussion on sexual harassment and discrimination

When I started inviting people to join the launching session of “Lets Talk” program on Monday night, my expectations for the  turn out were not too unrealistic given the history of people’s poor participation in most social events organised by civil society.

Let’s bring at least 30 people, I told my friends at the Friendship Association of India Maldives (FAIM) ,who backed the concept of “Lets Talk”: a monthly forum with people from diverse backgrounds to have discuss various topics and issues concerning society.

So with the table, chairs, projector and coffee to keep people awake, FAIM was ready at Social Center seminar room, eagerly waiting for its first round of talkers.

As the clock’s hands ticked their way to 9:00pm – the planned starting time – only five or six people had arrived, of which most were the special invitees – officials from Labor Relations Authority, police and immigration. They were prepared to talk and answer any question the  participants had regarding the chosen topic: sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination faced by both local and migrant women working in Maldives.

I panicked. “What if no one comes?” kept dancing through my head. It was indeed a stressful moment.

“Why did you organise it, when people are not coming?” one person asked as I kept ringing the people who had promised to attend the event.

At one point, in a desperate attempt, I almost dragged in a group of women from the gym class next door, but of course they were quite busy with their aerobics.

Fortunately, however some more familiar faces showed. The talkers slowly reached 22. That was fewer than the targeted audience but delighted, I began with the introduction and ice breakers. Soon the participants were all actively engaged in the discussion.

Participants talking at the Let's Talk Forum

Local girls and ladies from Britain, the US, and Holland shared their experiences of being the targets of constant sexual harassment on the streets, and the “helplessness” they felt in such situations.

One female participant asked” “Are we to ignore and just walk away when they call us a “s**y b***h”,”beautiful tits” or ask us “how much?”.

They also complained of lack of police follow up, even after harassment cases were filed.

Though the forum attracted only one talker of Asian descent, the participants unanimously agreed that it was mostly Asian women working in Maldives who bore the brunt of sexual harassment.

A women from the Phillipines working as a resort rep who had talked to me prior to the forum said: “I always get teased on the streets. Mostly by young boys, but old men do it too. They whistle at me, pass comments about my body or ask me “how much”. It’s very difficult to walk on the streets when I know that people think of me as a prostitute. It’s very upsetting.”

Police officers present at the forum acknowledged the “seriousness” of the problems and encouraged the participants to report such incidents, offering assurances that sexual harassment cases would be taken more seriously.

Meanwhile, a more serious concern was raised: the increasing number of migrant women who are being trafficked into the country, exploited by employers, and often forced into sex work.

Responding to the questions on the subject, immigration officers admitted that the lack of legal provisions and non-existence of victim support mechanisms prevented the institution from protecting the rights of those women and other victims of trafficking. The only option was deportation or repatriation.

They explained that institutional efforts were  underway to help victims of trafficking, but without support from the grass-roots level, change was difficult, they said.

“We are witnessing the presence of mass xenophobia in the Maldives. There is a widespread hatred towards foreigners of certain ethnicities. They are not even regarded as human beings,” one officer explained. “We need to educate and create awareness to change people’s attitude.”

Meanwhile, few members from Indian community who participated also highlighted the suffering of Indian expatriates working in Maldives, of whom many are women, and who are being intimidated and exploited by employers.

Their passports are withheld, salaries are not paid and in some circumstances they are not even given the leave to attend the funerals of family members, according to one participant.

Foreign women (and men also) are harassed, mugged and threatened, one Indian participant observed, adding that “if such crimes continue, these women – who are working as nurses, teachers and doctors – will no longer come to the Maldives.”

Despite the low turn out, the honest discussion and sharing of experiences made the soft launch of Lets Talk program a “good start”, if not a success.

UK national Sarah Harvey, who participated in the forum, said: “It was really great that I got the chance to share my own experiences and listen to others as well. Foreign women are facing sexual harassment on a daily basis. It very upsetting and intimidating, and a lot of girls don’t feel comfortable walking down the streets because of it.”

“We are putting effort into adapting to the culture and following appropriate dress codes. I just hope that people recognise that,” the British writer noted.

She also added that foreign women would work in Maldives for longer if they did not keep having these horrible experiences: “It’s one of the major downsides of living here,” she contended.

Marketing director Sanne Wesselman, from Holland, described the forum as “a great effort”, but suggested that “It will take a lot more than these events to raise awareness of the problem.”

Wesselman is right. Following the two-hour long discussions and personal accounts of discrimination and harassment, participants were asked to write one recommended action to solve these problems.

These recommendations included; educating and encouraging a culture of respect for women of all ages and race, and through awareness raising programs, conducting sensitisation program for school students on zero-tolerance of racial discrimination and violence against women and girls. Suggestions also included establishing a helpline for women and girls to report abuse, exploitation and provide counseling advice on request.

Telecasting short advertisements promoting zero-tolerance of harassment and discrimination, hanging posters with such messages in restaurant and streets, and letting respective embassies, high commissions and consulates open safe deposit boxes to keep passports instead of allowing employers to retain the documents were also suggested, among other recommendations.

The Friendship Association of India-Maldives said the recommendations will be forwarded to the Maldivian government through the Indian Embassy, and the NGO will provide support with implementation.

The organisation is meanwhile preparing for its second session of talks, with the hope of attracting a large and diverse group of talkers.

The Friendship Association of India-Maldives (FAIM),is an NGO  jointly run by Indians and Maldivians to build a strong bond between the peoples of India and the Maldives through economic, social & welfare initiatives. Please write to [email protected] to join or support the organisation.


12 thoughts on “FAIM’s “Let’s Talk” initiative launches with discussion on sexual harassment and discrimination”

  1. Somebody comments on here with explosively anti-Sunni, anti-Maldivian sentiments, called Miss India New Delhi, or some thing. This article helps me understand why. I would love to know what her experience with Maldivians was, pls submit your story, Miss India New Delhi,

  2. Harassment and discrimination: one hope that there is no discrimination in India, with all castes having the same rights.

    I suggest this program be run in India first because that is the source of values that Maldivians are copying from the various TV soaps.

    Also why is the only emphasis on women. Lots of men and people from islands are discriminated too.

    My point is that discrimination and harassment is due to fundamental defect in society - so you cannot just single out one category of issues, just bec they affect women. This kind of half baked approach cannot address the problem.

    Make no mistake, I love India and do respect all women. Just commented on the flaws in the approach.

  3. Insulting intelligence on Sat, 4th Aug 2012 3:52 PM The difference in India is that there is a legal system based on the structors of law and human rights not a justice system subjected to religious scripts written 4000 yrs ago. How then can a woman living in the Maldives get protection with due legal process. Note the case of when a judge asked the victim of abuse to re-enact the offence in court in front of the accused and her family, absolutly outragous in any civil society of the 21st century, but this is how trials governed by religious edict are judged.On a seperate note the police are failing in their duties when an individual has their passport withheld as the passport belongs to the state not the individual, read the inside cover of any passport and it tells you it belongs to the issuing governing state, therefore it is an offence against that country under international law. If you can't protect the individual at least charge the offenders with theft of government property.

  4. Insulting Intelligence:

    One step at a time. LGBT people face discrimination andd harrasment too. So do non Muslims.

    I think such an effort should be commended. Its easy to criticize. But difficult to do. II, maybe you could hold a group session to tackle those issuues?

  5. it is an excellent idea! there needs to be more awareness programmes to educate the people!

  6. the most discriminating country in the world is british . Having lived in uk for three years i have never come across such discrimination in my life. I have travelled many countries and lived in many countries the worst of all is UK.

    Going to the main issue here. It is not only limited to foreigner but also for local as well. The country is lawless and politicians had slandered our values for thier personal benefits without thinking for the future of the country and for the benefit of the nation.

    These dirty politicians are the people who are responsible for these problems and are two main key person are Maumoon and annni.

  7. Mody you are living in cloud cuckoo land claiming Britian is the most discriminating. I can chose my religion, i can chose who represents me in government, i have protection under law if my rights are abused, i have protection if the colour of my skin prevents me from an education, a job, a way of life. You obversally haven't travelled outside of your small little mind to lay such claims. Visit China, Arabic countries, North Korea and the old soviet block countries and then you will understand your claim against the UK is pure drivel.

  8. Yes in UK you have right to chose the religion and the you have all the rights in your constitution but that does not warrant that people are given all those rights and your stupid people are not acting like that.
    Many british look and treat asian and african as lower grade of human being and this is the fact.

    Democratic friend. There are no much racial discrimination in China like UK but they do not have much freedom like UK. I am not talking here freedom and I am taking here the racial discrimination which is different from freedom.

    North Korea is a communist country and it is not same as UK but they do not consider themselves to be the most superior humankind like you and many british.

    It is also worth to mentioned here that all british people are not racist and there are very good humble people from UK too. I have even handful people who are very closed friends of mine too.

    I probably had traveled more than you and would have seen more counties than you and would have much better exposure than you. You are a typical racist mentality guy who thinks that other will not know anything and it is only you who knows things.

    Having seen you response my comments , it is even clear that you have that" supremacy attitude" towards other.

    You think that Maldivian will not know anything and it is only you know what is going on in this world.

  9. mody I cant believe that you have travelled all over the world and you are talking in your broken English ? With stupid ideas? You sound more like an Islander who grew up in the same Island and came to Male and got a desktop computer recently.

  10. lier. I do not know which part of the world you are from ? But one thing I can say is that British are still one of the biggest racist country in the world.

    It does not change the fact the current british government supports the dictator Anni and then we need to bend over to british or Anni.

    Fact remain same and british is among the top racist country in the world.

  11. Oh dear Mody seems you just blown yourself in the foot. A British person can be of any ethnic origin whether that is white, asian, african or arabic are you saying that these individuals also look down on themsleves,should i go on? I doubt you have travelled more than me as it is part of my job to travel to other countries and it has been since i left school, i'm nearly 50 and spend at least 7 mths of the year overseas. Incidentally i write reports about civil society for NGOs and international aid agencies from the grass root levels not from the ivory towers of government officals. I am now on my 14th 48 page passport because i run out of space for the visas and arrival stamps. Did you even have a visa for the UK as the maximum you could have stayed in the UK was 2 yrs, yet you claim to have lived there for 3yrs, thrown out as an overstay were you?

    In case you are wondering yes i do take a supermacy attitude to clowns like you because you dont have a clue what you are talking about. For the record my wife Maldivian as are my children, i do not look down on anyone because of the colour of their skin, culture, religion unlike the some countries constitution, by the way check your facts the UK does not have a written constitution. We have a mixture of various statutes, conventions, judicial decisions and treaties to protect the rights of the indiviual.

  12. Hey mody, finish your grade 10 education, then we'll talk.

    Yeah. Write to Maumoon and tell him you need to debate with some Maldivian people, not beat them up with your batons.


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