Foreign women working in Male’ targets of sexual harassment

At midnight Rachael, 25, returned from a friend’s place. Glancing around to make sure she was not being followed, she climbed the stairs to her seventh-floor apartment in Male’.

When she’d first arrived from the UK several months ago to work on a government project, she had smiled and replied to the greetings thrown her way on the street. She stopped doing it when the men started following her.

Unlocking the door, she stepped inside and was closing the door, when a strange Maldivian man charged at her from a concealed alcove.

A struggle ensued, and the man forced the door open and pushed his way into the room.

“I work here,” the man said. Rachael moved behind a chair and demanded what he was doing.

Part of her apartment was leased as a workspace by the owner of the flat, but she had never seen this man before.

He approached her, claiming he was cleared to work in the building at night. Suddenly he lunged at her, pushing the chair away, and pinned her to the wall.

He started groping her. Terrified, Rachael kneed him and with all her strength managed to push him out the still open door using the office chair.

He stood outside for a while asking to be let back in.

Rachael called a friend who came around, and she moved to a hotel for the night. The next morning she called the police.

“They were wonderful, they came and took fingerprints and gave me a number to get in touch with them, in case I saw the man again,” she said.

Today Rachael shares a flat; she is terrified of living alone. She has seen her attacker once again on the street – he gave her a leery smile as he passed, which added to her insecurities.

“I have no hard feelings towards Maldivians, this was something that could have happened anywhere in the world,” says Rachael. But she is now especially wary of the vulgar words, and the way some young men on the streets of Male’ try to brush up against her – even pushing her into shop windows.

Rachael’s ordeal seems to be an extreme case and thankfully a rare one. But her expatriate friends are not impressed with the way they are harassed on the streets.

An everyday ordeal

Harassment is a daily occurance for them, and takes many forms, sexually explicit comments to remarks about their anatomy. But it is often persistent, they say, despite the fact that as working expatriates they are very concious of the way they dress.

Alice, 28, has been in the country working as a teacher for less than six months.

Once she was on the streets with a group of her students, aged between 9 to 11 years old.

“A bunch of teenage boys started saying how they’d like to f—k me,” she recalls.

Alice ignored it at first, but it continued and unable to bear it, she went up to them and asked them why they were talking like that, especially as she had children with her.

“The boys pretended they didn’t speak English, and the moment I walked away, started passing vulgar comments, even directing them towards the children” she says.

Her students told her that it was a common. Fuming she phoned the police.

“The police seemed to find it amusing until I told them that I had children with me – and wasn’t that a problem?”

The police had a chat with the boys that still remained, as some had already left by then: ”At least those boys don’t do that anymore,” she says.

Her colleagues told her these things happen and that nobody complains as “they are under age boys and police can’t do anything.”

Racheal says she knows of another foreign woman working in Male’ who was recently had a taxi driver force is way into her apartment after driving her home. He claimed to be searching her flat for alcohol.

Several other foreign women have complained of being groped by passing motorcyclists, and requests for ‘a quote’ are common, they say.

Few complaints

Police confirm that they “rarely get complaints of this nature.” Police spokesman Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam says last year there were few complaints.

When he filled in the role of a duty officer for a week, “ I didn’t get even one complaint,” he said, urging women to report if they are harassed.

Shiyam said depending on what the person has done, “under the public nuisance laws, we can prepare a case and send it to Prosecutor General’s office.”

The police have a separate tourist policy and he says that harassment is hardly a concern “as it’s a very rare occurrence with tourists.”

However he adds that  many “tourists always walk around with a tour guide, so they are never alone,” unlike foreign women working in the country.

He reiterates that people should lodge complaints: “we will take it seriously and find the culprits involved and take action against them.”

Price of being a foreigner

Reactions from locals to the issue are mixed.

All the Maldivian women questioned said incidents were mostly confined to verbal harassment, and most said it was decreasing.

Aiminath, 18, says couple of years ago the problem was much worse – “now it’s mostly limited to rare catcalls or a passing remark.”

Leena, 26, who is fair skinned and wears a veil,  says she often gets comments along the lines of “your face looks like a jambu” (a fruit).

Fazeela, a trendy 28 year-old says “nowadays sometimes people actually pass complimentary remarks, on how I have done my hair, or how I am dressed.”

But Zareena, 35, a mother of two,  says the younger generation is getting worse.

“It’s mostly teenage boys who pass extremely vulgur comments like: ‘look how that thing jiggles’,” she says.

She floats the theory that physical harassment directed at local women has lessened, “as guys know that we will scream, and slap them and embarrass them if they try anything.”

The physical harassment seems to be now directed at foreign women, with the culprits mostly young teenage boys and guys in their late 20’s.

“Brushing up against us on the street, or trying to pin us up against the wall and touch us is a common occurrence,” says a friend of Alice.

Rebecca has been in Maldives for two years now, and says she is always very careful to be culturally sensitive and dress appropriately: “I cover my arms, chest and legs when I am outside.”

Despite the fact that she finds it “far too hot” to dress like that, she says she always dresses modestly “but it seems to make no difference.”

Rebecca has also lived in countries like Malaysia and suffered harassment, “but never to this extent.”

“I love this country and find Maldivians to be a very friendly and nice people,” but says what she endures on the streets is horrific.

The stares men give her on the street are neither casual nor flirtatious, Rebecca says.

”It’s more like they are looking at something pornographic, without any sense of self-awareness.”

The stare is often accompanied by some sexual comment.

“I wish I could tell these men that they should show more respect for women. Their mothers and sisters are women, would they like them to be treated this way?” Rebecca asks.

“There’s absolutely no justification for it. If they see us and assume we are morally lax, then how come we ignore them or run away from them when they try to talk to us?”

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the women concerned.


64 thoughts on “Foreign women working in Male’ targets of sexual harassment”

  1. @Muad MZ: You know, much of what you were saying seemed to make sense, until you said "...Western Human Rights which in turn supports even the criminals who rape women". WTF???!! Rape is taken EXTREMELY seriously in the West. Please don't make up propaganda, you're insulting the intelligence of the readers. Ridiculous.

  2. Western human rights apply only for whites, otherwise they care more their dogs even than other human beings. When they put carpet bombs and cluster bombs on innocent people, they call it collateral damage.

  3. Wine Lover, you have forgotten that Allah has favored man over woman by letting him have 4 wives too and if any one of them disobeys him he can admonish her, beat her and abandon her till Allah finds a way for her.

  4. I`m more and more concerned about this country the longer I read Malidvian newspapers. Im my opinion it`s a real problem who has to be resolved as soon as possible. When I was to Male` 13 years ago none of these problems occured although I remember of being stared at because of my white skin. I always dressed as recommended and did not even bring shorts or tops to Maldives despite of the heat.
    For me it is a lack of respect to give rude comments or physically attack women not to mention to rape somebody only for being female. Women are no prey. What about privacy and the golden rule of life: live and let live???
    It is not that easy when you say women will provoke such behaviour by their dress code. I live in a western country and have never been treated like this since I am grown up, no matter what I wore. I only remember such experiences when being a teenager although I always hid my body as good as possible because of hating it.
    The question should be what caused this development and how these problems could be solved.
    A colleague of mine reported similar incidents when being to India this winter. She was stared at on the beach by loads of men but stated that no women between 15 and 40 are to be seen in publicity. They are hidden at home and veiled. What about that? It is enough to treat foreign women like that? I would never dare to give comments about anybody. Gossip, ok, speak under my breath, too but never offend sensibilities. It is not suitable.

  5. SHLO NAIVE KIDH, no I didn't forget the wife-beating Quran verse (see below). Do you notice in Sunan Abu Dawood 2150 that ordinary Arabs of the time were actually reluctant to rape female captives of war in front of their husbands? Obviously they were decent people but then they were given the authority to rape the captives in verse 4:24. Muaz MZ won’t call it rape, no doubt.

    “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and BEAT THEM; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great”. (Sura Nisa: 34)

  6. teulabonari on Sun, 20th Jun 2010 1:48 AM. I find your statement problematic because of the comment “When I was to Male` 13 years ago none of these problems occurred although I remember of being stared at because of my white skin.” Do tell me how you figured out that it was because of your “white skin” that people stared at you? You see, I have brown skin and people stared at me in Male when I last visited the island in 1992; that was five years before you. I was born on the island and spent my childhood there, so I would like to find out exactly why people stared at you because of your white skin and at me in spite of my brown skin. Please, teulabonari, refrain from making absurd statements unless you can establish that as fact. I would find it hard to put any weight on the rest of your statements if you keep doing that.

  7. One more thing, teulabonari on Sun, 20th Jun 2010 1:48 AM. Indians don't hide their women between 15 and 40 or between any other age group at home. Do you and your friend who visited India this winter live on planet earth? Have you heard of Indira Gandhi? She was prime minister of India before only one other country in the world (Sri Lanka) had a woman in such a high political position. Currently the president of India and the chairperson of the ruling party in that country are women. teulabonari, I’m not sure about others who visit this web site but I despise stupid people. So please refrain from making stupid statements. Thank you.

  8. Shazu has seen the situation with her French vision. Wonder if its all women who goes through such haraasment, or is it a certain catogory of women/girls who seem to attract street harrasment. Might be a worth while analysis.

  9. I just remember of being stared at when I have been to Male. I supposed it happened because of being white. Maybe there were other reasons: Being female or they did not stare at me but at my accompany? I'm sorry for just supposing something and not being correct.
    The other experience is only one which was reported to me, I have not been to India yet.
    My colleague told me that she during her stay in South India did not see any younger women at any time of the day in the publics. Only very old or young ones. Where have they been?

  10. @Wine Lover

    This is the problem when you love wine. You can't THINK rationally!

    "...and BEAT THEM;..." (Sura Nisa: 34)

    Yes, not to cause physical abuse, and men don't have any authority to repeatedly BEAT THEM or cause pain or injury to them. This is just a step to avoid unnecessary divorce. But if she does not yeild, he has no business to keep her as his wife and the last step is to SEPARATE!

    It's just like your child of whom you are the guardian, if one morning he wakes up sullen and suicidal and is adamant to jump off from the balcony of your tenth floor apartment - THEN YOU WOULD TRY BY ALL POSSIBLE MEANS, EITHER BY BEATING HIM or whatever means necessary to keep him from jumping off!
    Because as the guardian of the child, you are expected to shoulder additional RESPONSIBILITY and likewise in Islam men are generally considered to be the guardians of their women folk! (Like it or not!)

    NOW if it was for the FEMINIST, she would have modified the Quranic verse like, IF THEY BEAT YOU - YOU GO AHEAD BEAT THEM (MEN)!!!

    The result is a boxing match and GUESS who wins!

    This is why we say you cannot rationally criticize the Quran, but, YES, anyone can say blah, blah and BLAH!

    Quran is not that hard to understand, but out your ignorance and shor-sightedness if it seems so GREEK then you go to the Quranic TAFSEER or ask from the people who know; THE ISLAMIC SCHOLARS.

    You know, some people, when they bring home a new furniture or a gadget, despite having the manual, they are unable to assemble or operate the new thing! What do you do? You meddle with the thing and damage it or YOU CALL IN AN EXPERT?

  11. Rationale.. sadly it is all female foreign staff that suffer. French or German... Thai or indian...Fat or thin... dark or pale... and it is not all Maldivian men it is many foreign men and often they are sat hanging around in groups doing very little.

    Show some respect for us as ambassadors for Maldives.. We are here because we want to be here and we love the country and want others to love the country too... I think if the behaviour continues we will fall out of love..

    I have had many many comments and attempts at 'brushing past me'.. I have been pushed out of the way as people fight to get on the airport ferry when it then doesn't move for ten minutes.. and then push past to get off... again, I am not going down the politics road or religion. It's manners. That is something that the polititions and religious leaders aren't responsible for.. its parents raising children to show good manners and courtesy to women and men alike.

    If Maldivian or any of the men in Male' think a lady is beautiful.. by all means appreciate the sight.. I know I apprecaite a good looking man when I see one but I don't feel the need to shout and tell him.

    I know this behaviour exists all over the world but are we not boasting the 'smallest capital city' in our sales pitch for Male' excursions.. to bring money into the city and the shops ... we are in a much closer community. We should be looking out for each other.

    Interestingly the cowards won't do it when you're accompanied by a man.

  12. the question is if you're a muslim and living the life of islam do you have the right to harass & say bad words to the women who dress showing their skin? what if you're wife, daughter, sister, mother, wife dress in office uniform or school uniform showing their skin hands, face or even playing a sport like badminton etc. should you men of muslims living a straight life of what islam is teaching allow your friends, fathers, brothers, workmate, imams to disrespect, harass, & talk foul words in your relative women that dear to you just because they dress showing their skin. respect bro! respect! wherever you go, whatever you do, whoever you are. respect!


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