Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal has spoken on the challenges presently facing women in Maldivian society, expressing shock at the attitudes of some – including senior policy makers – to gender discrimination.
Tholal’s comments were made as the Gender Advocacy Working Group on Monday (December 10) held a special event to celebrate the conclusion of 16 days of activities promoting calls for an end of violence against women.
The HRCM Deputy pledged during his speech that the commission would resolve to work ceaselessly in trying to bring an end to gender-based violence across the country.
“At HRCM, we often hold related workshops. We often have activities to assess perceptions of gender roles by the participants. The perspectives on women held by some senior policy making level individuals are often views that leave us, as men, completely ashamed,” he said.
“Being a man myself, I myself am shocked and ashamed by the justifications these people present as reasons why men and women cannot work at the same levels, or hold equal posts. This is why we need to keep on working on this cause.”
Tholal further continued, “Some would say that the constitution and supporting laws do not differentiate based on gender. My question is, is this honestly the case when it comes to actual practices?”
He added that as long as these prejudices were common, and women were subjected to discrimination and violence, he was reluctant to accept that Maldivians lived in a “modern and civilised society”.
16 day focus
As part of calls for an end to violence against women, the Gender Advocacy Working Group this year carried out awareness activities from the November 25 to December 10 – a date chosen to coincide with International Human Rights Day. These awareness activities were held with the cooperation of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), as well as a number of other local NGOs, government offices and youth volunteers.
The objective of the campaign was to call for an end of violence against women in the country, while also pressuring the government to expedite arrangements for providing services to the victims of domestic violence.
The advocacy group pointed to records showing an estimated one in three women in the Maldives have been victims of domestic violence during their lives, calling on government to ensure that the Family Protection Authority was provided with a sufficient budget to implement the Act Against Domestic Violence and complete the actions detailed in it.
“One of the main steps that need to be taken to end violence against women is to accept that such acts do occur in our society and to honestly want to bring an end to it, it is therefore necessary for the community to share the same viewpoint on such matters if inhuman acts like these are to be eradicated,” the Gender Advocacy Working Group claimed in a statement.
The group organised a number of activities in Male’, Hulhumale’ and Villimale’ to raise awareness of the issue over the 16 days. These included the relatively new concept of forum theatre performances on the street, which encouraged onlookers to join in and be a part of the act.
In addition to these performances, 16 ambassadors of the campaign were honoured. A theatre performance by youth volunteers showed a number of related problems that were faced in the local society, and prompted suggestions for solutions from the audience.
The campaign has also pledged to help victims of domestic violence by planning to set up safe houses, provide free legal counsel and establish a helpline for support.
The group has also called for the inclusion of issues of gender-based violence and gender equality in the school curriculum and to increase participation of women in the law implementation bodies of the state.