The Maldives’ ratification last year of a Domestic Violence Act has done little to curb the abuse of women, minors and other vulnerable people despite provisions to do so, a leading civil society expert and former gender minister has said.
Aneesa Ahmed, Chairperson for the Hope for Women NGO, told Minivan News that despite extensive provisions in the act, little progress had been made by police, the judiciary and wider Maldivian society to address domestic violence and abuse.
“The problem we are seeing is that measures provided in the act are not being implemented. There is no mechanisms to do that. Police have been preparing for the act, but they are handicapped in doing so,” Aneesa claimed.
“There are no safe houses, no shelters for victims of abuse. The act doesn’t solve the problem on its own, we need education and a greater understanding or rights and the need for sensitivity.”
Aneesa’s comments were made after 130 UN member states last Friday (March 15) signed up to a plan to try and prevent violence towards women and girls as part of a wider international strategy.
The declaration calling for an end to gender-based violence was passed despite opposition from Russia, the Vatican and a number of unidentified Islamic nations.
“Iran, Libya, Sudan and other Muslim nations ended threats to block the declaration and agreed to language stating that violence against women could not be justified by ‘any custom, tradition or religious consideration,'” reported AFP.
One year later
With the Maldives having passed it’s own Domestic Violence Act last year, Aneesa contended that there remained a lack of support and understanding of the need for sensitivity in dealing with all victims of domestic abuse at both a legislative and societal level.
She contended that such support was lacking for all victims protected under the bill, which includes men, women and children.
Pointing specifically to challenges currently facing women, the issue of empowering the country’s female population – both financially and through education – remained a particular problem in the country, according to Aneesa.
“Women [suffering from domestic abuse of violence] are reluctant to leave their children, but often have no way of supporting themselves, even within their own families,” she said. “The situation here for victims is bad, not much has been done to raise awareness.”
Aneesa claimed that even in cases where women have gone to seek legal action against an abusive partner, the country’s courts were seen as a hostile environment for such cases, even to those experienced with dealing with the judicial system.
She also raised the issue of reluctance among friends of abuse victims to go to courts on their behalf, stating that there was often uncertainty over whether they would be protected from potential reprisals for going to the authorities. These concerns were identified by Hope for Women as another example of the wider lack of understanding on legal rights provided to abuse victims.
Aneesa added that abuse victims on a number of occasions had sought assistance from Hope for Women, pointing to the case of a woman who had filed for divorce from an abusive partner back in August 2011.
She said that after leaving her husband, the victim was said to have forfeited her custody of her child.
Upon later regaining custody of the child, Aneesa added that both the mother and her family continued to suffer both mental and physical abuse from the victim’s husband – on occasion leading to intervention from the police.
However, despite this intervention, Hope for Women claimed that not a single hearing had been held on the case in the country’s courts, with the husband refusing to attend on any scheduled dates.
This has lead Hope for Women to directly appeal to higher legal authorities including court watchdog, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), according to Aneesa.
“Nothing has been done since 2011 on this case,” she said.
Aneesa added that there was a need for legal authorities and society to be “sensitised” in dealing with victims of domestic abuse, while also pointing to a parallel need for the rehabilitation of offenders.
“Both the courts and the state lack sensitivity in dealing with these cases, while judges also need to be sensitised,” she said.
Hope for Women NGO is looking to travel to islands across the country, while leaflets have also been prepared containing information for women on their rights under the law.
Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights Azima Shukoor was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
During International Women’s Day earlier this month, former and current Maldivian presidents of the Maldives all spoke on what they said was the importance of gender equality to national development.
Despite the calls of some of the nation’s most senior political figures, a recent national study found support for women’s equality was found to have experienced a “significant drop” despite overall progress in improving the human rights situation nationally.
The conclusions were made in the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM’s) second baseline survey on behaviors and attitudes regarding human rights in the Maldives, which was published December 10, 2012.
The ‘Rights’ Side of Life’ survey noted increasingly conservative attitudes towards gender roles, particularly among women themselves.
“In every case, women agreed with the particular justiﬁcation for violence more often than men did,” the report found.
“In the case of some answers, the difference was considerable. For example, 45.1 percent of women considered that husbands had good reason to beat their wives if they were disobeyed, but only 25.7 percent of men agreed with this proposition. Similarly, 28.3 percent of women said that refusing to have sex with their husband was justiﬁcation for beating them, though only 12.8 percent of men thought this.”
According to the study, 57.1 percent of men believed it acceptable to beat their wives for “going against Islam”, while 71.6 percent of women felt this was acceptable.
The study also acknowledged under-reporting of the issue due to the public nature of the focus groups.