Government to submit gender equality bill to parliament

The government will submit legislation on gender equality during the ongoing first session of the People’s Majlis for 2015, Attorney General (AG) Mohamed Anil has said.

Speaking at a function held at the Islamic Centre yesterday to mark International Women’s Day, AG Anil – who also heads the Ministry of Law and Gender – said the bill would protect women’s rights, empower women socially and economically, and ensure equal rights.

Anil said the government has undertaken significant efforts to promote women’s rights and “eliminate obstacles” faced by Maldivian women.

“Of the total 926 members of the Ministry of Economic Development’s Sabah project, I note happily that 91 percent are female members,” he said.

He added that 60 percent of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture’s commercial loan scheme would be earmarked for women and youth.

The government has also formulated and enacted rules for operating daycare centres to assist working mothers, Anil said, adding that an amendment would be submitted to tax laws to exempt the centres from GST.

Efforts were currently underway to establish safe houses in each atoll for victims of domestic violence, he added.

Safe houses or temporary shelter have so far been set up at the Family and Children Service Centres  in Haa Dhaal Kulhudhufushi, Shaviyani Fonadhoo, Thaa Veymandoo, and Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo, Anil noted.

Anil said there was no discrimination between boys and girls in the education sector, noting that 70 percent of graduates from the National University in March 2014 were female.

In its concluding observations released last Friday (March 6) on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Maldives, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women welcomed legislative reforms such as the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Prevention Act of 2014, the Sexual Offences Act of 2014, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act of 2013, and the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 2012.

The Maldives acceded to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in July 1993

The committee also noted the establishment of the Family Protection Authority in 2012 and welcomed “forthcoming amendments to the Family Act to regulate the distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce.”

In his presidential address at the opening of parliament earlier this month, President Yameen said the legislation would protect women’s rights in divorce cases as pledged during the presidential campaign.

The CEDAW committee meanwhile noted “that the principle of equality between women and men is not yet explicitly enshrined in legislation” and called on the state to ensure that the gender equality bill includes a definition of discrimination on the basis of sex.

The committee also expressed concern about “the delay in conducting a gender impact analysis of some of its existing laws, including family law provisions which continue to indirectly discriminate against women, and in adopting regulations necessary for the full implementation of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act.”

Insufficient progress

Meanwhile, in a press release yesterday, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) said the Maldives has not achieved or made adequate progress under the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring equal rights for women.

Referring to its shadow report to the CEDAW committee last year, the commission said it had noted the underrepresentation of women in decision-making as well as the minor role of women in economic development.

The report noted that some police officers believe violence against women was caused by women failing to fulfil their duty as submissive wives.

The HRCM also contended that women were not receiving full protection under the new domestic violence, sexual offences, and sexual harassment laws, noting that regulations required under the domestic violence law have yet to be enacted two years after it was passed.

“Despite domestic violence cases being reported, we note that that relevant state institutions are not taking action in accordance with the obligatory rules for such cases,” the HRCM press release stated.

The commission also stressed the importance of expediting the passage of the gender equality bill and appealed to the executive to allocate sufficient funds and resources for institutions responsible for protecting women’s rights.

“Awareness also needs to be raised among girls regarding their physical and reproductive health,” the press release continued.

“To achieve this, we appeal for both further widening the role of state institutions and civil society organisations and instilling the spirt of working together.”

The slogan for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture it!’

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CEDAW committee welcomes progress on women’s rights, expresses concern with child marriages, flogging and gender stereotypes

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has welcomed the Maldives’ progress on protecting women’s rights whilst expressing concern with child marriages, flogging and gender stereotypes in society.

In its concluding observations released last Friday (March 6) on the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of the Maldives – reviewed at meetings on February 27 with a high-level delegation led by Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon – the committee welcomed progress achieved since the last review in 2007, including the adoption of a new penal code that includes a definition of rape.

The committee noted other legislative reforms such as the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Prevention Act of 2014, the Sexual Offences Act of 2014, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act of 2013, the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 2012, the Employment Act of 2008, and the new Constitution in 2008, “which removes provisions barring women from being elected as President and Vice-President.”

The committee also noted the establishment of the Family Protection Authority in 2012 and welcomed “forthcoming amendments to the Family Act to regulate the distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce.”

The Maldives acceded to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in July 1993 with reservations to article 16, which deals with equality in marriage and family relations.

“We strongly believe that equality of women in all walks of life, within the family, and in public life, is indeed a prerequisite for social justice and inclusive development that benefits all segments of society,” said Foreign Minister Dunya in her opening remarks at the treaty reporting session.

She reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing emerging challenges such as stereotypical practices that hinders equal representation of women in society.

Issues of concern

Whilst welcoming legislative initiatives on improving access to justice, the committee expressed concern with “persistent barriers faced by women in accessing justice”.

Of particular concern was the “insufficient independence of the judiciary, bias and gender stereotypes among judges and law enforcement officials, the absence of gender sensitive procedures and the limited capacity of the police to deal with complaints from women about violations of their rights in a gender-sensitive manner.”

Noting “the high number of unregistered marriages in rural and remote areas, including child marriages,” the committee recommended setting an age limit of 16 for exceptional cases of underage marriages.

The committee also recommended the abolition of flogging for fornication “as a matter of urgency,” noting that flogging “disproportionately affect women and girls and deter them from reporting sexual offences.”

Moreover, the committee noted the “existing discriminatory provisions regarding the participation of women as witnesses and delays in amending the stringent evidentiary provisions required for sexual violence offences.”

The committee noted that marital rape was not criminalised in law, the lack of enforcement of the anti-domestic violence law, and the lack of resources for the Family and Child Service Centres and safe houses.

The committee suggested that social stigma attached to women who report abuse as well as the perception that domestic violence cases were private family matters deters reporting.

Traditional stereotypes regarding the role and responsibilities of women in society meanwhile remain deeply entrenched, the committee observed, “which overemphasise the role of women as wives, mothers and caregivers, as well as prevent them from asserting their rights and actively participating in decision-making and other aspects of political and public life.”

The committee also expressed concern at “the growing trend in conservative interpretations of religion which encourage stereotypical patterns which negatively impact women and girls, as acknowledged by the State party during the dialogue. The Committee is further concerned about the emergence of cases of female genital mutilation in the State party, despite legislative prohibitions.”

Stereotypes as well as geographic constraints also limit girls’ access to higher education, the committee observed, noting “de facto restrictions on the re-entry of pregnant adolescent girls and married girls under the age of 18 in the formal educational system.”

Whilst noting the high representation of women in political parties, the committee noted that “social and cultural barriers continue to stigmatise women wishing to participate in political and public life which prevent them from running for public office.”

The committee noted the underrepresentation of women in parliament, the executive, the judiciary and decision-making level posts in the civil service.

“Further, it regrets the limited participation of women in local governance at community level, in particular in atolls, islands and city councils,” it stated.

On anti-trafficking, the committee expressed concern over “delays in establishing shelters for victims of trafficking and the absence of procedures for early victim identification, case management, and victim protection” and noted the “risk of internal trafficking for women and girls from remote islands placed in households in Male to access higher education opportunities.”

On health issues, the committee noted “limited access to obstetric health services, including pre- and post-natal services, for women living in remote areas,” “restricted access, in practice, to sexual and reproductive health services, for unmarried women and girls,” and “the absence of a study and data on the prevalence of unsafe and illegal abortion which is reportedly increasing.”


The committee urged the Maldives to honour its commitment to withdraw its reservation to paragraph two of article 16, which states: “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory.”

The committee also recommended a review of the reservation to paragraph one of article 16, “with a view to fully withdrawing it, taking into consideration practices of countries with similar religious backgrounds and legal systems which have successfully harmonised their domestic legislation with international human rights obligations”.

Despite its ratification in 1993, the committee noted that the convention “has yet to be incorporated into its domestic legal system and can therefore not be applied by the courts” and expressed concern with the delay in conducting a gender impact analysis of existing laws.

The committee called on the state to pass gender equality legislation with a definition of discrimination in line with the convention.

Referring to the restructured Ministry of Law and Gender headed by the Attorney General, the committee said the move “weakened [the national machinery’s] institutional capacity to develop coherent and sustainable plans and policies and to ensure effective gender mainstreaming across relevant sectors” and expressed concern about the “the insufficient financial, human and technical resources” available to the ministry.

On the Supreme Court’s suo moto proceedings against members of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concerning its submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review last year, the committee said “such actions seriously undermine the independence of the commission.”

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Some police officers believe women to blame for domestic violence, says HRCM

Some police officers believe violence against women is caused by women failing to fulfill their duty as submissive wives, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has said.

In a report to the UN Committee on Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the HRCM said that meetings held with police during monitoring visits in the atolls revealed some police officers’ “initial belief is that the role of women is to raise children, take care of her family and be submissive to the husband”.

“Also, they have the notion that violence against women is mostly the result of women not fulfilling their duty as submissive wives.”

Reporting of violence against women is “proportionally low”, the HRCM said, noting it had received only 16 such cases in the period between 2008 and 2013. The Family Protection Authority had meanwhile received 19 cases in 2013 and 154 cases in 2014.

“The lack of confidence in the system, fear of intimidation, inadequate information on protection measures, stigmatization by the community along with lack of opportunities for economic empowerment are some of the factors that hold the victim from reporting to authorities,” the HRCM said.

Women’s empowerment is showing a negative trend, the commission continued, noting that conservative beliefs are fuelling an increase in the attitude that women’s role in society is to be submissive wives and to raise children.

Further, the report said there are an estimated 1,139 female sex workers in the country, while studies have shown children as young as 12 are involved in commercial sex, and that eight percent of female sex workers from 12 islands were under the age of 18.

The report also expressed concern over health risks to women, under-representation of women at policy and decision-making levels, high rates of unemployment among women, and high levels of sexual harassment at work.

Health risks

Basic health services including access to gynecologists, gynecology services, sexual and reproductive health services are not fully and easily accessible to people living in the atolls, the report said.

It also noted a high number of unsafe abortions in the country, indicating prevalence of sexual relations among teens and unmarried adults.

However, age appropriate sex education is not provided at schools and parents are against the idea of sex education. Meanwhile, access to contraceptives in the atolls is largely limited to married couples.

The commission said the government must take proactive measures against female circumcision, noting several NGOs have raised concern over religious scholars endorsing the practice as obligatory in Islam.

The report added, however, that the Ministry of Law and Gender has informed the HRCM there was not enough information to suggest female genital mutilation is an emerging issue that needs to be addressed.

The HRCM also expressed concern over a rise in marriages out of court, stating children born to such marriages would face legal issues and difficulties in accessing fundamental rights and freedoms. Women in such marriages “are bound to face social and legal consequences,” the commission said.

High unemployment

Women are far more disadvantaged than men in the labour market, the report continued, with unemployment levels among women at least a third higher than among men.

Women’s labor participation had declined from 42.1 percent in 2006 to 38.2 percent in 2010, the report said. Women earned less than men, with a mean monthly income of MVR4,674 (US$303) for women as compared to MVR7,036 (US$456) for men.

Almost half of women in the working population are economically inactive and women account for 68 percent of the economically inactive population. Preoccupation with household chores and raising children appears to be the predominant reason for female unemployment, the report said.

According to the HRCM, “sexual harassment at the workplace is a daunting reality and an accepted norm for most employed women,” but women do not take action for fear of disbelief and stigmatisation, embarrassment and shame.

The report also noted women’s underrepresentation at the policy and decision-making levels. Only three out of 17 cabinet ministers are women, and only five out of the 85 MPs are women.

There are no gender differences in primary school enrolment, but the HRCM noted a growing concern that parents are turning to home based education for girls with the increase in religious conservatism.

There are more female students at local higher education institutes, where they dominate in programmes associated with education, health sciences, and management. Measures must be taken to increase the enrolment of females in conventionally male dominated fields of study, the HRCM suggested.

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Comment: Justice elusive for female victims of violence

Violence against women remains one of the greatest scourges of our time. It is disgraceful that even today, for many women and girls everywhere, violence is lurking around street corners, in workplaces or in their very own homes. And too often, justice is elusive.

In Busia, Kenya, in June this year, a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped and thrown into a six-metre-deep pit latrine, breaking her back and leaving her with obstetric fistula. Police chose not to prosecute the men, instead ordering them to cut grass around the police station as punishment. The news unleashed a rare outpouring of public indignation and a petition was signed by 1.4 million people. The “Justice for Liz” campaign led the Chief Justice of Kenya to call for immediate action in the case.

Why did it take agitation by 1.4 million people to begin the process of justice which is the victim’s fundamental human right?

Halfway around the world, in Auckland, New Zealand, when a 13-year-old girl had gone to the police to report that she had been raped by three young men, one of the first questions she was reportedly asked was: “What were you wearing”. This was in 2011. Two years later, after many similar attacks by the same gang, it took a public exposé to rattle the authorities into action. The Independent Police Conduct Authority of New Zealand has been ordered to look into the handling of these cases and police are now finally conducting the investigations they should have begun two years ago.

Sadly, these are not isolated cases. Such crimes occur on a daily basis in countries across the world, but they rarely make headlines or lead to public outrage and action by high-level officials. In most parts of the world, women are too ashamed or fearful to report violence, particularly sexual violence, to the police. And when they overcome various societal barriers and taboos to file a complaint, they are all too often met with callous, insensitive official reactions, effectively blocking all access to justice.

Violence against women and girls has been perpetuated by centuries of male dominance and gender-based discrimination. Building on deeply entrenched social norms that frame women’s worth around discriminatory notions of chastity and “honour”, violence is often used to control and humiliate not only the victims, but also their families and communities. It is essential to challenge such notions, which often permeate the justice system itself, resulting in a vicious cycle of impunity and further violence.

The UN Committee on the Elimination on Discrimination against Women and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women have been documenting violence against women, its causes and consequences in all parts of the world and recommending measures to eliminate such violence and to remedy its consequences. These recommendations must be taken seriously. States are obliged by international human rights law to ensure that the criminal justice system, at every stage, is free of gender bias, including in investigation, prosecution, interrogation and protection of victims and witnesses, and in sentencing.

The suggestion that women have a propensity to lie and that their testimony must be corroborated or treated with caution should be eliminated from every level of the judicial process, as must the idea that women invite sexual violence by being out late or by dressing in a particular manner.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, let us do our part to eliminate the harmful gender stereotypes that help perpetuate a climate where violence against women is considered acceptable or “deserved”. Violence is simply and totally unacceptable – no matter what she was wearing.

Navi Pillay is the UN Human Rights Commissioner

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Maldives to withdraw reservations on women’s rights treaty

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today announced the government’s intention to withdraw the reservations of the Maldives to the UN Woman’s Rights Treaty.

The Ministry has informed the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that the Maldives will shortly be withdrawing the controversial national reservation, which limits key aspects of the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The reservation restricts the application of Article 7(a) of CEDAW, under which state parties commit “to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right: (a) to vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies.”

Under the 1998 Constitution, women were banned from running for president. Article 109 of the new Constitution of 2008 does not include any restrictions based on gender under “qualifications for election as President”.

Aishath Zahir, Deputy Additional Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “this withdrawal is reinforcing the Constitution,” and “it reinforces our obligations under international law.”

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had repeatedly asked the Maldives to withdraw this reservation, since it was contrary to the purpose of the Convention of Women’s Rights and went against the principle of the equality of women and men.

The withdrawal of the restriction on Article 7(a) is a necessary official notification from the Maldivian government to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the statement claimed. This is being done so that “the new reality is fully reflected in international law.”

Because under the new Constitution parliament must approve any changes in the legislature, it is necessary for the government to submit a procedural bill to the Majlis seeking approval.

“As soon as it’s passed by the Majlis we will lodge our instrument of withdrawal to the UN,” said Zahir.

The Bill has been prepared by the Department of Gender and Family in the Ministry of Health and will soon be considered by the People’s Majlis.

Minister of Foreign Affaris Dr Ahmed Shaheed said the reservation was “a relic of a time in the Maldives when women were openly and explicitly discriminated against even within our primary legal framework.”

He added that this withdrawal makes explicitly clear that “everyone is entitled to the same rights and freedoms…without discrimination of any kind, including based on gender”.