Rising religious fundamentalism, conservative thinking impacting women: Department of National Planning

Progress toward achieving gender equality has not kept pace with other development achievements in the Maldives, as reflected by the 12 percent of women who have suffered sexual abuse before the age of 15 while one in three have been the victim of violence, a Department of National Planning study has found.

The study examined how much human development progress has been achieved in the Maldives in terms of population and development, reproductive health and rights, gender equity, equality and empowerment of women as well as education during the period 1994 – 2012.

The “Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014” study was conducted under the supervision of the Department of National Planning (DNP), in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), to determine whether the Maldives has met the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) thematic Programme of Action (PoA) goals.

The study found that “Despite impressive advancements in all development areas, the progress towards achieving gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women have not been the same.”

“Even though, the Maldivian Constitution guarantees equal rights and freedom for all Maldivians without any discrimination, prevailing traditions and socio-cultural norms have limited women’s participation in the workforce and in the community,” the study determined.

“The increasing level of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking has worsened the situation,” it added.

Although the Domestic Violence Act 3/2012 was “a historical milestone for women in the country,” domestic violence and violence against women remains a “major concern” in the Maldives.

“One out of three females aged between 15-49 years has experienced some form of violence within their lifetime. Further, 12 percent of women reported having experienced sexual abuse before their 15th birthday,” the report stated. “Most of the time, the perpetrators are a close family member or intimate partner and the incidence goes unreported and undocumented.”

Victims to not receive appropriate and timely support, since domestic and sexual violence are perceived as a private matter and often go unreported, the study found.

Additionally, “Women continue to be stereotyped and underrepresented at professional decision making levels,” noted the report.

The low level of women being represented in senior level positions is partly due to the “high domestic burden on females,” with women heading 47 percent of households in the Maldives, one of the highest rates in the world, the study determined.

Although women are represented in the workforce, they are “mostly represented in stereotypical roles” such as education (72 percent), health (68 percent), manufacturing (65 percent) and agriculture (64 percent), said the report.

Meanwhile, 40 percent of young women remain unemployed, with 10.5 of the overall youth population being neither employed nor seeking to further their studies, the report added. Employment opportunities for many have been obstructed primarily due to inadequate employment opportunities as well as the mismatch between skills and job requirements.

The report also found that the number of women continuing their studies beyond secondary education is low compared to men. This disparity is the result of “limited access to educational institutions at the island level, domestic responsibilities and hesitance to allow females to study on another island.”

“Special affirmative actions are needed to create more employment and livelihood opportunities for women and to increase the number of women in public and political life,” stated the report.

Despite the Maldives achieving the Millennium Development Goal target to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, malnutrition and anemia are still limiting women’s equality, equity and empowerment, noted the study.

“Poor nutritional status and anemia are significantly high among pregnant women and women of reproductive age, [which] puts them in high risk for maternal mortality,” the report found. “Malnutrition among women puts them in high risk during pregnancy and hinders their full participation in education, employment and social activities.”

Women – and young women’s – health is also at risk due to the lack of access to quality services, particularly in regard to sexual and reproductive health.

“With regard to reproductive rights, men often control decisions regarding women’s reproductive health, often based on religious and cultural grounds,” the report noted.

“[Furthermore,] the sudden growth of religious fundamentalism and conservative thinking is an emerging challenge, particularly for women and young girls,” the study stated. “There have been increase towards certain trends such as preference for home schooling and refusing vaccination and other medical services for women based on religious beliefs.”

Violence against women

Despite the extensive provisions in the Domestic Violence act, it has done little to curb the abuse of women, minors and other vulnerable people; the police, the judiciary and wider Maldivian society have made minimal progress addressing domestic violence and abuse, former Gender Minister and Chairperson the Hope for Women NGO, Aneesa Ahmed, recently told Minivan News.

Meanwhile, support for women’s equality has experienced a “significant drop” despite overall progress in improving the human rights situation nationally, a Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) second baseline survey recently concluded.

“Despite the freedoms that the constitution has provided for women, attitudes towards women’s empowerment show a negative trend,” stated Andrew Cox, the former UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP representative in the Maldives.

“Alarmingly, the study also suggests that there has been a regression in people’s sensitivity towards domestic violence and gender based violence,” he added.

Male attitudes have become “more conservative” regarding women’s rights issues, whereas female views have become more supportive of rights in some areas, the report stated.

In a reversal from the 2005 human rights study, more women than men now consider it inappropriate for men to hit their wives. However, significant numbers of respondents stated where there was a “substantive justification” – as opposed to something trivial – “violence against wives was justified,” the report determined.

Both genders in the Maldives were also found to believe that in the husband/wife relationship, women should play a “subordinate role”.

In spite of this culturally conservative shift regarding women’s rights, an “overwhelming” 92 percent ofMaldivians believe that laws and systems to protect women from sexual assault should be reformed, according to the results of a survey conducted by Asia Research Partners and social activism website Avaaz.org.

Of those polled, 62 percent supported an outright moratorium on the practice of flogging, while 73 percent declared existing punishments for sexual crimes were unfair to women.

The international community has echoed this sentiment, particularly in regard to the recent
case in which a 15 year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months’ house arrest for a separate offence of fornication garnered substantial international attention and condemnation.

In March, an Avaaz petition calling for the repeal of the sentence and a moratorium on flogging in the Maldives collected more than two million signatures – a figure more than double the number of tourists who visit the country annually.

Currently, British couples are being asked to avoid the Maldives as a honeymoon destination to force the country’s government to overturn the conviction of the girl, who was given the draconian sentence after being raped by her stepfather, while UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been asked to intervene in the case, writes Jane Merrick for the UK’s Independent newspaper.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla explained the current context of women’s rights in the Maldives to the publication.

“Consider the statistics on flogging: that 90 per cent of the cases are women. Consider the statistics on rape charges: 0 per cent success rate of prosecution, with the latest being the release of four men accused of raping a 16-year-old, on the grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence,” said Abdulla.

“The increasing religious fundamentalism followed by the attempts to subjugate women, both politically and otherwise, should be cause for alarm. This is a country of traditionally very strong women.

“However, increasingly, the Adhaalath Party, a self-claimed religious party which is in alliance with the current government, uses the religious card to scare off women. We women MPs are often threatened whenever we speak against the party,” she added.


Rise in female unemployment, growth in gender pay disparity

A woman working in the Maldives between 2006 and 2010 monthly earned a third less than her male counterpart in the same job, according the results of a new survey by the Department of National Planning, while young female entrants  are struggling to find jobs.

High female unemployment

According to the ‘Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009-2010’, 38,493 people (28 percent) were unemployed in 2010, of which 14,142 (37 percent) were male while 24,351 were female – almost double the male rate of unemployment.

The report highlights that between 2006 and 2010 unemployment increased by 20,000 – an increase of over 100 percent. The number of jobless women and men rose by 93 percent and 141 percent respectively.

According to the report, unemployment continued to be highest among females. In 2006, the overall unemployment rate for women was 15 percent, increasing to 39 percent in 2010, while male unemployment increased 10 percent to 19 percent in the same period.

Furthermore, nearly half the population of working-age women (45 percent) were recorded as not economically active, while only a fourth of the male working age population fell in this category. However the study did not take into account the high proportion of women working in small household-manufacturing activities, or those working on industrial islands or resorts – which if included, will significantly affect the results drawn under this survey.

While 40 percent women surveyed reported the reason for their unemployment as “unable to find suitable employment”, the second highest reason for female joblessness was due to their “engagement in household chores”. This was followed by “lack of opportunities” and “school attendance”.

The report also concluded that most unemployment existed in the young age groups, with the 15- 19 years and 20 – 24 years age group accounting for about 43 percent of the unemployment in the country. Out of the 17,083 unemployed youth, 51 percent are males, and 49 percent female.

The planning department stated that “for policy purposes, it is very important to decipher the reasons for the high levels of unemployment, in the youth age group as well as among the females, and understanding the differences between locations.”

Among the reasons for unemployment in the youth group (15 – 24 years), “unable to find suitable employment” ranks the highest followed by “lack of opportunities” and in third “youth engaged in studies”, according to the survey.

Struggle for work

Employment of males increased four percent during the four year period, while employment of women fell seven percent.

The planning department concluded that “this indicates a huge influx of ‘new working age population’ to the labour force, of which more male entrants succeeded in obtaining a job while the fairer sex did not.”

“It is clear from the rising levels of unemployment that the Maldives has been unable to create jobs to accommodate new job seekers. Particularly young new entrants, and specifically females in the job market, struggle to find a job.”

“For males, it is the age groups at both ends that experience significant unemployment, while for the females, all age groups have similar unemployment rates except for the 65 years and above,” the department added.

Between 2006 and 2010, the total working age population increased significantly, however, “new jobs did not emerge to absorb this huge increase, boosting unemployment,” the report observed. “In fact compared to 2006, in 2010 there were close to 600 fewer jobs in the labour market.”

The total larbor force amounted to 136,886 people in 2010, of which 45 percent were women.

According to a UNDP report “Women in Public Life in the Maldives” published last year  a “considerable gap”  exists in women’s opportunities in taking active part in economic and political life” while “there were no policies in place that provide equal opportunities for women’s employment.”

“The absence of childcare facilities make it difficult for women to remain employed after they have children. The HRCM also received reports that some employers discouraged women from marriage or pregnancy, as it could result in employment termination or demotion,” the report said.

Restriction on women’s mobility and reluctance from family members to allow women to travel alone to other islands for work were also identified as key obstacle to employment.

While the tourism industry contributes indirectly to over 70 percent of the national income, a report published in September 2011found that social stigma prevented women from working in the sector.

According to the study, “Women in Tourism: Challenges of Including Women in the Maldivian Resort Sector”, Maldivian women accounted for only three percent of all women working in the sector – which was already 92 percent male dominated.

Gender earning gaps

The planning department found during the survey that “similar work  paid different remunerations depending on sex and location.”

According to the report, on average a male earned Rf7036 (US$456) per month, whereas a female earned about a third less of what a male earned – Rf4674 (US$303). This discrepancy is observed across Male’ as well as the atolls.

For example, in the ‘Financial Intermediation’ and ‘Extra-territorial’ industries, which account for highest monthly incomes, a male earned more than Rf11,000 (US$713) whereas a female in this same industry earned 19 percent less – Rf9000 (US$583). Men earned more than women in almost all industries studied.

Meanwhile, legislators, senior officials and managers across the board on average earned the highest monthly income, with males in this occupation category earning more than Rf13,000 (US$843) while females earned only a little more than Rf 9000 (US$583).

“Those employed in Male’ earn more than those in the atolls for all industries except quarrying and the financial intermediation industries,” noted the Planning Department in the report. “This signifies that across all industries, males are paid higher than females and earners in Male’ are paid higher than those in the atolls.”

“It is interesting to study the returns to employment for wage earners by occupation, by location, and gender. The question why males are paid higher incomes than females, for the same jobs and in the same occupation or same industry, is worth additional research,” the department suggested.

Financial intermediation sector and extra-territorial organizations and bodies sector were found to have the slightest indication of gender balance in the workforce, while all other industries were dominated by male or female.

More women were employed in elementary occupations with a substantial 21 percent increase while male employment decreased in this occupation by three percent, the report noted. A high proportion of these jobs are concentrated in the public administration, with a higher share of women amongst the government employees.


High Court denies request for injunction to halt GST implementation

The High Court today denied a request by the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) to grant a temporary injunction to halt the enactment of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Act pending a court ruling on the constitutionality of contested provisions in the legislation.

Presiding Judge Abdul Gani Mohamed noted that the MNCCI filed the case late afternoon on Thursday, September 29, and that the GST law was in effect when the court reopened after the weekend. Following a preliminary hearing, the case was registered at the High Court on October 5.

If the court were to rule against MNCCI after granting a temporary injunction, the judge continued, it would not be possible to charge GST for goods sold in the intervening period.

Moreover, as article 65 of the Act states that the Tourism Goods and Service Tax (T-GST) Act would be repealed and replaced by the GST Act, the state would have to stop collecting T-GST from the tourism industry if the High Court issued the injunction.

Judge Abdul Gani said the claimant was unable to establish that irreversible damage would be caused to businesses if the injunction was not granted.

A majority of the five-judge panel therefore decided that there were no legal grounds to issue a temporary injunction to halt the enactment of the GST Act. In addition to Judge Abdul Gani, the panel consisted of Chief Judge Ahmed Shareef, Judge Dr Ezmiralda Zahir, Judge Abdul Raoof Ibrahim and Judge Abbas Shareef.

Legal challenge

At the first hearing of the case last week, lawyer Ali Hussein representing the Chamber of Commerce argued that article 51 of the GST Act – dealing with registration at the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) within a one-month period from the commencement of the Act – conflicted with articles 17 (non-discrimination) and 20 (equality before the law) of the constitution.

Ali Hussein contended that setting a threshold for registration – taxable supplies of the business over the course of 12 months must exceed Rf1 million – conflicted with the constitutional provision on “equal protection and equal benefit of the law.”

As a result of the threshold, said Ali Hussein, smaller shops would not charge GST while larger stores would do so for the same items.

The MNCCI therefore requested the High Court to strike down article 51 of the GST Act on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Moreover, it was argued that the one-month registration period provided in article 64 was too short and inadequate for businesses to prepare.

The third and last point of contention involved regulations drafted by MIRA under the Act not exempting semi-mature coconuts from GST despite different types of coconut being exempted under the Act.

Addressing the legal points raised by the MNCCI, State Attorney Moosa Alim referred to the concept of vertical equity in tax collection, whereby taxes paid increase with income.

Alim noted that article 17(b) of the constitution states that, “Special assistance or protection to disadvantaged individuals or groups, or to groups requiring special social assistance, as provided in law shall not be deemed to be discrimination.”

The length of the period for registration or glitches in implementation were not sufficient grounds to abolish the law, he said.

On the contention that the introduction of GST on top of custom duties amounted to double taxation, the state attorney submitted a list of 112 countries that charge import duties or tariffs in addition to Value Added Taxes (VATs).

MIRA’s Director General of Tax Planning Aiman Ibrahim explained that double taxation technically referred to the imposition of two or more taxes on the same income, property or financial transaction.

Businesses that paid GST on commodities purchased from wholesale traders or importers would have that amount deducted from their tax returns, he added.

Ali Hussein however contended that both import duties and the GST would be passed down to customers, who would be paying two taxes for the same item.

Asked by the Chief Judge whether a small business not eligible for GST registration could sell a taxable item without charging the tax, Aiman Ibrahim from MIRA replied yes.

Speaking on behalf of the MNCCI, the organisation’s Treasurer Ahmed Adheeb insisted that the Maldivian economy could not be compared to large economies such as Singapore or New Zealand.

“I know of nowhere in the world where GST has been implemented within a month,” he said, arguing that the cost of implementing the tax, in terms of monitoring and auditing tax returns, was prohibitive and outweighed the benefits.

Moreover, said Adheeb, there was no audit law in the Maldives and “only three licensed auditors.”

“We foresee serious problems that will eventually reach court as a result of [GST implementation],” he said.

In response, Aiman said there was “no connection between GST and audit licensing” as businesses would not be required to file audited reports for GST returns. “[The tax return] will be a single page document and MIRA will do the auditing,” he said.

Adjourning today’s hearing, Judge Abdul Gani observed that the legal points raised by were “very technical” in nature and offered both sides an opportunity to make a presentation on the technical issues involved in the case at the next court date.


Comment: Discrimination against women in the Maldives

The Ministry of Gender and Family, the Maldives Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences 2007 suggest that one in every three women undergo some kind of abuse through their life, be it physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

For this reason, as a woman working to empower women, I felt a ray of hope on November 25, 2009, when the parliamentarians endorsed their commitment to the campaign to stop Violence against Women in the Maldives.

Unfortunately, the recent discussions held at the last meeting of the People’s Majlis (Parliament), before they went into recess, were shocking to some of us. Some of the parliamentarian’s crude remarks denote discrimination against women that is unacceptable for the lawmakers of the Maldives.

This is not the first time that such discriminatory, undermining and sexual language has been used toward women on the parliament floor.

The Maldives Constitution ratified in 2008. Chapter 2, article 17 states that everyone is entitled to rights and freedoms without discrimination of any kind including race, national origin, color, sex, age, mental or physical disability, political or other opinion, property, birth or other status, or native island.

In this respect, the United Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Maldives ratified in 1993, specifically stipulates equal rights to women, to stop discrimination against women and places an obligation on the state to provide and protect the rights of women.

It is interesting to note that the parliamentarians did not question the sex of the candidates at the time when the names were sent to the Majlis by President of the Maldives, and when they reviewed and approved the names for the five membership positions of Human Rights Commission (HRCM).

The discussion heated up when it became apparent the President [Mohamed Nasheed] had sent female nominations for the President and Vice-President of HRCM, which are high positions.

Why is it that the thought processes of the parliamentarians then turned upside down? The parliamentarians did not debate over why women were not nominated for bench of Supreme Court, nor why there is only one woman elected for both the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and no woman sitting in Elections Commission.

The majority of the public and private sector do not provide equal opportunities for women when it comes to decision-making positions. These high positions and are not barred by Islam, and neither by the Maldivian Constitution.

The media lacks awareness about women’s rights and the importance of promoting gender equality. The misconception spread about gender equality is that women and men are equal. This is incorrect – the correct account is that men and women are biologically different because of their sex but gender is socially constructed.

This means that there are positions or jobs that the society believes that either men or women can do. This is the interpretation that the parliamentarians had when they had the discussions on the last day before recess.

If women’s names had been approved by parliamentarians according to their first deliberations, the approval should be based on their competency. The deliberations on the Majlis floor indicate lack of knowledge about women’s issues and women’s problems.

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]


Parliament’s paralysing of HRCM is “unforgivable”: Saleem

Parliament’s failure to approve a President and Vice President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) before going into recess has left the country without a functional human rights body, according to former HRCM President Ahmed Saleem.

“Because of the irresponsible behaviour of the Majlis, the three member commission sworn in on August 17 is now defunct,” Saleem claimed.

The required quota of commission members is five.

“Two new members are still to be sworn in and there is no President or Vice President to preside over the meetings, which must be held at least once a month according to HRCM’s regulations,” Saleem explained.

“What the Majlis has done to HRCM is unforgivable, and it’s all because HRCM and human rights are not as important to the Majlis as taking their leave,” he said.

“The Majlis is destroying this country and leaving the government incapable of doing anything.”

Saleem’s concerns about HRCM were echoed by a coalition of local human rights NGOs, including the Maldivian Democracy Network, Maldives NGO Federation,Transparency Maldives and Democracy House.

“According to Article 9 of the HRCM Act, the President of the Commission holds the chair in all meetings of the Commission and is also tasked with assigning complaints that the Commission receives to the different members,” the coalition observed in a statement.

“The Vice-President of the Commission takes over these responsibilities when the President is either absent or unable to perform these duties. Thus, the non appointment of either a President or a Vice-President is an immense obstacle to the effective functioning of the Commission.”

The NGOs claimed it was the duty of the Majlis “to ensure that an important institution such as the HRCM does not fall into a legal void”, and that leaving the institution to flounder until parliament reconvenes in October “would be a great disservice to the people of the Maldives.”

The reasons for parliament’s failure to resolve the appointments of the commission’s President and Vice President are unclear.

The three members appointed to the Commission from the list sent to parliament by President Mohamed Nasheed included Maryam Azra Ahmed of Maafannu Hukuradhige, Jeehaan Mahmood of Dheyliyage in Hinnavaru of Lhaviyani Atoll and Ahmed Thalal of Henveiru Adduge. Saleem was listed but was not approved by parliament  – “it is my job to be critical of the government – I was surprised when the whole opposition voted me out,” he commented.

However President Nasheed’s nominations for HRCM’s President and Vice President, Azra and Jeehaan respectively, were not approved prior to parliament’s recess – an approval Saleem described “as usually just a formality”, but critical to the functioning of the institution.

Speaking in parliament on August 30 (pages 69-75), DRP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed said that while he considered the people appointed for HRCM as capable, the role of President and Vice President “should include a male.”

“Even if you look at it from a religious perspective or from the perspective of good policy, there should be a male in either post,’’ he said.

Independent MP for Kudahuvadhoo, Ahmed Amir, said it was “against human rights” to have two females in the roles of President and Vice President.

“It is the woman who calls for equality most of the time,’’ said Amir.

Minivan News attempted to contact Ilham, but he hung up with an apology.

Saleem observed today that the last commission “had men as President and Vice President and nobody said anything.”

“This time [President Nasheed] proposed two ladies. I have no problem with that – but they must be capable people,” he said, adding that “it would be nice to have a man and a woman for the sake of gender balance.”

The NGO coalition called on parliament to remain free of gender bias, stating that as the laws allowed women “to take up not only the Presidency of the Republic, but also become judges, commission members, commission presidents, and take up other important posts in the State, and that the Presidency and Vice-Presidency of most other commissions and bodies in the country are dominated by men, there is also no room to claim that women being appointed as both President and Vice-President of the HRCM is contrary to the rule of equality among the sexes.”

To not appoint a person to a particular post on grounds of the person’s sex “would in fact be contrary to Article 17 of the Constitution which enshrines the principle of non-discrimination”, the coalition suggested.

Maldives High Commissioner to the UK and the first female in the Malidves to receive a PhD, Farahanaz Faizal, said it was “absolutely horrifying to know that in the 21st century some of our parliamentarians are trying to obstruct this and discriminate against women simply because of their gender, no matter how experienced or qualified they may be.”

“In our recent past, we have had very capable women leaders in all walks of life, both in the government and outside, such as Moomina Haleem, our first female cabinet Minister,” Dr Faizal said.

Deputy Minister for Health and Family, Mariya Ali, said she felt it was important that “more women are in such positions, because it inspires younger women to seek higher education, and shows them what they can achieve if they work hard.”

“I feel it is a very important step for us to take that women are given such high posts, because unless they are taken, stereotypical attitudes towards women will persist,” she said. “If they are capable, why not appoint them?”


Saleem suggested that the government had made a mistake by not waiting until all five members of the commission had been approved, including the President and Vice President, “instead of rushing the whole process.”

“No democracy can function without a functioning human rights body,” he said.

“According to Article 297 of the constitution, the old commission must continue functioning until a new five member commission takes over. If there is to be a legally functional HRCM to protect the rights of the Maldivian people it can only be the HRCM appointed for five years in November 2006 – or else constitute the new one lawfully ASAP.”

Parliament was also recently criticised for leaving HRCM in constitutional limbo following the conclusion of the interim period, after failing to conduct the reappointments in time for the August 7 deadline.

A source at HRCM observed at the time that the legal legitimacy of the institution’s activities were questionable until the new commission was approved: “we don’t even know if we are supposed to be going to work.”


Gayoom concerned over “false information” on women’s rights

Former President of the Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has expressed concern at an increasing amount of  “false information” being spread by Islamic scholars in the country concerning women’s rights.

Quoting from the Qur’an to prove his point during a DRP special event yesterday held on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Gayoom said there was “no religious justification” for the inequality of women and that Islam “does not limit a woman’s equal rights in society.”

He further called on all women to join the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), saying “You will get equal rights and equal opportunity when you are in DRP. You can reach your destination and achieve your goals when you are in DRP.”

Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, spokesman for the former president and DRP member, said Gayoom was “quite emotional” when speaking of women’s rights at the meeting.

Women’s rights in politics

Gayoom explained that everyone had worked very hard in his government to bring the country to its current position and to find a place for women in society, especially in politics.

Aneesa Ahmed, DRP member and co-founder of women’s rights NGO Hope for Women, said she agreed with Gayoom and added that under his rulership, the number of women in politics “was better than the current numbers in the political arena.”

Ahmed said she so far “haven’t seen improvements” for women’s rights in the country under the new presidency.

“I have heard of the gender policy but nothing is being done for it to be effective,” she said, noting that “it is still too early to talk about it.”

Ahmed said under Gayoom’s government four out of twenty-one cabinet members were women, while currently there was only one woman in the cabinet.

“I have heard a lot of rhetoric on gender equality but no action,” she said.

On 24 February, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the government’s intention to withdraw the Maldives’ reservation to the UN Woman’s Rights Treaty on Article 7(a) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Article 7(a) states that there must be political equality and equal rights for women, and includes running for public office.

Under the 1998 Constitution of the Maldives, women were banned from running for president, as it explicitly stated that the candidate must be a man.

Article 109 of the new Constitution of 2008 does not include any restrictions based on gender under “qualifications for election as President”.

The reservation was withdrawn because it was deemed contradictory to the new Constitution.

Change and improvement

The Judiciary’s website cites an alarming figure: not one rape case has been taken to criminal court in the last four years.

However numerous cases have been reported to the police and several arrests made during this period of time.

Minivan News alone has reported at least nine abuse cases against women and girls since January 2009, most of them involving multiple perpetrators and/or victims. Most of the victims are under the age of 18.

The fact that none of these cases have made it to court could potentially make many women afraid to report such cases to the authorities.

The Ministry of Health and Family held a panel today including members of the Ministry of Health and the Department of Gender, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Prosecutor General’s office, among others.

Deputy Minister of Health and Family Mariya Ali said it was a “varied” panel offering an “alternative dialogue” to find solutions to issues on women’s rights, such as the prosecution of rape cases.

Ali said the ministry, working with the Prosecutor General, is “following up a lot of abuse cases that were put on hold.”

When asked about Gayoom’s statement on the misuse of Islam to spread inequality for women in society, she said “some of the things [the Islamic scholars] are saying can be misinterpreted by the public” but confirmed that the Ministry of Health is “working closely with the Islamic Ministry” to deal with these issues.

International Women’s Day celebrations and events

International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world on 8 March. This year marks the 99th anniversary of the first Women’s Day celebrated in 1911.

The celebrations, which mark the economic, political and social achievements of women, took many different forms around the world.

There were rallies to stop violence against women in the Middle East; a silent protest in Taipei; a protest of thousands in Iran; a breakfast in Iraq; a rally of hundreds in Bangladesh; a discussion panel in China; and education bus tour in South Africa; a march for equality in Brazil and thousands of other events around the world, all commemorating the rights of women.

The Ministry of Health and Family will be celebrating this year’s Woman’s Day this week, with the theme of “Equal rights, equal opportunities: progress for all.”

Most of the public events being organised by the ministry and Department of Gender will be held over the weekend, including a children’s evening and stage show at Villingili stage area on 12 March.

There will also be a Friday sermon based on the theme of the celebrations.