National Conference on Domestic Violence Protection Act concludes

Hope for Women and the Gender Advocacy Working Group (GAWG) have today concluded the National Conference on Domestic Violence Protection Act.

Relevant stakeholders gathered to discuss the implementation of the law, with GAWG consultant Humaida Abdul Ghafoor concluding that, while there had been slow progress, there was still “a long way to go”.

The workshop was conducted as part of the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign, which concludes on December 10.

Numerous regulations were yet to be put in place, with the soon-to-be updated Penal Code, one such example.

Representatives from the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office noted that 18 of 85 cases were successfully prosecuted in 2012-13, explained Humaida. Of these, however, 7 people received a MVR200 (US $13) fine, 8 received a MVR150 (US $10) fine, 2 were handed MVR75 (US $5) fines, while one person was sentenced to 6 months.

While the Maldives passed the landmark Domestic Violence Act in 2012, Hope for Women has previously expressed concern that poor implementation had meant the new law had little practical effect on the problem.

A 2007 study by the Ministry of Gender and Family – the first comprehensive nationwide survey of domestic violence in the Maldives – showed that one in three women between the ages of 15-49 had been a victim of domestic violence.

The study suggested there was general acceptance of domestic violence across the country and among both sexes, who perceived it as being ‘normal’ or ‘justified’.


Hope for Women’s councillor training workshops begin

Hope for Women’s first round of women councillor’s training workshops has begun today, with representatives from four Island Women’s Development Committees (IWDC) from four atolls taking part.

“The workshops will focus on identifying challenges and solutions to improve the performance of IWDCs in assisting island councillors to develop and implement an effective strategic action plan,” explained a Hope for Women press release.

The workshops are part of the women’s rights NGO’s two-year ‘Supporting Women’s Leadership and Political Participation in the Maldives’ initiative – funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund – which aims to increase the capacity and performance of the current 59 women councillors, and members of the IWDCs.

Key priorities for development will be identified with the guidance of experts from areas such as community building, gender, politics, project planning, and local governance.
The 2010 Decentralisation Act created IWDCs for the purpose of generating income for the development of local women, working to increase religious awareness, and to improve the health, education, and political participation of women.

The Maldives again moved down the World Economic Forum’s Gender Disparity Index this year, dropping 8 places to 105th out of 142 countries. Promoting gender equality and empowering women is one of the three Millenium Development Goals yet to be reached by the country.


Hope for Women launch workshops for woman councilors and Island Women’s Development Committees.

Women’s rights advocacy group Hope for Women (HFW) has launched a new initiative focusing on woman councillors and members of Island Women’s Development Committees, (IWDC) aiming to “increase their involvement in decision and policy making processes.”

In a press statement on Sunday, (August 14) HFW stated it will “facilitate a three day training workshop in 11 targeted islands for representatives from the IWDCs and training in Malé for the 59 newly elected women councilors.”

“These workshops will focus on identifying challenges and solutions to improve the performance of IWDCs in assisting island councilors to develop and implement an effective strategic action plan.”

IWDCs are a subcommittee of the island council and are responsible for fund raising and activities to empower women. Only women are eligible to vote for IWDC members.

The majority of local councilors are men, with women having relatively few decision making powers at island level. The People’s Majlis in 2010 rejected a provision to include a quota for women in local councils.

Earlier this year, the government proposed abolishing the committees as part of a streamlining of local governance.

A recent publication by European Union Election Observation Mission for the Majlis elections in March noted that “women have traditionally been relegated to the private rather than the public sphere of life.”

HFW, one of the few NGOs working solely on the rights of women, conducts various programmes aimed at empowering women and supporting victims of gender discrimination. It recently launched an initiative to provide legal counseling on family law and prevention of domestic violence law.


President’s Office alters Ramadan working hours after Hope for Women complaint

The President’s Office has again adjusted working hours for the Islamic month of Ramadan from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm.

The President’s Office had initially set working hours from 10am – 2:30 pm – reduction of 30 minutes from the working day follows a complaint by NGO Hope for Women.

The organisation said the initial working hours did not consider impact on women working in public service.

“In the Maldivian society, domestic responsibilities typically fall on women, with added work during the month of Ramadan for the preparation of the meals for the family in time for breaking fast,” said the NGO.

Women make up a majority in the Maldivian civil service. There are 11,655 women and 8,858 men.

Hope for women also suggested the government’s decision was influenced by the late hour football matches of the ongoing World Cup tournament which it claims is causing many government employs to attend work late.


Women’s rights NGO criticises altered Ramadan work hours

Women’s rights NGO Hope for Women has criticised the altered working hours this Ramadan, stating the decision was made without consideration as to how it would impact women working in public service.

“In the Maldivian society, domestic responsibilities typically fall on women, with added work during the month of Ramadan for the preparation of the meals for the family in time for breaking fast,” said the NGO.

“Therefore, we believe that the decision regarding the Ramadan working hours have been made without giving consideration to how it would impact women working in public service.”

The President’s Office today announced the working hours at government offices for Ramadan and the seven days of Eid al Fitr, which will be from 10am til 2:30pm.

While it is usual for the government to reduce work hours every Ramadan, this year’s timings are one hour later than previous years.

Hope for Women, highlighting recent reports that the number of women working in the civil service is twelve percent more than men, and said that finishing work late would impact women negatively as the domestic responsibility of preparing food for breaking the fast at sunset falls on women in the Maldivian society.

A recent election observation report from an observer mission noted that women continued to face multiple barriers to participation in public life, leading to acute under-representation in the public and political spheres.

The average time for sunset and breaking the fast this Ramadan is at 6:20pm.

Hope for women also suggested the government’s decision was influenced by the late hour football matches of the ongoing World Cup tournament which it claims is causing many government employs to attend work late.

The massive popularity of the tournament has already prompted the government to relax previous opening times for local cafes in order for people to watch the matches, which currently conclude at around 5am.

Speaking to Haveeru, spokesperson to the President Ibrahim Muaz assured the decision has no connection to the World Cup, saying that it had been made to allow people to spend more late hours in worship.

Even if might upset some workers, the government’s decision was made after considering everyone’s convenience.

The Ministry of Education has, meanwhile, reduced school times to three hours during Ramadan.

Single session Schools will hold classes in the morning from 9am until 12pm, while schools with two sessions will hold classes from 8:30am til 11:30am and from 11:45am until 3pm – with an extra 15 minutes for noon prayers.

The ministry has also informed all schools to make arrangements for students to pray at schools and not to conduct any school activity at night in a way which could interfere with religious activities such as obligatory prayers, optional prayers, and religious preaching


“Social stigma, religious and social culture” hinder women’s sexual health, says Hope for Women

Young women’s sexual health is being compromised by “social stigma, religious and social culture,” argues Fathmath Nazeefa, Advocacy Officer at local NGO Hope for Women.

According to Nazeefa, many young Maldivians refrain from accessing the limited sexual health services due to these societal pressures.

“It is apparent in many cases we are lacking information in the family-planning area, early sexual engagements, and in gender stereotyping, which actually makes women to go ahead with child bearing practices even though that is not in their best practice,” Nazeefa told Minivan News.

Her comments came after the body of a new-born baby was discovered in a house in Maafanu yesterday. After local media reported that an 18-year-old committed infanticide after having hidden her pregnancy, police have today confirmed the girl in question was arrested this afternoon.

After being taken into custody at around 2:20pm, the girl’s will be detained for up to fifteen days pending a court appearance.

Nazeefa expressed particular concern over a lack of sexual health education for young women which prevents them from making informed choices.

“To prevent this, we need to educate the young minds starting from adolescents on human anatomy, reproductive health, and build their capacity to protect themselves from being sexually exploited.”

A lack of sexual education, argues Nazeefa, is “depriving [women] of their sexual rights and human rights as well.”

“The ultimate objective has to be the empowerment of girls and women so that they make the right choices,” she concluded.

Rise in Infanticide – DNP reports

Yesterday’s news of the abandoned baby girl – discovered after the mother was forced to seek medical treatment by her family – has brought attention to the issues surrounding sexual health services available to young women.

Local media reported yesterday that the 18 year-old gave birth on her own in the family bathroom, with family members unaware of her pregnancy.

According to one family member, the girl didn’t admit to giving birth – even during a doctors appointment arranged by her family.

“However, doctors kept questioning her about her marital status,” a young female member of the family told local newspaper Haveeru.

According to Maldivian law, the repercussions for fornication out of wedlock is flogging for both the man and the woman involved.

The Maldives is a 100 percent Muslim country, and it’s justice system is based on a hybrid of common law and Islamic Sharia.

Some critics of the justice system have also highlighted the lack of accountability for men in cases of extra marital fornication.

“These women are tainted for life and forever looked down upon. There were a couple of men too, but the islanders did not react in the same way against the men. They seem to be more easily accepted back into society, their sins are generally forgiven or forgotten in time,” a former court official, who wished to remain anonymous, had previously told Minivan News.

Issues regarding a lack of support services for women with unwanted pregnancies in the Maldives have been well-documented in the past.

A report entitled ‘Maldives Operational Review for the ICPD Beyond 2014‘, carried out by the Department of National Planning (DNP), claimed that incidents of infanticide and unsafe abortions are symptoms of a lack of sexual education in young Maldivians.

The report identified, “clear indicators of the imperative need to provide access to information on sexual reproductive health and reproductive health services to the sexually active adolescents and youth population.”

Infanticide also appears to be increasing, as demonstrated by media reports cited in the study, which included several new born babies and few premature babies abandoned in parks, buried in secluded places, or thrown into the sea.

“These are clear indications for the need of life skills programmes and reproductive health education,” the study suggested. “Access and utilisation of contraceptives to avoid unwanted pregnancies must also be advocated to minimise these issues.”


Domestic Violence Act has done little to curb abuse due to lack of implementation: Hope for Women

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.

Gender equality

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.

“Men’s groups tended, for example, to condemn violence by men when it was apparent from other views that they expressed that they considered that there were circumstances when such violence was justified. It was also apparent that a number of the women in the focus groups were not prepared to say the same things in public that they would express in private. Similarly, the male discussion groups publicly condemned behaviour that they were prepared to support in private,” the report noted.

Disappointment over low government turnout at One Billion Rising event

Organisers at One Billion Rising in the Maldives have expressed disappointment over the number government officials who failed to attend the event, aimed at ending violence towards women.

The international campaign was launched in the Maldives on Thursday (February 14) by NGO Hope for Women at Jumhooree Maidhaan in Male’.

The One Billion Rising campaign began after research revealed that one in three women around the world will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.

The gathering in Male’ featured live music and dance performances, and saw many young men and women in the crowds dancing together.

Despite the event’s popularity with youth in Male’, Chair of Hope for Women, Aneesa Ahmed, said the poor turnout from government officials “showed their lack of commitment” in tackling the issue of violence against women.

“We have been working alongside the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights, and they have invited all government agencies and ministries, but I have hardly seen any of them here,” she said.

“I really don’t know what to say – the commitment is just not there. In the last few years nothing has really been done to help this particular cause,” Aneesa said.

Speaking to Minivan News, President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said that the government was a broad entity consisting of many ministries and that he had not been aware of any specific invite to members of the government.

“As I understand, Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights] Dr Mariyam Shakeela attended. Some other ladies from the the government were there,” he said.

Masood said a member of staff from the President’s Office had also attended the event, as he had “skipped a meeting he was supposed to attend”.

Last month a study by Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) found that support for women’s equality in the country had experienced a “significant drop”.

The report found that fewer respondents – compared to the 2005 survey – believed that women should have equal rights to men.

Aneesa said that the event was aimed towards the younger generation in the Maldives as they do not possess the “prejudices” elderly people have in regard to equality.

“I am particularly happy because there were so many young people here, it is very encouraging. These people will stand up against violence, they are going to be a very strong force.

“In the past few years we have this increasing influence of conservatism in the country and because of this the older generation are more cautious about coming to such an event. Things like dancing, as you see today, we are not supposed to do this,” Aneesa added.

Speaking at the event, Heat Health and Fitness Managing Director Aishath Afra Mohamed spoke about her concerns regarding violence against women in the Maldives.

“Some men are trying to keep their wives in the house, they don’t want women to work and socialise with their friends. They are very possessive.

“The rate of violence is going up and women are keeping quiet about it here. But this event is good to see, the more we make light of the matter, the better it will be,” Afra added.


HRCM, Gender Department condemn sexual violence “atrocities”

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) and the Department of Gender and Family Protection Services have strongly condemned the recent “atrocities” of sexual violence against minors, women and persons with special needs.

In a press release today, HRCM notes that the prevalence of sexual violence against the most vulnerable members of society, such as the elderly, under-age children and the disabled has “reached worrying levels.”

“We call on the government, state institutions, political parties, civil society organisations and all citizens to work together with renewed courage to stop such inhumane actions, save the community and establish a secure environment,” reads the HRCM statement.

Calling on the authorities to swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice in its press statement yesterday, the Gender Department warned that the surge in sexual violence cases has created an atmosphere of fear and caused psychological distress to a number of families.

Some 14 cases of child sexual abuse have been reported to the department so far this year, including the case of a Jamaaludheen School teacher arrested for allegedly molesting deaf children under his care.

Eight men were arrested last week in Haa Dhaal Dhidhoo for alleged abuse of a 13-year-old girl while among those arrested in other cases include fathers, grandfathers and relatives of the under-age victims.

Chief Inspector Ali Shujau, head of the family and child protection unit, told press today that police investigations have revealed that school children aged 14 to 18 were being lured to guest houses by adults.

Police found that minors were sexually abused at guest houses after being lured through the internet, he said.

In the first three weeks of April, said Shujau, 27 sexual violence cases were reported to police, including 16 child sexual abuse cases and 11 sexual assault cases.

Meanwhile the Health Ministry in collaboration with local NGOs ‘Hope for Women’ and the ‘Manfaa’ centre has announced a protest march in Male’ tomorrow to urge the authorities to take action, reports Sun Online.

The march is to begin at 4pm near the Social Centre and wind down at the artificial beach.

In Addu City, the Family and Child Service Centre in Seenu Hithadhoo together with local NGOs has planned a vehicle round from 4.30pm to 6pm Friday after a 74-year-old woman was brutally raped on Sunday.

According to Haveeru, the victim’s injuries were serious enough that she had to undergo surgery at the Hithadhoo Regional Hospital. A 19-year-old suspect has since been taken into police custody.