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The reservation was withdrawn because it was deemed contradictory to the new Constitution.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