President Yameen presents ‘Rehendi Awards’

President Abdulla Yameen presented this year’s ‘Rehendi Awards’ to three women in recognition of outstanding service to national development and society.

At a function held yesterday to mark International Women’s Day, President Yameen conferred awards to Fathimath Nahula, for her achievements as a writer and film director, Shameera Adam, for outstanding work in agriculture, and Naseema Mohamed, for years of voluntary service as a mid-wife.

The Rehendi awards were launched last year with chef Juweirya Wajdhee and pastry chef Aminath Nasheedha the first recipients.

According to local media, 27 women were nominated for this year’s awards whilst the winners were chosen by the gender ministry based on an evaluation criteria that considered individual contributions to the nation.

First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim meanwhile presented commemorative brooches to the winners.


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!’

Related to this story

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

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


Arrangements made to secure child support payments in three days

Arrangements have been made to secure child support payments through the family court for divorced mothers within three days, Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela has said.

In her address on the occasion of International Women’s Day, Dr Shakeela said that the ministry has formed a council to promote economic empowerment of Maldivian women.

The minister also stressed the importance of protecting women in the workplace from discrimination and sexual harassment.

In March last year, parliament passed an amendment to the Family Act to increase child support payments to MVR2,000 (US$130) a month.


Past and current presidents call for national rethink on gender rights

Former and current presidents of the Maldives have highlighted the importance of gender equality to national development on the occasion of International World Women’s Day on March 8.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, as well as former Presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, have all spoken during the last two days on the importance of addressing gender related issues in the Maldives in areas such as domestic abuse and education.

The comments have been made as local independent institutions and civil society groups have alleged that the country has seen a regression in the rights of women and minors in recent years.

Local NGO Voice of Women, which claims to work as an umbrella group supporting other female-focused organisations in the Maldives, said that despite increased participation of women in political activities, there had been a perceived regression in the rights of females and children during the last year.

“The institutions in place to protect them have instead targeted them directly or let them down passively due to inaction,” read a statement by the NGO.

“Experience shows that countries cannot build a true democracy without the full and unhindered participation of fifty percent of our population; today we take the opportunity to recognize the courage and valiantness of the Maldivian women who are fighting against all odds and often times against the most harsh discrimination without taking a single step back, pressing for political reform and to establish a fair democracy in the country.”

The NGO’s statement was particularly critical of the treatment of women under the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, which in recent months has pledged to review laws that it claims have previously victimised women and minors who are victims of sexual abuse.

“The government is unable to destroy the unwavering spirit and determination of the Maldivian women who are confronted with batons, kicked with boots, handcuffed, stomped with shields, pepper sprayed directly into the eyes, and water cannoned while peacefully protesting on the streets or jailed without charges, sexually abused and humiliated while in custody; these heroic women continue to fight for their rights, rights of their children, rights of their children’s children,” the Voice for Women statement claimed.

“They continue to fight for the freedom of their country, for justice, for peace and for democracy.”

Back in April last year, parliament passed the Domestic Violence Bill with broad cross party support as part of efforts to provide a legal framework to protect victims from domestic abuse through protective orders and improved monitoring mechanisms.

In a statement released yesterday addressing the rights of females, President Waheed delivered his best wishes to all women in the Maldives.

“The International Women’s Day is being marked to reflect on the status of women, assess their empowerment, advocate for greater opportunities for women to progress, and seek the support for all for those ends,” read a President’s Office statement.

“It is a high priority of the Maldivian government to support efforts in attaining gender equality in the society. The President highlighted women’s increasing contribution to national development. The increase in women’s contributions to and participation in the development of the country showed the change in the outlook of the people on gender related issues.”

Former presidents speak

Speaking Thursday (March 7) ahead of International Women’s Day, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said that under Islam, men and women were considered equal. He therefore requested an end to the practice of gender discrimination, particularly in obtaining education.

Local newspaper Haveeru quoted Gayoom, who is currently the president of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), as saying that some Maldivian females continued to be denied the opportunity to undertake higher education by their families.

He claimed that “misguided religious beliefs” were often behind such gender discrimination.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed was quoted in local media yesterday as calling for a change in how Maldivian men perceived women in general.

According to the Sun Online news agency, Nasheed told Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters gathered at the Dharubaaruge convention centre in Male’ that greater efforts needed to be made in empowering women “in all areas”.

“Not just because of efforts made by a gender ministry, but through transport ministry as well as health ministry as well as education ministry. We need to incorporate women into our main policies,” he was reported to have said.

Nasheed also called for new methods of protecting women against abuse during his address.

“Conservative” attitudes

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 behaviours and attitudes regarding human rights in the Maldives, which was published December 10, 2012.

Male attitudes have become “more conservative” regarding women’s rights issues, whereas female views have become more supportive of rights in some areas, was one of the conclusions raised in the The ‘Rights’ Side of Life” [report].


Women’s Day march ends in confrontation

A march to celebrate International Women’s Day ended in confrontations with police on Thursday night in Male.

After the march’s intended route past the Presidential Palace and the People’s Majlis was blocked by police barricades, a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) contingent refused to disperse.

Around 200 women staged a sit down protest outside the Majeediyya School until well into the evening, with a further 100 outside the nearby Bank of Maldives (BML) main branch.

Banners calling for the resignation of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, and banners in support of former President Mohamed Nasheed were held aloft. Over loudspeakers, the voices of protesters denounced the police for blocking what they insisted was a legal right of way.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam stated that the area around the Police Headquarters, the Presidential Palace, and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Headquarters were protected against such demonstrations.

Regulations dating from previous administrations prohibit the entry of large groups of people into the area in question, reported Shiyam. An opposition protest outside MNDF headquarters, assisted by elements of the police, led to the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed, allegedly “under duress”.

People were able to move freely into and out of the area, from multiple locations, past solitary watchmen on the eastern sides of the security zone.

Noorban Fahmy of the MDP Women’s Wing assisted in organising the sit-down protest on the outskirts of the security zone: “We were marching in protest of violence against women and in celebration of International Women’s Day,” she said.

Fahmy insisted that this was the predominant aim of the initial march which was attended by women of all political affiliations.

Gender issues in the Maldives

Domestic violence is a well-documented issue in the Maldives. In 2010, a ground-breaking study conducted by the Ministry of Gender and Family reported that 1 in 3 women between the ages of 15-49 had suffered some form of physical or sexual violence during their lifetime.

Whilst acknowledging that these levels are relatively low by global standards, the report drew strong associations between such violence and mental, and physical (including reproductive) ill-health.

The issue of violence against women and the recent political unrest were combined earlier in the week as security forces turned high powered hoses on women who had gathered outside the President’s Palace on March 6.

The drenched women, who demonstrated within the prohibited security zone, were then forcibly removed by security personnel. No such incidents were reported on Thursday.

Thursday’s protesters were accompanied by some men “for the women’s security”, Fahmy told Minivan News. The area immediately in front of the police cordon outside of the People’s Majlis was reserved for women exclusively during the sit-down.

In order to maintain the spirit of the Women’s Day march, men were politely requested to stand back. After this part of the protest ended and the women headed back to the Raalhugandu area, some men remained to talk to the security representatives manning the cordon.

It has been reported that at this stage, around nine in the evening, students from Majeediyya School emerged to complain about the noise, arguing their right to an undisrupted education.

The disapproval of the students has been disputed by an eye witness, as has the likelihood of their presence in the building at such a late hour.

The women’s MDP supporters eventually relented, returning to the MDP camp in the Raalhugandu area at around 8:30pm after a brief demonstration outside the headquarters of Villa Television (VTV) where they chanted ‘traitor TV’ to staff members.

The VTV station is part of the Villa Group, the Maldives’ largest private company, owned by Jumhooree Party MP Gasim Ibrahim. The Jumhooree Party formed a prominent component of the December 23 coalition which lobbied for the removal of former President Mohamed Nasheed.


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.