Parliament passed the sexual harassment bill and sexual offences bill yesterday (April 27).
Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Rozaina Adam – chair of the committee that evaluated the sexual harassment bill – told Minivan News that while the passage of the legislation was a positive step, there was still a lot of work to be done on combating the internalised effects of sexual harassment.
The sexual harassment bill was submitted in January 2013 by Rozaina, and aims to ensure gender discrimination is made illegal at workplaces, educational institutes, and other service providers such as hospitals.
“Previously there was no law or any regulation from which they could seek help. I think now the women have a place to go,” she explained.
If ratified by the president, the new law would mandate the creation of a committee to investigate sexual harassment complaints at all workplaces with more than 30 employees.
The committees shall be chaired the by the head of the respective offices and must include at least one female members.
If the committee finds an employee guilty of sexual harassment at the workplace following an inquiry, it will be empowered to advise the offender verbally or in writing, suspend him, demote him, or dismiss him based on the severity of the offence.
Rozaina however suggested that women would “still not be complaining” despite the introduction of an internal mechanism to address complaints.
“People have come to accept that this is just something that just happens,” she said.
She however said that the legislation would “create awareness,” contending that not enough was done in implementation of similar laws such as the anti-domestic violence law.
“Police are not taking domestic violence seriously enough,” she argued.
Rozaina recalled the story of one woman – whose experiences reflect the reality for many – as she attempted speak out about the sexual abuses inflicted against her.
“She was waiting outside for me,” recounted Rozaina, “she told me she complained to police about ex-husband beating her, and raping her. When I went to case, they hadn’t even done anything about it.”
“They are not giving enough importance to these cases, we need to create more awareness.”
Cooperation from police seems to be “declining”, she added, “they don’t feel it’s an important issue.”
“I just hope that everyone cooperates and more women report these cases in domestic violence. The main issue is talking and reporting, so very few people report.”
The two bills – which support both men and women who are victims of sexual abuse – were submitted independently of each other.
The sexual offences bill – which called for recognition of marital rape as a crime – was first submitted in October 2012 and was vetoed by President Abdulla Yameen in January 2014.
“The bill contained some provisions that are contrary to Islamic Shariah and Islamic principles was among the reasons considered for returning the bill,” the President’s Office stated at the time.
The contentious bill was drafted and submitted in October 2012 by now-Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Kulhudhufushi South, Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed wrote in the draft legislation that it was not intended to replace Shariah, explaining that it did not preclude application of a Shariah penalty for an offence specified in the bill.
Previous reports of police apathy
Minivan News has previously spoken with foreign women from diverse nationalities working in Maldives who came forward and reported various attacks, ranging from verbal abuse to physical and sometimes sexual assaults.
Katie*, a 34-year-old American who has worked in Male’ for almost a year, was subject to a horrific incident last month when a local man sexually assaulted her while she was unlocking the door of her apartment.
Neighbours who heard her screams called the police, and around five to six officers arrived on the scene with a forensic team.
However, according to Katie, the police did not take her statement until three weeks later and then got the details of the attack completely wrong.
“The police had stated my necklace was stolen. It broke off during the attack, I still have it. The attacker must have known the necklace I was wearing was not gold because it was made of multi-colored beads,” Katie pointed out.
She added that she had later found out from CCTV camera owners nearby her house that the police had not requested the footage or interviewed neighbours for clues. Frustrated over the lack of police assistance, she called the US embassy.
“I don’t think they would have even taken the statement if the American Embassy had not called them,” Katie claimed.
The Police department was not issuing statements to Minivan News at the time of publishing.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.