Local NGO Voice of Women (VoW) held a protest outside the Maldivian Civil Service Commission (CSC) on Friday (March 28) to oppose the return CSC President Mohamed Fahmy, after the Supreme Court dismissed parliamentary findings in a sexual harassment matter and permitted him to return to work.
Fahmy returned to work on March 17 following a Supreme Court ruling three days earlier, stating that Fahmy’s removal from his position by parliament was unconstitutional. According to the judgment, Fahmy was to be reinstated and compensated for lost wages since December 2012.
The 6-1 majority opinion of the Supreme Court bench held that Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee violated due process and criminal justice procedures in its sexual harassment inquiry, and that Fahmy would receive two punishments for the same crime if he was convicted at court following his dismissal by parliament – double jeopardy).
The group of a dozen vocal protesters marched in the rain from parliament to the CSC, where they waited with placards for Fahmy to emerge. Some of these messages read: “sos save the csc from Fahmy,” “zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” “supreme court wake up,” “no more excuses, no more abuses,” “my body my rights,” “the workplace should be safe and free from oppression.”
VoW President Haifa Naeem explained to Minivan News that sexual harassment in the workplace is an endemic issue and that “victims are being re-victimised by the state”. VoW is urging parliament to fast track the sexual harassment bill.
“Once Fahmy’s integrity was lost, he should not be at the CSC. We are standing here with enough evidence that he has been sexually harassing people,” stated Naeem.
“Most women are afraid to come out because they are not protect by law or the state, but we are behind them,” she said.
VoW founding member Dr Abdul Malik echoed these sentiments.
“Systems are not in place to give necessary protection if women come out and voice these kinds of incidents,” Malik stated.
“We will back the victims to the extent civil society can, but its the responsibility of the state, judiciary and law makers who can do something, do more,” he added.
It is important to recognize what’s happening “all around” the government and throughout the nation, VoW Treasurer Aminath Saeed told Minivan News.
The CSC employee who filed the complaint against Fahmy, Shahuma ‘Shahu’ Haleem, spoke with Minivan News about her experience.
“He’s been doing this for quite some time now. This was the first thing I heard when I came to office, but I never thought he was ever going to touch me.
She explained that whenever she hears her friends talking about being sexually harassed she urges them to “speak up”.
“They are afraid of being fired, because he’s the ultimate boss [of the civil service]. Anyone cannot come out here today and do this. I can be fired and still survive, but not many people have that option,” Haleem stated.
Haleem explained that she filed complaints with parliament, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), and the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights. She claims the Gender Ministry did not even call her back.
The HRCM claimed that they had not received enough evidence to prove whether or not Fahmy had harassed the employee. In late November 2012, parliament dismissed Fahmy in a 38-32 vote after the Independent Institutions Committee investigated the complaint.
“Women are getting the wrong message, that some people are in fact untouchable,” stated Haleem.
“It’s been proven over again that he has lied and has in fact done it, but then the [Supreme] court rules in favor of him,” she added.
Government employee reactions
An long-term government employee in the crowd who asked not to be identified said workplace sexual harassment was a systemic problem throughout every government institution.
“That kind of harassment is totally accepted throughout our society. It has been tolerated for a long time and has become part of the Maldivian culture. People think that it is bound to happen when men and women are together,” she said.
“It’s because of the way women are perceived in society. We are see more as sexual objects, our productive role is less prominent, but our reproductive role is more [valued].
“Today’s protest is an important milestone because it has sparked debate. Even if you only see a few people here it speaks a lot for a country that has been suppressed for a long time. It is very brave for Shahu to bring this issue out into the open,” she added.
Other employees, both from the CSC and various government ministries, also spoke to Minivan News as they passed through the protest while leaving work.
Many said they do not know much about the issue, Fahmy or the allegations against him.
Others claimed sexual harassment “is a pretty big issue, but no one talks about it”.
A Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture employee said he was aware of rumors that a lot of women faced sexual harassment and said he supported their cause.
“I also want women’s rights, but by protesting like this nothing will happen,” one woman declared.
A CSC employee told Minivan News that sexual harassment is a “problem” but said that “women are weak”.
“People don’t believe it is happening. They need to be more aware. Even in Shahu’s case most people didn’t find it a big deal,” another woman stated.
“People have to go to extreme lengths to show it’s actually sexual harassment,” she added.