From walking alone in the streets of Malé, to fighting tooth and nail to rise above the ladder of success, and breaking the stigma surrounding women in power, the ladies of our country are still facing countless struggles in their everyday life.
Initially, I was under the impression that I would not be able to comprise enough research material to write such an article. I was baffled, however, when I received an abundance of concerns and opinions regarding the matter, most of which being complaints of workplace discrimination.
Under the Gender Equality Bill passed in August 2016, direct and indirect discrimination of women based on circumstances such as pregnancy, childbirth and family responsibility is strictly prohibited. Nonetheless, women with children are withheld from promotions and higher ranks in some offices even today. Regardless of the credentials, they do not have these incentives, arguing that they would not be able to take the responsibility. It is a known fact that it is hard for women to work after having children. This is because the state does not provide enough child support facilities. If we want more women to be active in economic activities, it is fundamental to be in place. It has thus become a luxury for many young women with children that can only be attained if they have the financial stability to do so, which is quite unfair. This barrier is no longer an obstacle in advanced societies. If this was made to be a priority for the Maldivian government, this problem could be completely eradicated from our country.
The workplace environment and gender equality amongst it, is an entity, the power of which lies in the hands of authorities and the government. However moving forward from this, I would like to address an issue which I believe could only be resolved through a collective effort of all humankind.
One cannot turn a blind eye towards the current global phenomenon which is the Me Too movement. All around the world people have been coming out with their stories of sexual assault. Allegations have been making headlines from Silicon Valley to Hollywood to the halls of Congress and brought down the careers of numerous high-profile executives. It has come to the point, that heads of states and powerful and influential people are forced to give answers for their actions.
For ages, it has managed to take something that was, at best, a footnote in governmental policy and instead made it a priority for governments and businesses across the globe. The movement has refused to be just another ‘social media trend’ that will die down in a matter of time. Instead, it has emerged as an obligation towards the law and justice system to take strict and appropriate actions against the matter.
Irrespective of the high societies over the world taking vital measures, Maldives is yet to close the gap with them. Gender-based violence, crucially sexual harassment, is a major problem in Maldives. Recent surveys indicate that 96% of women have faced street harassment at some point in their lives, with 60% first facing harassment before the age of 14 and 40% before they turn 10. Sadly, only 11% of the victims have reported it to the police.
In 2016, a movement named “Nufoshey” came into light, as an online platform demanding change. This Dhivehi word translates to “Stop Harassing” in English. It stands as a platform where victims can share their stories and shed light on street harassment in Maldives. Numerous women have found strength by coming out with their experiences, however, we have still not been able to make them feel secure enough to reveal their identities and file complaints.
This we owe to the victim shaming, which comes hand in hand with the rape culture.
If the news of a rape case breaks out in Maldives, various questions are raised instantly. Are these question regarding the accused? No. They are simply questions asked about the victim, shifting the blame on her, criticising and shaming her until she is torn to shreds.
“What was she wearing?”
“Was he her boyfriend? Were they friends?”
“What was she doing out alone at that time?”
“Is she ‘that’ type of girl?”
All of these questions echoing in her ears, making her rethink over a thousand times before deciding to come out and file a report.
In April 2016, a 15-year-old girl was sentenced to 100 lashes and 8 months of house arrest. The girl’s stepfather had been raping her for years. Her mother assisted this gruesome abuse by turning a blind eye and deaf ear to her pain and cries. When the girl became pregnant as a result of rape, they pulled her out of school afraid that the community would find out the family’s dark secret. The duo waited patiently for nine months and killed and buried the newborn after delivery.
When the parents were arrested, it was expected that the child who endured such horrific abuse would be protected and be provided the help of a psychologist. Instead, the girl was arrested, interrogated and charged with fornication within a few months by the authorities. They claimed that she had confessed to having consensual sex with another man – not the stepfather. The identity of this man, who has not stood up, been found, arrested or charged to this date, remains a mystery.
As with any other Sharia offence, fornication is only proved with a confession or four witnesses. Notably, ninety percent of those flogged are women, according to the 2011 Judicial statistics report. It revealed that out of the 129 sentenced to 100 lashes, 11 were minors – 10 girls and one boy.
However, in 2010, the parliament passed a legislation to prevent corporal punishment of children in sexually related offences and provide stringent punishments for child abusers, as a response to curb the widespread cases of incest and child molestation in the Maldives: one in seven children is reported to be a victim of sexual abuse. The legislation for the first time paved an easy road for the prosecution of child sexual abuse cases by reducing the Sharia-based burden of proof, which otherwise makes it impossible to prove the sexual offences without a confession or four witnesses.
The 2016 case is just a sheer example of injustice for the victim. The court had made their decision to sentence the girl, whilst her rapist, her stepfather and the accomplice, her mother had yet to face the consequences to their actions. The authorities prioritised punishing a scarred child, over the vicious predator who took away her innocence. Our society needs to be well educated about the rape culture which is a menace to our nation.
Women are considered weak by a vast majority of people, not just in Maldives, and certainly not just by men. Time long tales of a damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by a prince charming is what has crafted this image in all of our minds. The motive behind this article is not to say that each woman should work to support their families, that every girl should be given exactly what the boys get without earning it. I only hope to see a day where all women are at least given the freedom to make their own choices, equal opportunities to earn success regardless of their gender, ethnicity and family obligation. As Gloria Steinem once said, “Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.”