According to the police statistics, the number of domestic violence cases reported in 2015 increased to 341 from 187 cases reported in 2014 Photograph: (Others)
Government data in 2007 stated that one in three women aged between 15-49 years have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point
Raise your voice before it’s too late…
“Blood had clotted in several organs due to the blood clotting in her brain” said Maldives Police Service, about the woman who died in a suspected case of a domestic violence in 2015.
The death of Ziyadha Mohammed, the battered woman from Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Thinadhoo of southern part Maldives, is an indication of the worsening situation of violence against women in the country.
According to her friends and family, Ziyadha was physically and sexually abused by her husband. Her condition worsened because she kept the extent of abuse a secret.
Mother of three, she was treated at the state-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH). Ziyadha was required to undergo an emergency surgery as she was bleeding from her brain, but doctors were unsuccessful in saving her due to her severe condition. While she was at the hospital, she never regained consciousness and passed away two weeks later, which was in late December 2015.
In recent times, this is a major fatality case from domestic violence. Though there are not many deaths recorded by domestic violence or violence against women, statistics shows that the culture of violence against women is an alarming issue in the Maldives.
Violence against Women
According to the study on women’s health and life experiences conducted by Maldives' ministry of gender and family in 2007, one in every three women aged between 15-49 years have experienced physical or sexual violence or both at some stage of their life.
Every one in five women of this age group have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse by an intimate partner. Approximately, every one in eight women in the same age group reported that they have been sexually abused before the age of 15, making them a victim of child abuse.
The statistics of Maldives Police Service also show that domestic violence has been increasing at an alarming rate. The number of domestic violence cases in 2015 has increased to 341 from 187 reported in 2014. More than 300 cases have been reported in 2016 as well.
Police assume that the actual number of domestic violence cases, especially cases victimising women, will be higher than the police records as many go unreported in the country. Since police records cannot adequately shed light on the seriousness of this issue, the actual situation of the victims remains unknown.
Women’s rights activists believe that female participation at policy-making level is critical to the cause of gender equality (Others)
Challenging social norms
This small island nation has a culture of hiding violence against women, because the society, by and large believes, that issues leading to violence should remain within the family to keep up their reputation in the community. The societal norms and beliefs make it difficult to combat the issue.
The belief that women are supposed to stay at home to look after the family while men work to provide the economic support, made educating girls less important than boys. However, over the decades, girl’s education has improved rapidly in the country with the introduction of the universal primary education system that made education compulsory for all children. With this foundation, girls' tertiary education has also increased over the years and is helping them to get jobs. But the ideology that women are supposed to stay at home post-marriage still exists in the society.
Yet, with the high living expenses in the country, especially in the capital city of Malé where one-third of the country's population resides, it is very difficult to depend just on husband’s income. Women are, therefore, allowed to work as well. However, there is only a small percentage of women at the management and decision-making levels, both in public and private sectors. The challenges in the areas of women’s political, economic and social empowerment still remain.
A women’s right activist said that the situation of women in the Maldives is far from good.
“They say that in the Maldives, gender issue is at a level that is far better than anywhere else in Asia. But that is not the point. The point is that one in three women at some point in their life experience violence of some form: sexual, physical abuse and that is not good” she said.
Women’s rights activists believe that female participation at policy-making level is critical to the cause of gender equality. But that is not the case in the Maldives. The negligible number of female representatives in the cabinets of different administrations prove that Maldives still has a long way to go to achieve the ambitious goal of gender equality.
President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration currently has only three women in the cabinet of 15 ministers. While President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s administration had only 19 per cent women in the cabinet, President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration had 21 per cent and President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s last Cabinet had 22 per cent of female cabinet ministers. Currently, there are 85 members in the parliament and only 5 are women MPs.
Stand against violence
The present government says that political, economic and social empowerment of women and zero tolerance of violence against women are key pledges in their manifesto. Former Foreign Minister, Dhunya Maumoon said that the government is committed to addressing the root cause of violence against women by investing efforts in gender equality and empowerment.
According to her, Maldives has made significant progress through Sexual Abuse and Harassment Prevention Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Domestic Violence Prevention Act which strengthen the country's legal framework to prevent further violence.
The Domestic Violence Prevention (DVP) Act was ratified in 2012, making it a turning point in the history of the nation, where any act of domestic violence is clearly and categorically identified as a criminal offense. The DVP Act identifies specific acts that are deemed acts of domestic violence and, for the first time, accords roles and responsibilities to various government and non-governmental bodies to address and combat domestic violence in the country.
Yet, to combat violence against women, it is necessary to stand against it and change the norms and beliefs that it is ‘right’ to tolerate violence from family or husband.
Ministry of gender and family suggests that in order to combat this serious issue, everyone should make it their individual responsibility to save the victims of violence and report to the authorities before it is too late.
While awareness can help the victims come forward, better implementation of the legislations is also required for this fight.
Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) says more efforts are needed to implement anti-domestic violence acts and authorities need to do more work on it. HRCM also calls the authorities to provide with more efficient ways to help silent sufferers like Ziyadha, while there is still time to do so.
Family and friends want to bring justice to Ziyadha and they may succeed by punishing the person responsible for her death. But nothing could bring her back. If only Ziyadha spoke up and raised her voice for her rights before it was too late, she may not have ended her life prematurely.
If Maldivians retain the culture of hiding the actions of violence against women and continue the habit of tolerating these kinds of violence, this country may have to witness more tragic losses.