Women and the Maldives: The oppressed majority

Posted by OE on 23/09/13

Misogyny has deep roots in the Maldives. Women are traditionally taken out of school early and placed in subservient roles in society. Female participation in the labor force is on the increase but continues to account for barely a third of national jobs. The World Economic Forum reckons that women earn just 65 percent of the wages of men in similar positions and are excluded from key sectors of the economy – such as the tropical islands’ massive tourism industry. In other sectors, women are hired but never reach influential positions. They account for approximately 40 percent of government employees, but only 6 percent of the country’s parliament, 5 percent of local councilors and are completely forbidden from running for President.

Contempt for women is so deeply ingrained in society that courts downplay the testimony of female witnesses and meet out punishments unequally. A good example of this is flogging – which remains a common punishment for sex outside of marriage. By definition, this crime affects both genders equally but the records of the Judicial Services Administration show that 80 percent of convictions fall on women. Pregnancy was once used as the excuse for these statistics, as it provided a rare form of proof of adultery. But today men only escape punishment because forensic evidence is systematically dismissed by the courts. The bias is so pronounced that earlier this year, the international community had to intervene to prevent the flogging of a 15 year-old girl who had been molested by her step-father. The girl was sentenced to 100 lashes and house arrest for having borne a child outside of matrimony. Before attracting international attention, the step-father was not even charged.

This is undoubtedly the most gruesome infringement of women’s rights in the Maldives. Behind the scenes of the luxury holiday resorts, this warm little island chain entertains a chilling tradition of rape and domestic violence. Find out more on the repression affecting women in this fledgling democracy.

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