In ancient times, the shores of the Maldives welcomed lost travellers. Still welcoming, these shores remain, providing a tranquil haven for visitors.
These words on the Visit Maldives website hide a story of life on the islands that a tourist will never see.
A nationwide campaign against domestic violence dubbed “1 in 3” was launched Thursday by the Maldivian Network on Violence Against Women, a loose coalition of NGOs and individuals who came together to advocate for pioneering legislation on domestic violence (DV) currently before parliament.
The campaign title reflects the findings of a milestone 2007 study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences, which found that 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 experience either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, including childhood sexual abuse.
While a draft for domestic violence legislation had existed for several years, the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP’s) women’s wing announced the development of a bill to be submitted to parliament earlier this year.
The announcement was welcomed by President Mohamed Nasheed, who argued that a bipartisan effort to pass the legislation was more likely to succeed.
The DV bill, supported and facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), aims to “make DV illegal, to prevent DV from occurring in our society, to provide justice to survivors of domestic violence and abuse as well as to ensure state responsibility in providing services to address DV-related crimes in society,” reads a press statement by the NGO Network.
It also showed there is general acceptance of domestic violence across the country and among both sexes, as ‘normal’ or ‘justified’.
Seventy percent of Maldivian women believe, for example, that there are circumstances under which a man is justified in beating his wife. Infidelity and disobedience, most women accept, are valid reasons for taking a good beating from the husband.
A majority of women also accept that women have a subordinate role to men, according to the report.
One in every three Maldivian men who commit acts of domestic violence against women do so for ‘no reason’. One in four does it to punish the woman for disobedience, and one in five does it because he is jealous.
One in every ten man beats up his partner because she refused him sex, and the rest of them do it for any number of reasons· – lack of food at home, family problems, because they are broke or unemployed, because they are having problems at work, or because the woman is pregnant.
Seven per cent of the men do it when they are drunk or on drugs.
One MP, MP Musthafa said the Bill would allow the legalisation of abortion, and something that would pave the way for ‘Satanist laws’ to replace the law of God, which the Maldives should be following.
“We are being swayed by non-Islamic people and their beliefs”, he said.
“We are being swayed by non-Islamic people and their beliefs”, he said. He also told the Majlis that Maldivians are allowing the contamination of the society by marrying ‘foreigners from all sorts of places across the world,” he said.
“It is”, he said, “destroying our culture, our Islamic way of life, bringing in all sorts of poisons and viruses into society.”
Islam, he said, recognises the importance that women should be given in society, as is evident from the fact that “it forbids men to wear any jewellery at all while encouraging them to adorn their women with gold and silver”.
Other objections to the Bill were raised on similar religious grounds. MPs Ibrahim Muththalib was concerned that it would become an impediment to the Muslim practise of polygamy. “This is a right accorded to every man by Islam,”
MPs also expressed concern over what they described as the “unduly harsh” punishments proposed in the Bill.
MP Muththalib said that such punishments would mean the criminalisation of a man’s rightful actions against his wife’s infidelity.
Agreeing with Muththalib on the harshness of the penalties proposed in the Bill, Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed said he feared being locked out of his own home for the day due to his objections to Bill.
“The Bill criminalises too much – the way it is, the particular way a man enters his house may be judged a crime.
There are some situations where wives take other men as lovers. In such situations they may make false reports about their husbands – these are things that have happened in this society”, he said.
“A woman walks down a narrow alley. She trips over pots and pans. In reality, it is not that some one deliberately tripped her…The reality is the circumstances – how can a fat person walk on a two feet alleyway without tripping?” MP Rasheed said.
According to the Gender Ministry report, one in every three Maldivian women are subjected to violence – sometimes physical, sometimes sexual or, more often than not, both. Most of the violence is committed by the man they are married to, or are in a relationship with.
Much of the physical violence to which they are subjected is ‘severe’ rather than ‘moderate’ – they are punched, kicked, choked, or burnt. Most of the violence is also long term, some times life-long.·
Many are often beaten into unconsciousness, and most victims never receive medical treatment for their injuries.
Several are brutally beaten up while pregnant, causing miscarriages or still births. Women who suffer domestic violence are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies than those who are not. Their children are also more likely to suffer long term psychological damage due to the violent environment to which they are exposed.
14 percent of women who had experienced such violence have attempted to take their own lives. The prohibition of suicide in Islam, the Gender Ministry report says, is one the reasons why the suicide rate among such victims is not higher.
The violence is more common in long term, cohabiting relationships than in short-term or non-cohabiting relationships.· Almost half the women who are abused have never been to school or only have a primary level education.
Women who are divorced or separated are more likely to have suffered at the hands of their partners, suggesting that violence is an important cause of the large number of divorces in the Maldives.
Or they feel that complaining would stigmatise them socially. Or they fear retaliation by the husbands if they do so.
Over ninety percent of the women who were abused had never gone to the police and almost fifty percent of the women said no one had ever helped them.
The Gender Ministry study also found that women only find the strength to escape, to leave the house and to leave the abusive relationship they are in when they felt they could not endure any more.
It is when they feel that they are in mortal danger that they manage to start the long drawn out process of finding a life outside of the home in which they had suffered for so long.
“We accept that some husbands do beat their wives. But there are women who commit more extraordinary, bigger acts of violence against men.
Violence is not always a physical fight. One woman wants to marry a younger man after she has had 10 or 12 children”, Vilufushi MP Rasheed said. “This is also violence”.
Meanwhile President Nasheed meanwhile dedicated his weekly radio address yesterday to the subject of domestic violence, noting that “some women don’t even speak about it with their closest friends and family members” and consequently do not report abuse to the authorities.
Men taking advantage of physical superiority to abuse or subjugate women “amounts to the rule of the jungle,” he said.
As women make up half the country’s population, said Nasheed, greater participation of women in the workforce and in national affairs was crucial to ensure economic development and progress.
He added that sexual harassment in the workplace, “even subtle forms of harassment that we may otherwise think are trivial, should be deplored,” adding that “such things should never happen in the workplace.”
President Nasheed expressed gratitude for members of the DRP involved in the drafting of the legislation and pledged the government’s full support for the bill.
MINIVAN NEWS: Domestic violence accepted and justified in the Maldives