Women’s perspectives on the changing political situation in the Maldives

Project Monma travelled to the Maldives in March of 2016 to learn more about women’s perspectives on the changing political situation in the country.

Democracy was ushered into the small Muslim country for the first time in 2008 when President Nasheed was elected to power. However, when he was thrown out in 2012 democracy took a downward spiral. We wanted to learn more about how the changing political situation was affecting women and what they had to say about the situation in their country.

I first went to meet with a small NGO called Hope for Women. We met in their small office in the centre of Male. They explained how the move to democracy has been difficult for the people of the Maldives. People were unsure how to manage freedom of speech. They explained how freedom of speech has also had a negative impact on women. Before there were limits on who could preach Islam, now anyone can.

The small group of extremists in the country are using religion as an excuse to oppress women and they’re using freedom of speech as a means to do so. Girls are being raised to think they need to obey their husbands and cannot leave their homes without a man accompanying them.

‘Women don’t have freedom,’ they say. ‘And the problem is women don’t question these things.’

The Society for Health Organization, an NGO working on women’s issues in Male, agreed that democracy has encouraged the rise of Islam in the country, which has not been good for women. They explained how women were starting to cover up more which was not something that happened before. They also attributed this change to freedom of speech which has allowed many extremists from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia a platform to promote their views which speak against women and girls having rights. They are advocating that women must be subservient to men and are using social media and public meetings to spread their message.

Hope for Women are working to counter these violent attitudes by going to schools to speak with young girls and are using Islamic scholars to teach that violence is not Islam.

‘Democracy has been exploited by people who want to oppress women,’ she says.

I next went to visit Transparency International, the only independent organization that observes the elections in the Maldives. I met with two young women, both who had returned from studies abroad and wanted to bring a more free and fair governmental system to the Maldives. Their efforts have been received with death threats.

‘There has been a failed transition to democracy which has led to instability,’ one woman explains to me. ‘Most Maldivans want to have democracy but when it comes to rights is difficult especially with Islam and women.’

‘The role for a man and a woman has changed a lot,’ says one of the women. ‘They have changed for the worst. Democracy and Islam are a constant negotiation.’

My final meeting was with a researcher in a small café in Male. ‘One of the worst things that has happened with the democracy movement was Nasheed giving a platform to the radical Islamic groups. They now have an Islamic ministry where preachers are promoting a more radical view of Islam. They are promoting child marriage for example,’ she explains. ‘We never had this before. We do not need an Islamic ministry.’

‘I feel like there is a loss of our identity,’ she says.

‘There’s no freedom here, no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion. You have to be a Sunni. The constitution says that if you are not Muslim then you are not Maldivan.’ She looks at me concerned and reminds me to not use her name, she is worried about death threats.

There have been various studies on the violence and discrimination against women, which have come to the similar conclusion that there are still predetermined attitudes of males that believe discrimination and violence is still acceptable. However, it can be assumed that the majority of males think differently than they did in the past, and there will likely be a change overall in these attitudes with other non-conservative attitudes. When thinking about the areas of the world where there have been no current research in the gender equality area, we find male attitudes of violence and discrimination against women vary from country to country. We can say some countries that have changed over the years to allow protection for women and have given women rights, while others that have kept to traditions and thus remain unchanged.

The objective of this research project is to get an understanding of the male attitudes towards violence and discrimination against women.

We would like to conduct a short interview with you and ask you a number of questions. This survey is being conducted by Project Monma as part of our project to gather information about violence, harassment and discrimination that women face around the world. All the information that you share with us will be kept confidential and if you prefer, we can keep your name anonymous. Participation is voluntary and if you feel uncomfortable with any of the question you may withdraw at any time. If you wish to withdraw you can do this simply by informing the person who is interviewing you. We will take notes and record during the discussions with your permission. The information that you give us will be used in publications and conferences however, if you feel uncomfortable with your information being used we can ensure that it is not included. If you would prefer, we can give you the opportunity to verify and approve segments from the publications where your information has been used.

Unveiling Violence in the Maldives: How the Rise of Islam and the Decline of Democracy Are Affecting Women