Institutionalized violence against women is nothing new to the Maldives. A 15-year-old rape victim was prosecuted after she confessed to having a physical relationship with another man besides her rapist. Her sentence is 100 humiliating lashes when she turns 18 plus 8 months of house arrest at a children’s home.
Firm on the nation’s strict Islamic law that prohibits fornication, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s spokesman Masood Imad said, “She is not going to be lashed to cause her pain… rather, it is for her to feel the shame for having engaged in activity forbidden by the religion.”
The criminal treatment of a victim raises serious ethical concerns. Instead of protection, the teenager is subjected to further trauma. Initially police investigated allegations against her stepfather raping her, impregnating her and murdering the baby—the stepfather still awaits trial. Police spokesman declined to release the details and claimed that Maldivian common law prohibits discussion of cases involving minors.
Officially, the Republic of the Maldives is a Constitutional democracy. Although it has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) there is a catch. The Government reserves the right to apply article 16 of the Convention on the “equality of men and women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations without prejudice to the provisions of the Islamic Sharia, which govern all marital and family relations of the 100 percent Muslim population of the Maldives.” Women are being whipped in the name of Allah.
Despite a middle ranking on the international index of press freedom, the Maldives will be unable to follow in the footsteps of neighboring South Asian countries where activists protest against sexual violence and demand legal reforms. Any media discussion of religion remains tightly restricted. Any condemnation from the Maldivian media against the Islamic principles that sustain flogging would be ill received.
The Minivan News is the first independent news coverage in the Maldives, but it must remain un-opinionated when it comes to religion. In 2009, the Islamic Foundation called on the government to deport the editor for publishing a reader-submitted letter about legalizing homosexuality. After a story reporting the country’s numerous floggings, judicial authorities made flogging statistics inaccessible. The Maldives government is perpetrating misogyny against women as a religious right. Yet Amnesty International seemed surprised that the Maldivian government was not doing anything to stop flogging– “to remove it altogether from the statute books.” People overseas must not be deceived by the Maldives’s progressively positive image. The international media must continue the fight on the behalf of the undermined females in the Maldives.
As for now, Maldivian women can look forward to the continued assault on their human rights.