#VAWIP Blog Symposium: Maldives

Maldives: Roughed up and Repressed

by Farah Faizal

I was arrested on 19th March 2012 while I was at the Maldivian Democratic Party Office by two police women. They just came and handcuffed me behind and the cuffs were very tight. They took me first to the police HQ and then they transferred me to Dhoonidhoo Island. I was handcuffed. They made me give a urine sample in front of them. They then took me to another room and made me take off my clothes and did a body check. I was kept in a police cell there at the detention centre and released the next day.” A. Muna

On 19th March 2012 I was near the MDP Office when the police came and grabbed me. I said, “Don’t hurt me please. If you want to handcuff me and I will go willing with you; please don’t hurt me.” And the police replied “We will do it.” One of the civilians there told the police that I had just had a small baby and not to take me. The police responded, “We will take her and we will kill her.” They then beat me and one of them grabbed my breasts. The police them sprayed by mouth and eyes with pepper spray.” I lost consciousness and when I regained it, I was inside the police jeep. …I told them don’t beat me. It wasn’t long ago I had a baby by Caesarian section. When I said that the police hit me on my stomach where I had my C-section with their fist. I cried out in pain.” – Y. Hussain

These are just a couple of extracts from the cases submitted to the UN in 2012 regarding what took place during an opposition protest in 2012.

The February coup of 2012 which led to the overthrow of the first democratically elected government led to a galvanising of female political activism in the country. Day after day women came out onto the streets of the capital to protest against the overthrow of the government as well as the diminishing of democratic political space. However, it also led to Maldivian women political activists facing the rough end of police brutality as they had never witnessed in the past.

Women protesters were repeatedly pepper sprayed, tear gassed, sprayed by water cannon and taken into custody. While this did not appear to stop women from participating in protests in the wake of the coup, since the elections of 2013, the government has repeatedly refused to allow protests and demonstrations from taking place at all. Those who have dared to participate have often been harshly punished. One such case is that of Nasira, a mother of two who threw an empty plastic bottle at a police cordon during one such protest and was jailed for five years. She was subsequently released after being in prison for over two years.

Women’s representation in politics and top government posts is very low in the Maldives with only five female MPs in the 85-member parliament and only three female cabinet ministers. A 2015 survey by the NGO, Transparency Maldives found that Maldivians believe that men make better political leaders than women. However, the survey also showed that compared to a survey in 2013, more people disagreed that men make better leaders, depicting a slight change in attitudes.

Despite low political participation, the survey showed that support for women in politics, especially as parliamentarians, cabinet ministers and councillors remained high. Of those surveyed, 84 percent supported women being parliamentarians, 79 % for cabinet ministers and 82 per cent for councillors. While attitudes for female political participation and activism appeared strong, the discrepancy between attitudes and actual participation indicates that there are other factors hindering women’s participation in politics. When asked why there were so few female MPs, 30 % stated that society does not want women as political leaders.

While political participation at the top level remains low, women continue to play a role in political parties mainly at grassroots level in the form of organizing campaign rallies, attending meetings and assisting in door-to-door activities. Women often explain their involvement at grassroots level as being easier for them as it is sporadic and does not demand full time involvement.

The change in attitudes, if any, and the level of women’s involvement in formal politics of Maldives will be evident in the next couple of years as Maldives faces a general election in 2018 and a parliamentary election in 2019. At the same time, there is also the risk of political repression and imprisonment of those who dare oppose the current regime, both that may result in once again women being pushed to the periphery of politics.

Dr. Farah Faizal, Former Ambassador, now Human Rights Defender, Maldives

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