Rape and Domestic Violence: Laws that came into effect in 2014 regarding sexual harassment and sexual offenses criminalize spousal rape and gender discrimination in workplaces, including in educational institutions and service providers such as hospitals. A man may be convicted of rape in the absence of a confession only if there are two male witnesses or four female witnesses willing to testify. In the case of a child, the burden of proof is lower.
As of October 31, the MPS received seven reports of rape, one of which it had forwarded for prosecution. It also received 262 reports of various sexual offenses and forwarded 44 of these to the PGO. Eight of these cases led to prosecution and charges.
Media reports of violence against women and rape were common. Most rape and abuse cases reported in media involved minors, and attackers usually knew their victims. NGOs believed many more cases remained unreported due to fear of reprisals, losing custody of children, lack of economic independence, insensitivity of police in dealing with victims, absence of regulation in media concerning victims’ privacy, the stigma of being a victim, and low conviction rates.
As of October 31, 553 cases of domestic violence were reported to the MPS. The MPS forwarded 30 of these cases to the PGO for prosecution, one of which led to a conviction. The law covering all types of domestic relations prohibits physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse. It also extends protection to wives against being forcibly impregnated by their husbands against medical orders and includes an extensive list of other abuses for which protection is provided. The act allows courts to issue restraining orders in domestic violence cases and criminalizes any actions against these orders. Officers were nevertheless reluctant to make arrests in cases of violence against women within the family, reportedly believing such violence was justified. A World Bank report, Understanding Gender in Maldives, found that, despite the passage of the domestic violence legislation, a majority of women named gender-based violence as one of their major concerns.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no data on the frequency of FGM/C, although religious leaders called for the practice to be revived in 2014. Local NGO Hope for Women reported the practice persisted, but societal stigma restricted public discussion of the issue.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In September 2015 the president ratified the third amendment to the Penal Code, which stated only Maldivian Islamic law penalties may be imposed for hadd (robbery, fornication, homosexual acts, alcohol consumption, apostasy) and qisas (retaliation in kind) offenses. Penalties could include hand amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery. In October 2015 the Supreme Court annulled a death by stoning verdict of one woman. Prior to the amendment, the Penal Code only allowed for the implementation of milder penalties in limited cases, including flogging for fornication and optional flogging for consuming alcohol and pork, not fasting during Ramadan, and for perjury.
In its February 2015 submission to the second UPR on the country, Amnesty International called for a moratorium on flogging as a form of punishment. In the government’s response to the UPR in May 2015, the secretary of legal affairs defended the practice of flogging, stating, “Maldivians believe that Islamic principles and human rights go hand in hand” and that flogging is a useful crime deterrent.
Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment in the workplace, but the government did not enforce the law. There were allegations of sexual harassment in government ministries and the private sector.
The MPS reported 19 filed cases of sexual harassment from January to October 31 under the Sexual Harassment Act, one of which it forwarded for prosecution.
To streamline the process of reporting abuse against women and children, there were family and children’s centers on every atoll. According to the HRCM, these centers also provided services for neglected children, support for families unable to take of their children, and women with mental or other disabilities. The Ministry of Gender and Family reported the need to establish residential facilities at family and children’s centers on every atoll to provide emergency shelter assistance to domestic violence and other victims, but these were yet to be established.
Reproductive Rights: Married couples by law have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from coercion, or violence. There were some reports of employment discrimination based on a woman’s perceived reproductive plans. Unmarried couples and single women did not have the legal right to access contraception but could obtain contraception over the counter on larger islands. Access to information on contraception and skilled attendants at delivery and in postpartum care were widely available on larger islands but more difficult to find on smaller, more remote islands. According to UN Population Fund (UNFPA) statistics released in October, the country’s maternal mortality rate declined 90 percent in the last 25 years, with only 68 women dying out of every 100,000 live births in 2015 when compared with 677 deaths out of every 100,000 live births in 1990. UNFPA attributed this improvement to developments in the country’s health and emergency obstetric care, as well as to increased public awareness about the importance of prenatal care.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women remained a problem. Authorities more readily accused women of adultery, in part because visible pregnancies made the allegedly adulterous act more obvious, while men could deny the charges and escape punishment because of the difficulty of proving fornication or adultery under Islamic law.
Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily than wives may divorce their husbands. Islamic law also governs estate inheritance, which grants male heirs twice the share of female heirs. According to the PGO, however, property was generally divided equally among siblings unless the men in the family demanded a larger share.
In March the government adopted the National Gender Equality Policy, and on August 23, parliament passed a Gender Equality Law, to become effective in February 2017. According to the HRCM, however, there were no policies in place to provide equal opportunities for women’s employment, despite provisions in the constitution and the law. According to a World Bank report, Understanding Gender in Maldives, women tended to be clustered in low-growth sectors and lower-paying positions than men and tended to earn less than men for equal work. The absence of child-care facilities made it difficult for women to remain employed after they had children and social stigma about some industries and jobs limited women’s job opportunities. Societal disapproval also discouraged women from working at tourist resorts for extended periods. According to the World Bank report Women, Business, and the Law, employers can legally ask employees about their marital status and reproductive plans, leading to reports received by the HRCM that some employers discouraged women from marriage or pregnancy, since it could result in termination or demotion. The HRCM reported the government fell short of promoting women’s equality by failing to establish childcare centers and child-friendly working environments, and failing to implement affirmative action.
Although women historically played a subordinate role in society, they participated in public life. Women accounted for 55 percent of civil service employees and 34 percent of the senior jobs as of July 31.