It’s the International Women’s Day, but Maldivian women have nothing to celebrate. A year into Mohamed Nasheed’s presidency and the murder, rape and horrific torture of women is commonplace, with his government showing impunity, if not sanctioning, the spread of misogyny by the religious right.
On new year’s eve, the body of 30-year-old Mariyam Shereen was discovered under a pile of sandbags in a construction site, allegedly murdered by her own partner. Shereen’s death came after a long history of abuse by her boyfriend, according to her family and friends.
In January, this year, a group of men allegedly gang-raped a woman in Foah Mulaku, while restraining her husband. Maldives Dissent has learnt that the alleged rapists threw gravel into the women’s vagina, which caused severe septicaemia. Not surprisingly, the woman is yet to recover physically or psychologically from her ordeal.
In February, a group of men in Laamu Atoll allegedly broke into a house, tied electrical wires to the feet of a 35-year-old woman, and connected them to the mains. According to the hospital, the electrical shock severely burnt the toes of her left foot.
Violence against women isn’t new to the Maldives, but is now revealing an unmistakably misogynistic trend. This should not come as a surprise, however. Ever since the new government came into power the fastest propaganda being spread in this country is by the religious right, much of it the hatred of women.
Shortly after President’s Nasheed took office, his Islamic ministry granted a preaching permit to Sheikh Fareed, who told a congregation of more than a thousand men in a mosque that more women than men would go to hell since women sin more. But crime figures the world over indicate that the overwhelming majority of crimes are committed by men.
The Adhalath Party, which controls the Islamic ministry, last month held an event entitled “Those Who Desire Paradise’, in which Sheikh Ilyas Hussein gave vent to what appears to be male sexual fantasies in explicit detail. He described at length the many ‘houris’, or pure and beautiful maidens, that await devout men in heaven and told women that if they went to heaven they would be ‘recreated’ to perpetually be 33 years old and have with pointed breasts. Unlike men, who only have to be devout Muslims to go to heaven, women have to have been faithful to their husbands in order to attain paradise.
This may be the most serious abuse of the Quran by the Adhalath to date. In fact, Quranic descriptions of paradise use parables and the verses themselves explicitly state that parables are being used. By failing to tell his audience of this fact, Sheikh Ilyas is clearly misleading them.
But the underlying theme of the speech is the sexualisation of women and the inequality of the sexes. Yet TV Maldives saw it fit to broadcast the speech live, well before the watershed of 10.30 pm.
Sustained spread of misogyny in the Maldives has also been orchestrated by former pop-star turned Wahhabi Ali Rameez’s Jamiyathul Salaf. Ever since Rameez and his associates released a post-tsunami CD blaming the natural disaster on women, Salaf has been churning out misogyny in the name of Islam, by using its unlimited access to the private radio station Radio Atoll, and business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa TV. It appears that broadcast standards don't apply to 'religious' content. Salaf works closely with the Islamic ministry and its CDs are now played in mosques across the country.
Last August, Salaf brought in Wahhabi preacher Bilal Philips to tell thousands of Maldivians on live TV that it was alright to marry off girls as soon as they reached puberty, even if they're only nine years old. In a country that has one of the highest child sexual abuse rates in the world, paedophiles couldn’t have hoped for a clearer endorsement of their ideology.
The Maldives state is not only showing impunity towards the spread of misogyny and violence against women children it is, in fact, perpetrating it. According to statistics from the Maldives judiciary, 174 people were convicted of zina or fornication in 2006, and sentenced to public flogging. An overwhelming majority of those sentenced, 146, were women, 19 of who were under 18 years of age. In the same year, seven women, including three minors, were convicted of giving birth out of wedlock. There is no question that institutionalized violence against women and children is condoned and carried out in the Maldives.
When Minivan News broke the story about the shocking flogging statistics, the religious right held a protest against the online newspaper and called for the deportation of its editor Mariyam Omidi. The judiciary has since removed the statistics from its website.
On this International Women’s Day, the government will give the obligatory speech via radio and TV, but is unlikely to delve too deeply into any of the real issues facing Maldivian women today. We can also expect little or no meaningful statement or commitment from the human rights commission or the UN system.
For now, women of the Maldives have nothing to look forward to but a continuation of ideological, physical and sexual assault on them.