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Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Ask Maldives about how Radicalised Religious Groups and Discriminatory Practices Affect Women

Meeting Summaries

 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today concluded its review of the sixth periodic report of Maldives on measures taken to implement the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women with Committee Experts inquiring about how radicalised religious groups and discriminatory practices affected women.

Committee Experts said that there was resistance and discontent from radicalised religious groups on efforts to promote gender equality and women’s rights. What measures were planned to provide awareness raising on women’s rights in Islam and monitor the dissemination of unlawful information on women’s rights in Islam? Concerning the disparate interpretation of Sharia, the Committee was seriously concerned that women were disproportionately affected by punishment for crimes involving sex, with more women being punished by the death penalty and convicted of adultery and extramarital relations, owing to mainly discriminatory investigative policies. What measures were envisaged to eliminate such forms of discrimination?

In response, the delegation said that the National Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism addressed disinformation and incorrect misconceptions and interpretations of Islam. The Ministry monitored what was promoted in the mosques, particularly by scholars from outside the country, and they had been able to successfully stop any foreign scholar who might give misinformation. On flogging, there were strict measures in the penal code that ensured that it was practically impossible to sentence anyone to flogging. Alternative punishments had been introduced. On adultery, under previous laws, the likelihood for males getting convicted was narrow and therefore only females were convicted of adultery, but now, convictions for adultery could be secured for males as well under the new Penal Code.

The delegation of Maldives was led by Aishath Mohamed Didi, Minister of Gender, Family and Social Services of Maldives, who said that the Gender Equality Act was a key milestone to further efforts to ensure gender parity, and prevent and reprimand gender-based discrimination. Electoral quotas for women had been introduced for the first time in Maldives, allocating 33 per cent of the local council seats to women. The Government had prioritised implementing measures to prevent girls and women from being subjected to gender stereotypes and harmful practices. The emergence of violent extremist ideologies and the negative impact these ideologies had on women’s rights protection in Maldivian communities was of great concern to the Government. The Government remained resolute in implementing stringent measures to counter extremist narratives and prevent the rise of violent extremism.

The delegation of Maldives Botswana was comprised of representatives of the President’s Office, the Parliament, the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs including official from the Permanent Mission of Maldives to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure, the Ministry of Higher Education, the Ministry of Higher Education, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Department of Judicial Administration, the Local Government Authority, the Family Protection Authority, the Maldives Police Service, the Maldives Immigration, the National Counter Terrorism Centre, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Office, and the Maldives Bureau of Statistics.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Mohamed Didi said the exchange with the Committee had further enlightened Maldives on the gaps and limitations within its system. Maldives remained committed to implementing the policies and plans highlighted in the report.

Gladys Acosta Vargas, Chair of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, which had provided further insight into the situation of women in Maldives. The Committee commended Maldives for its efforts and encouraged it to take all necessary measures to address the various recommendations of the Committee, especially those selected for follow-up.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eightieth session is being held from 18 October to 12 November. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The meeting summary releases prepared on the public meetings of the Committee can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 22 October to start its consideration of the tenth periodic report of Sweden (CEDAW/C/SWE/10).

Report

The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Maldives (CEDAW/C/MDV/6).

Presentation of Report

AISHATH MOHAMED DIDI, Minister of Gender, Family and Social Services of Maldives and head of delegation, said Maldives was committed to achieving gender parity, and ensuring the protection of women’s rights in Maldives in line with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Maldives was represented by a multi sectoral delegation of 30 high-level representatives. The Strategic Action Plan, endorsed in October 2019, recognised the importance of addressing gender as a governance issue and advocated policies on increasing women in decision making and participation in public life. Progress on implementing the Plan had been significantly hindered with the onset of the unprecedented global pandemic, which had had devastating impacts on the economic and social sectors. Despite the challenges, every effort had been made to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable.

The Government had re-strategised the implementation of the Strategic Action Plan, resulting in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan 2020-2022. Since the submission of the report in 2019, the Government had taken numerous steps to counter the effects of COVID-19 and to ensure the protection of women’s rights in Maldives. Maldives had fully withdrawn its reservations to several articles of the Convention after enacting laws and regulations governing marriage, child rights protection and family relations. The Government was fully committed to removing the barriers faced by women in the legal system, especially in matters of family law, and had launched a family law reform initiative last year. The Gender Equality Act was a key milestone to further efforts to ensure gender parity, and prevent and reprimand gender-based discrimination. The Act mandated the establishment of redress mechanisms to receive complaints of gender-based discrimination at places of employment but to date, no cases of gender-based discrimination had been reported.

The Minister said that the enactment of the 2008 Constitution had been an important first step towards ensuring gender equality and women’s rights in Maldives. The enactment of the Child Rights Protection Act in November 2019 had signified a paradigm shift in the area of child rights protection in Maldives. Among others, the Act prohibited the infliction of the death penalty against minors, and recognised the legal age for marriage as 18 years, prohibiting the solemnisation of marriages of any person under the age of 18 years. Electoral quotas for women had been introduced for the first time in Maldives, allocating 33 per cent of the local council seats to women. The Government had prioritised implementing measures to prevent girls and women from being subjected to gender stereotypes and harmful practices. Amendments had been drafted to the Penal Code of Maldives to criminalise female genital mutilation. The lockdown had heightened the risk of women being subjected to domestic violence and gender-based violence and measures had been taken immediately during the lockdown, to strengthen reporting mechanisms and support services for social issues.

Despite extremely challenging circumstances bred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government had undertaken a number of key initiatives to combat human trafficking, including establishing an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Office. At present, 35 per cent of the Cabinet Ministers were women. For the first time, female cabinet members were appointed with portfolios in non-stereotypical sectors such as transport, housing, fisheries, agriculture, environment, climate change, technology, arts and culture as well as in defense. More than 20 per cent of the appointed State ministers and 63 per cent of the civil service were comprised of women, while 39.43 per cent of the women held managerial positions in civil service. The Maldivian Foreign Service set a worthy example by achieving gender parity among the heads of diplomatic missions. Enhanced gender representation in the judiciary was a top priority in the judicial reform agenda of the Government and today women judges were adjudicating over cases in all tiers of the Maldivian judiciary. The Government acknowledged the low rate of women representation in the current Parliament and would continue to bring the necessary legislative amendments to establish quotas for women within political parties’ internal elections.

The emergence of violent extremist ideologies and the negative impact these ideologies had on women’s rights protection in Maldivian communities was of great concern to the Government. The Government remained resolute in implementing stringent measures to counter extremist narratives and prevent the rise of violent extremism. The Government’s primary aim was to foster a national dialogue on this issue and, most importantly, protect the rights of the vulnerable groups in danger due to extremist practices.

Questions by Committee Experts

BANDANA RANA, Committee Member, commended the State party’s efforts to address discrimination against women and appreciated efforts to harmonise Maldives’ laws and norms with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adding that it was important to ensure the implementation aspect of these laws and norms. Concerning the disparate interpretation of Sharia, the Committee was seriously concerned that women were disproportionately affected by punishment for crimes involving sex, with more women being punished by the death penalty and convicted of adultery and extramarital relations, owing to mainly discriminatory investigative policies. What measures were envisaged to eliminate such forms of discrimination. What measures were envisaged in harmonising the provisions and customary practices of the tenets of Islam with the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Did Maldives plan to enact the law prohibiting female genital mutilation in the near future? The Committee Expert also asked Maldives to highlight its efforts on education and information on female genital mutilation. How did Maldives plan to establish mechanisms under the Gender Equality Act in all relevant institutions? The Committee Expert asked if women were involved in the drafting of new policies and regulations, and if non-discrimination training was provided to legal officials to ensure that investigations were conducted on the basis of principles of equality.

In follow-up questions, a Committee Expert said that there was resistance and discontent from radicalised religious groups on efforts to promote gender equality and women’s rights. What measures were planned to provide awareness raising on women’s rights in Islam and monitor the dissemination of unlawful information on women’s rights in Islam. Was it possible to ensure that police, prosecutors and judges were trained on non-discriminatory methodology to investigate sexual violence crimes?

Replies by the Delegation

With regard to the reservations on article 16 a, the delegation said that the Government was working on this as part of the family law review to look into the possibilities. More work needed to be done on domestic violence. Concerning the questions on the death penalty and flogging, the delegation said that there were only two women on death row now. On flogging, there were strict measures in the Penal Code that ensured that it was practically impossible to sentence anyone to flogging. Alternative punishments had been introduced. On adultery, under previous laws, the likelihood for males getting convicted was narrow and therefore only females were convicted of adultery, but now, convictions for adultery could be secured for males as well under the new Penal Code. On domestic violence, it was not criminalised under the Domestic Violence Act as this was not a criminal law per se. The criminal actions were covered under the Penal Code. The Domestic Violence Act provided remedies for victims in a civil process. Protection efforts were ordered by the Family Court. The Attorney General did prosecute persons for crimes under the domestic settings as well. In the Sexual Offences Act, there was a new development regarding the burden of proof, and it was very effective and had resulted in the conviction of persons of sexual offences.

The Evidence Act dated back to 1976 but a comprehensive bill had been formulated. It had been submitted and was before Parliament. Hopefully, it would be implemented next year. No laws currently dealt with witness protection, but Maldives was in the process of amending the Criminal Procedure Code to ensure comprehensive protective measures for victims and witnesses. On perpetrator accountability, Maldives had initiated a review process of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, and it would consider criminalising domestic violence offences. As for non-punitive measures to hold perpetrators accountable, the Service Centre due to be established would run a perpetrators rehabilitation programme to hold perpetrators accountable in a non-punitive approach. Maldives was working on raising awareness about the mechanisms to report gender discrimination in the workplace.

As part of the sensitisation of police, prosecutors and judges, the Government was working with its international partners to ensure that training modules were in line with international human rights standards and practices. To ensure gender sensitisation and gender equality, training of trainers programmes had been carried out to train judges and legal and administrative staff. Prosecution guidelines had been established, and they were regularly reviewed.

On the resistance of radicalised groups, the delegation said that jurisdiction in Maldives was under the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, however, the National Counter-terrorism Centre was the coordination agency in all preventive efforts. The National Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism addressed disinformation and incorrect misconceptions and interpretations of Islam. The Ministry monitored what was promoted in the mosques, particularly by scholars from outside the country, and they had been able to successfully stop any foreign scholar who might give misinformation. The vetting process of foreign religious scholars had now been reviewed and it would hopefully produce results. Recently, two permissions for foreign religious scholars had not been granted. For Friday prayers, the sermon was heard across the country and it had been used to address many issues. Knowledge and awareness made people realise many things, and a lot of work needed to be done.

Questions by Committee Members

RHODA REDDOCK, Committee Member, congratulated Maldives on many new pieces of legislation and the adoption of the Gender Equality Act. What was the status of the Gender Equality Act Action Plan and when would it be finally adopted and implemented? She asked for details about the plans to improve the financial resources, human resources and technical capacity of the women’s machinery and the gender desk, and were these two different bodies or the same? Was there a structure plan for capacity building and empowerment programmes for members of the women and development committees, the family and children services, and the island councils, to strengthen their important work in the atolls.

HIROKO AKIZUKI, Committee Member, noted that since 2008, efforts had been made to establish temporary special measures among political parties to increase women’s leadership, but with no success. What were the reasons of failure of temporary special measures among political parties? What kind of awareness-building activities did Maldives take in order to familiarise the concept of temporary special measures? The Committee also enquired about the measures taken by the State party to allocate 40 per cent of small and medium-size enterprise loans through the Development Finance Corporation to women, youth and persons with disabilities. Was there any data available of these measures in view of substantive gender equality? Also, Ms. Akizuki asked about the quotas for women in taking loans under the initiatives of the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture, and on its impact/outcomes? The Committee brought attention to the purpose of temporary special measures and asked for more details in the fields of political and public life, education, health, employment, economic empowerment of women and so forth.

Replies by the Delegation

Concerning capacity building in the atolls, the delegation said that new staff members had been appointed to the women and children centres, with 82 new staff members appointed and trained. Most of them had backgrounds in the fields of psychology, social work and human rights. The Gender Department was not very strong right now, but work was being carried out to bring a change of its structure. One of the main challenges was the financial challenge. The island women development committees were legal bodies with powers and played a key role in the development of each island. Additional funds were provided for their development. The Gender Equality Act Action Plan had been drafted but was not finalised. It was now in the President’s Office and awaited approval by the Cabinet; they hoped to start to implement it by the end of this year. On temporary special measures, the delegation was not able to give detailed information. The quota for the political parties had not been an easy discussion as many believed women should compete and win on an equal footing. The Government believed a quota was necessary and it would continue to work on this issue. This was a challenge the Government would have to address.

The Gender Equality Act had come into effect in 2016, and the action plan should be completed by the end of this year and gender sensitisation training would be held under it. Gender focal points had been established in 16 institutions and were working on integrating a gender component. To make women actively engaged in development, gender orientation modules had been integrated within institutions where the training aspects were being held to raise awareness on gender equal opportunities.

A bank had been established three years ago and it had provided quite a number of credit facilities to a certain number of women workers for their livelihood, but they had not seen a significant impact because of the short time frame. The Family Protection Authority, in coordination with other services, had conducted a needs assessment in the atolls and identified necessary measures. Trained staff would provide training at the community level to institutions and the general public within the communities.

On gathering gender disaggregated data, the Government had been working with partners and had conducted an assessment on how to improve such data collection. Maldives, following the COVID-19 pandemic, had been one of the first countries in the region to conduct an assessment on its effect on women, showing that 26 per cent of women had lost their income generating activities due to the pandemic. With the enactment of the statistical law, it was undergoing organisational reform. Maldives had an upcoming census in 2022 and it would be bringing in a much-needed gender focus lens on the situation of women in the labour market, as well as adding a disability lens.

Questions by Committee Experts

GENOVEVA TISHEVA, Committee Member, noted that independent sources had informed the Committee that, in addition to internal expressions of religious extremism, foreign preachers had been invited by State institutions to conduct sermons in places where harmful practices such as child marriage were endorsed within Maldives. The shortcomings showed the need for more structured and continued efforts to promote gender equality principles in the country. What was the assessment of the efforts made by the Ministry of Education towards eliminating content that reinforced traditional gender stereotypes in the school curriculum and textbooks? What were the steps for further mobilisation of gender equality champions among religious leaders, including on concepts like marital rape?

Furthermore, Ms. Tisheva noted that the Sexual Offences Act 2014 did not categorically criminalise marital rape, limiting it to four circumstances of unacceptable sexual relations between the spouses. What were the steps envisaged to adopt in the legislation the categorical definition of marital rape, its criminalisation and ensure effective implementation? How did the Government ensure the effectiveness of assistance and rehabilitation of women, including women facing multiple forms of discrimination, through the family and protection services centres and safe houses, and did the Government intend to increase resources for these services? What were the steps taken for the effective implementation of the health sector response to the gender-based violence guidelines (2014) in order to train more consistently healthcare practitioners? How would Maldives strengthen professional education of other key stakeholders from the police and the judiciary? How would Maldives strengthen the bargaining power of women in family and society, and establish and affirm women’s economic empowerment as a strategy for the prevention of gender-based violence?

BANDANA RANA, Committee Member, asked about the services provided for victims of human trafficking, including the services provided in shelters. She also enquired about the reporting of cases of exploitation of women and girls. Ms. Rana asked about the measures taken by the State party to address root causes and risk factors that increased the vulnerability of persons to trafficking. Was Maldives taking measures to reduce demand for sexual services, raise clients’ awareness of the situation of those who provided it, ensure that victims were identified and raise awareness of trafficking, especially among the most vulnerable groups.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said a new curriculum had been rolled out for schools in 2015 that educated about relationships, sexuality, puberty, tolerance, respect for culture and human rights; Maldives was aware that gender-based violence, sexual abuse and harmful practices still needed to be covered and recognised this as a challenge. Pre-service teacher training also needed to be tackled. The strategy for preventing domestic violence covered the period from 2017 to 2021, however, due to the implementation deficits due to the pandemic, it had been extended to the end of next year. During next year, the authorities would work on the new five-year plan, but they needed to mobilise resources to strengthen it and develop the capacity of implementing agencies. On the issue of marital rape and its criminalisation, in October 2020, a court had passed the first conviction for marital rape in the history of Maldives. This was a progressive step in the process to stop all violence against women and girls. The Victim Support Unit was manned by three social workers whose role was to stay in contact with all victims of serious crimes, help them access services available to them, and provide them with updates about the case. They were reviewing the work of the Unit to see how effective it was. Police also had a victim support unit providing help during the investigation stage.

With regard to domestic violence and gender-based violence, the health sector had strengthened regulations for healthcare professionals and made plans to ensure prevention by training and introducing general practitioner-like staff who could detect vulnerable persons who were likely to be subjected to these unfortunate events. One problem was that doctors and nurses from abroad only stayed for a short period, so training and retention of knowledge was a challenge. However, Maldives still hoped to be able to reduce and tackle domestic violence and gender-based violence.

Victims of human trafficking were provided with access to a lawyer during police investigations. However, many of those victims did not want to be identified as such. Any case submitted to the court would not proceed without translation and interpretation services. The Ministry of Defence had an anti-trafficking in persons office. The steering committee, also under the Ministry of Defence, enjoyed the participation of other Ministries. Regarding temporary shelters, the Government ensured that they were in line with all international practices and obligations. Efforts to identify victims were ongoing. Guidelines were drafted for judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers as well as training, and several digital campaigns were conducted in Maldives to raise awareness of the issues of human trafficking throughout the society.

Questions by Committee Experts

HIROKO AKIZUKI, Committee Member, noted the appointment of two female judges, but said the under-representation of women in the judiciary still continued to be an issue in Maldives. What were the steps envisaged for the adoption and effective implementation of temporary special measures or legal quotas to increase women in the political, public and judiciary spheres? In order to increase women’s participation in public life and women’s representation in leadership roles, including State-own companies, it was vital to carry out leadership and empowerment programmes targeting women. What efforts were being undertaken to provide capacity building and training on political leadership, negotiations and campaigning skills for women and girls?

The Committee noted that women had a multitude of challenges in running for election, such as the lack of financing, harassment on the campaign trail, lack of support for and trust in the capability of women, lack of affordable child and elderly care options, and so forth. Were there any legal, administrative and monitoring measures to increase the percentage of women contesting in elections and in leadership roles of political parties, by earmarking funds for political parties that ensured equal and equitable opportunities for women?

Ms. Akizuki asked for information on legal mechanisms to promote the participation of women human rights defenders in civil society and to protect human rights defenders, including those advocating rural women’s human rights. She also asked for information on women appointed at the international level and in senior positions in the Foreign Service.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Member, welcomed the high-level delegation and congratulated it for the ongoing dialogue. Article 9 looked at the way that women should acquire equal rights with men to acquire change or retain their nationality. She noted some discriminatory provisions in the laws. All Maldivians had to be Muslims and this precluded non-Muslims from accessing citizenship or senior posts. Applicants for Maldivian nationality had to renounce their nationality. These provisions tended to have a discriminatory effect on women. The marriage laws also imposed discrimination on women vis-à-vis nationality. Did Maldives envisage revising the nationality laws to remove this discrimination against women. The Committee Expert also asked if Maldives planned to accede to instruments to prevent statelessness, and if it planned to adopt national legislation reducing statelessness, especially in the case of marriage.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation acknowledged the low number of women in the political life in Maldives, however, the Government had taken relevant measures to promote and encourage women to be part of public life. In the gender equality plan, there were policies concerning the support of women’s representation in public institutions. This was a process where people’s mindsets had to be changed to recognise and share the role of women. Families were very important in this process. Younger generations had greater recognition of the importance of gender equality. Under these strategies, a number of actions were written down with particular targets in mind.

Questions by Committee Expert

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Member, asked about education development in Maldives, in particular the programme concerning giving access to all children (“No child left behind”). She noted that she would like to ensure equal access to education for girls and boys at the same time. Furthermore, she asked about programmes or measures provided for rural women and girls in terms of access to education.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that ever since formal education started in Maldives, no discrimination had been observed among girls and boys in the country. Under the programme “No child left behind”, parents could be prosecuted for withholding the right to education. The authorities checked the attendance of children to school, and if the child did not attend, home visits were conducted and reported accordingly. Some families did not want their children to attend the traditional educational system, but the relevant authorities worked with these families as well. The Government had also developed programmes for vocational training, and support for women to enter higher education. Maldives was moving fast to encourage women to study in non-traditional areas like pilot training and architecture. Girls as young as 9 or 10 were introduced in schools to opportunities such as carpentry and building.

Questions by Committee Expert

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Member, said the percentage of the economically active female population was around 42 per cent, with women mostly working in agriculture. The Government provided income support and 75 per cent of its recipients were women working in agriculture. What about providing opportunities for women to enter the main labour market? How could the State increase access to work opportunities to achieve financial independence? What were the steps envisaged to enhance awareness among women employees, including migrant women, about the provisions of the employment act on sexual harassment and remedies available to protect their rights? How did the Government monitor the working conditions for migrant women employed as domestic workers in order to protect them?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that historically, Maldivians lived in extended family structures which provided women with opportunities to work within the extended family structures. Times had changed and Maldivians now lived in nuclear family structures, meaning that the childcare help was no longer available and it was challenging for both parents to work. Fees for nurseries were high. There were some childcare facilities in the capital. The Government was trying to look into this issue. Maternity leave was available for women for 60 days, plus the right to an additional 28 days of unpaid leave both before and after childbirth. The right to return to work after maternity leave was ensured. The law provided the opportunity for women to work. At the same time, the Government was working to ensure the retention of women working in the labour force. All civil service staff had access to maternity and paternity leave. The Government faced challenges in obtaining labour statistics. Forty-four per cent of working women worked in the informal sector in comparison to 36 per cent of working men. The administrative data system needed to be strengthened so that timely data was available. Training sessions on gender equality and the sexual harassment act had been held for more than 600 persons.

One of the areas where the number of working women had not been able to be increased was the tourism sector because of the social stigma. The Government had a new policy of home stay which would give the opportunity to Maldivians to have within their homes and in guest houses on their islands the opportunity for tourism to flourish. With home stay, the social stigma or the cultural challenges would become minimised and women would be able to surmount the great barriers that existed.

Questions by Committee Expert

NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA, Committee Expert, said she understood the challenges of the provision of services in all the atolls in Maldives. She asked about sexual and reproductive health education, access to universal healthcare, abortion, and statistics on caesarean births. Reports from civil society actors indicated serious violations of women’s health and rights in instances of sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and gender violence within the healthcare sector. What steps was the Government taking to train healthcare professionals in gender-based violence prevention and treatment. Female genital mutilation was still not prohibited. The Expert asked for a timeline for prohibiting and criminalising female genital mutilation in the Penal Code. What measures had been taken to address increasingly extreme ideologies, such as black magic, that affected the health and well-being of women and girls? Why had there been an increase in the prevalence of caesarean births in Maldives and what measures was Maldives taking in this regard?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that in Maldives, there were some subjects that were not talked about, and the Ministry of Education had taken steps to broach them in the curriculum. The Committee needed to understand the sensitivities behind this. Maldives had taken a step forward and it needed to ensure that all colleges and universities became well versed in these topics and introduced methods that were best practices for those that taught these subjects. That way children would gain knowledge of gender-based violence and understand how such issues could affect them personally. To advance knowledge of gender rights and human rights, children had to be taught to respect each other, especially boys to respect girls and girls to respect boys.

The Ministry of Health had introduced guidelines on gender-based violence and conducted some online training for doctors and nurses. They also hoped to have smaller groups in the islands which could work with the community in detecting and preventing issues on gender-based violence. The retention of healthcare professionals was a challenge. With regard to increasing caesarean sections, it was a multi-factorial problem. There were 187 islands and they had health posts in these islands. The problem was caused by human and financial challenges, the availability of doctors to help deliver, the availability of pre-natal care, and the communities’ trust in the doctors. The Government was working on a de-centralised healthcare system.

There were five different circumstances where safe medical termination of pregnancy was allowed within 120 days, including if a child was raped and became pregnant or if a woman with disabilities was raped and became pregnant. There was no information available on abortions that did not take place within this framework. On domestic violence and gender-based violence, identification of it and how to respond to it, workshops were carried out for healthcare professionals.

Concerning black magic practitioners who exploited vulnerable groups, including women, one case had been prosecuted this year and two other cases were under investigation. The Government continuously was on the lookout for persons using black magic, which was prohibited.

On the question on the timeline for the criminalisation of female genital mutilation, the head of the delegation said it was difficult for her to commit on this as it involved other State institutions. The law had been drafted and was now in the President’s office, but further consultations with the different stakeholders were needed. The Government would prioritise it in the administrative agenda.

Questions by Committee Expert

MARION BETHEL, Committee Expert, said she identified and empathised with the many challenges faced by the people of Maldives, as she came from the Bahamas which faced similar challenges. Addressing the economic empowerment of women and social benefits, she asked what specific policies and measures the Government was taking to prevent the roll-back in the modest gains in women’s participation in the work force and to increase further their labour participation. What policies and programmes had Maldives set out to assist women in small-scale businesses. What steps was the Government taking to increase and expand affordable care and services for children, the elderly and sick family members in order to reduce the unpaid care work of women? How were the needs of poor and non-contributing women met in regard to social benefits, such as a pension?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that training and information sessions were conducted for home-based workers, as well as projects to allow small businesses and farmers to sell their products with the help of the Government. Loans were also granted to such workers, both women and men. Forty per cent of the loans were granted to women entrepreneurs. Several Ministries had loan programmes. On registration of land and businesses, there were no limitations or discrimination on registering them to women.

Questions by Committee Experts

LETICIA BONIFAZ ALFONZO, Committee Expert, focusing on rural woman, said that the report referred to the gaps that existed between the rural Maldives and the urban Maldives. The impact of COVID-19 plus climate change affected in a differentiated fashion rural women. Had the Government prepared economic development policies and projects for rural women? What had been done to combat gender-based violence in the rural areas.

ANA PELAEZ NARVAEZ, Committee Expert, said that as there could be a deepening of discrimination because of disabilities, or against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, or migrant women with different nationalities and religion, what measures was Maldives taking to ensure that all these women had access to health, including sexual reproductive health, education and employment, among others. Was Maldives taking any measures to end stigmatisation and marginalisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, or migrant women.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government’s Strategic Action Plan did not differentiate between rural women and other women. For all people living in the islands, the Government ensured that education, healthcare and development was provided, and in doing so there was no discrimination between men and women. The Government was putting in place mechanisms at the community level to prevent and respond to violence against children and other vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities.

Questions by Committee Experts

ARUNA DEVI NARAIN, Committee Expert, raised questions about quality marriage and family relations, reservations, divorce, child marriage and polygamy. It was of great concern to the Committee that Maldives continued to hold reservations on article 16, which ensured the equality of women at home and in the family. Were divorced women resented? Did women have access to legal aid on issues like divorce? On child marriage, was it possible that secret child marriages were being celebrated; were religious and community leaders as well as girls in schools sensitised on child marriage? Were there any plans to prohibit polygamy.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government was committed to ensuring that the law reform initiative reached fruition in the near future in order to ensure that Maldives had a modern family legal system that promoted, protected and fulfilled women’s and girls’ human and constitutional rights. As for child marriages, the legal age for marriage had been set at 18. Under the Domestic Violence Act, any party involved in proceedings under the act may be represented by a lawyer and the State was responsible for the provision of the lawyer upon request to help victims without financial means.

Concluding Remarks

AISHATH MOHAMED DIDI, Minister of Gender, Family and Social Services of Maldives and head of delegation, expressed her gratitude to the Committee for allowing Maldives to present the progress achieved on women’s rights and to address the challenges that were faced. The delegation had presented Maldives’s plans and vision for women and girls. The exchange with the Committee had further enlightened Maldives on the gaps and limitations within its system. Maldives remained committed to implementing the policies and plans highlighted in the report. Despite the numerous challenges posed by the limited resources and the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maldives remained resolute in implementing its policies and plans as their realisation would result in a transformative change in the landscape of women’s rights in Maldives.

GLADYS ACOSTA VARGAS, Chair of the Committee, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, which had provided further insight into the situation of women in Maldives. The Committee commended Maldives for its efforts and encouraged it to take all necessary measures to address the various recommendations of the Committee, especially those selected for follow-up.

 

CEDAW21.010E