Creating Respect – Ending Violence

Violence against women is a heinous crime that goes right to the core of human dignity. It is also the most extreme form of discrimination against women and is widespread and persistent around the world. Efforts to eliminate violence against women require a multidimensional approach with adequate funding and resources to ensure that no one is left behind!

According to the UN Secretary General’s Report titled Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, achieving gender equality requires advanced efforts to counter deeply rooted gender-based discrimination that are often the result of social norms or patriarchal attitudes. In his report he details some alarming statistics. For instance, on the basis of data from 2005 to 2016 for 87 countries, 19 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years of age had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the 12 months prior to the survey. In the most extreme cases, such violence, according to the report, can lead to death. In 2012, almost half of all women who were victims of intentional homicide worldwide were killed by an intimate partner or family member, compared to 6 per cent of male victims.

In the Maldives one of obstacles blocking the path to women’s empowerment are discriminatory social attitudes and cultural norms. Although there is no formal or institutional discrimination in the Maldives, women have difficulty overcoming traditional family roles and stereotypes. Even when women shatter the glass-ceiling and dismantle the socially prescribed roles, they continue to face culturally constructed mindsets. For instance, society still looks down on young women who work long hours out of her island of residence. As a result, women continue to be under-represented in our largest industrial sector; tourism. Whilst we see pioneering women breaking down the the barriers and taking up non-Stereotypical roles, there is much more work to be done.

A sad fact of the campaign to eliminate violence against women is that victims of violence still lack access to essential services that support their safety, health and quite often justice. A larger truth though is the culture of silence shrouding all acts of violence that stem from the walls of the households. I strongly believe prevention should start early in life; that the first step in creating respect for women begins from home. Children, both boys and girls, have to see the adults in the family treating each other with respect. Boys need to be nurtured into respecting and valuing their mothers, sisters, female cousins and girl friends. Young girls need to be taught that any form of violence or harassment is unacceptable.

On its part, the Government has taken the initiative to enact a host of legislations to provide a sound legal framework that protects the right of women and girls including the Domestic Violence Prevention Act 2012, Sexual Harassment and Abuse Prevention Act 2014, Sexual Offences Act 2014 and the Gender Equality Act 2016.

Indeed, it is absolutely important that the true meaning of these laws reach ordinary Maldivian women and girls. Much more work needs to be done to strengthen awareness and support services. To this effect, media plays a crucial role in breaking stereotypes as much as building them. In an ever-changing world, faced with new and emerging challenges the role of the media in keeping the public informed of matters relating to the community and the key part it plays in the formation of public opinion on national issues including violence directed against women requires the Fourth Estate of democracy to adhere to the high standard set out in any democratic society.

History has taught us that no struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. Henceforth, investing in girls’ education, investing in women’s entrepreneurship, investing in building shelters for victims of violence should be national priorities. Governments should allocate tangible resources towards connecting the dots between gender equality and development. And between gender equality and democracy.

The value of political equality is central to democracy. Just as women need a democratic environment to thrive– democracy also needs women for its sustenance. Democracy can be in its full glory when all of its citizens participate.

On this year’s International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women, my hope and dream is that our young men are able to forge respectful relationships with women and that our young women are strong enough to stand up to any gender-based discrimination. In particular we need to end the global pandemic of Violence Against Women in all its forms and to ensure that no-one is left behind!

by Dunya Maumoon

Editor's note: Dunya Maumoon is currently Minister of State for Health and former Foreign Minister; advocate for human rights and gender equality