27 February 2015
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of the Maldives on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Dunya Maumoon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, introducing the report, said that significant strides in the elimination of discrimination against women had been achieved. Two key Government policies relating to women’s rights were the empowerment of women socially, economically and politically, and zero tolerance for violence against women. Extensive work had been undertaken at the institutional level to improve the legislative framework and legal safeguards that protected the rights of women. The Gender Equality Law (Bill) was one of the most important bills in the national legislative agenda and was aimed at promoting gender equality and prohibiting gender discrimination, including gender-based violence. The Infant mortality rate had been reduced from 18 per 1,000 live births in 2002 to 9, while the maternal mortality rate had decreased from 160 per 100,000 live births in 2002 to 13 in 2012. The Convention was one of the most important treaties nationally and since its ratification, significant challenges in ensuring gender equality and the protection of women’s rights had been overcome; the country now faced new and emerging challenges, including issues related to religious extremism.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, Committee Experts recognized the challenges that the Maldives was facing as a small island developing State, particularly in light of climate change. While taking positive note of the key policies in relation to women, Experts expressed concern about de facto gender-based discrimination, persistent barriers in the access to justice for women and the absence of temporary special measures which would increase the representation and participation of women in public and political life. All those pointed to entrenched gender stereotypes, which led to discrimination against women and various forms of violence against women.
Experts welcomed the announced adoption of the Gender Equality Law (Bill) and commended the 2008 Employment Act, and asked about the implementation and enforcement of those laws. The Committee took positive note of the progress made in the education of girls but expressed concern about the return to school of girls following pregnancy, both in terms of the lack of policies regulating the return and the attached stigma. Exclusion of women from development planning represented a net loss for the country, particularly in the light of climate change, because rural women and island dwellers were depository of traditional knowledge.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Maumoon reiterated the commitment of the Maldives to continue the domestication of the Convention, and to ensure greater awareness of its provisions among the judiciary, Parliament and the public in general. The Maldives would also continue to increase women’s knowledge of their rights in order to ensure that their voices were heard at all levels.
The delegation of the Maldives included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of State for Law and Gender, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of the Maldives to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 6 March to adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Gabon, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Tuvalu, Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea and the Maldives, before closing its sixtieth session.
The combined fourth and fifth periodic report of the Maldives can be read here: (CEDAW/C/MDV/4-5).
Presentation of the Report
DUNYA MAUMOON, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, said that the Maldives had made significant strides in eliminating discrimination against women. The 2008 Constitution guaranteed the same rights and freedoms to both men and women and upheld the principles of non-discrimination and equality. The Manifesto of the new Government in place since November 2013 outlined two key policies relating to women’s rights, namely the empowerment of women socially, economically and politically, and zero tolerance for violence against women. Extensive work had been undertaken at the institutional level to improve the legislative framework and legal safeguards that protected the rights of all in the society, especially women, including the enactment of the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Prevention Act and the Sexual Offences Act ratified by the President in May 2014, which complemented the 2012 Domestic Violence Prevention Act. In addition, the new Penal Code, which would come into force in April this year, comprehensively defined all crimes including that of rape. The Gender Equality Law (Bill) was one of the most important bills in the national legislative agenda and was aimed at promoting gender equality and prohibiting gender discrimination, including gender-based violence. The Government believed that the enactment of laws was not enough and that the setting up of the institutional base, cultivation of a culture of respect and elimination of stereotypical ideas within the community were as important in ensuring gender equality and the protection of the rights of women.
Infant and maternal mortality had been significantly reduced over the past 10 years: in 2002, the infant mortality rate stood at 18 per 1,000 live births, and 9 per 1,000 live births in 2012; the maternal mortality rate had decreased from 160 per 100,000 live births in 2002 to 13 in 2012. The medical termination of pregnancy within 120 days of conception was legalised for pregnancies resulting from certain circumstances such as rape, and health facilities had been established in islands and Atolls. Gender gaps in education had shown a marked decline and gender parity had been achieved in literacy rates, enrolment, and attainments at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. Flexible working hours had been introduced, allowing pregnant women and women with children under the age of three to apply to work from home, while the Central Bank had set in procedures allowing six-month maternity leave with full pay. Ms. Maumoon recognized the emerging trends and stereotypical practices such as child marriages and non-vaccination of infants and said that the Government had announced the enforcement of relevant legislation and appropriate safeguards to promote and protect the rights of children, girls and women from practices of early or forced marriages, and the non-vaccination of infants. Despite being a small island developing State which faced enormous challenges in comprehensively implementing treaty obligations, the Maldives remained one of the few countries that had ratified seven of the eight core international human rights treaties. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women remained one of the most important treaties nationally and since its ratification, the Maldives had overcome significant challenges in ensuring gender equality and the protection of women’s rights, but it continued to face new and emerging challenges, including issues related to religious extremism.
Questions from the Experts
In the first round of questions and comments, a Committee Expert recognized the challenges that the Maldives was facing as a small island developing State, particularly in the light of climate change, and took positive note of the two key policies of the Government in relation to women concerning the empowerment of women and zero tolerance to violence against women. The Expert encouraged the Maldives to reconsider withdrawing its partial reservation on Article 16 of the Convention, and stressed that Islam was not incompatible with women’s rights. The Committee was still concerned about de facto gender-based discrimination and asked about the guarantees in place to protect the new Constitutional provisions concerning gender equality. Barriers to access by women to justice was another issue of concern, such as barring women from participating as witnesses, or gender-biased attitudes of judges, lawyers and prosecutors.
National human rights machinery was crucial in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention and in achieving gender equality, stressed another Expert, noting that changes over the past several years had resulted in the lack of coherence in the system. The delegation was asked to explain the mechanism in the country, expand on the plans to implement the new law on gender equality, which was about to be adopted, and to comment on how the independence of the national Human Rights Commission was guaranteed.
Responses by the Delegation
The Government had committed in the Universal Periodic Review to remove reservations on certain parts of Article 16 of the Convention and this proposal would be submitted for consideration by the Majlis in March this year. The partial withdrawal of the reservations and the new gender equality bill had also been discussed with civil society. The Gender Equality Bill contained the fundamental principle of setting up the legal foundation for effective equality between men and women and would be concerned with the structural inequality in the society.
Despite several changes in the Government over the past three or four years, the commitment to the national human rights machinery remained constant. Currently, the Ministry of Law and Gender was a department under the Attorney General’s Office and had a sufficient budget for its work of advancing the rights of women. The Ministry dealt with all vulnerable groups, including children, elderly, persons with disabilities and women. Children and Family Service Centres were being established in the islands, and were currently being staffed with more professional technical staff which could provide social and rehabilitation services to victims. The Government would continue to reach to the judiciary and other key stakeholders in the country, such as Parliament, to ensure their full support for gender equality and women’s rights issues.
In follow-up questions, Committee Experts said that the issue of concern was the ability of the judiciary to perform its functions with impartiality and how to ensure that the judicial process was not in fact a form of reprisal for any entity dealing with human rights. What legislative safeguards were in place to protect the rights of women from minority groups? Despite having ratified the Convention, the domestication of the Convention had been delayed and a Committee Expert asked about the plan to ensure that the provisions were systematically translated in the national legislation, about gender assessment of existing laws, and the plans to reform the judiciary and remove discriminatory practices against women.
The delegation said the domestication of the Convention would receive a great boost with the entry into force of the Gender Equality Bill. The rights of minority groups were guaranteed, including the right to practice their religion in private. Every person living in the country had full access to justice and the police, and lawyers and the judiciary were being trained in surmounting barriers to access to justice for women. More and more women were accessing courts with issues related to divorce or violence against women.
Questions from the Experts
Concerning temporary special measures, a Committee Expert noted that Parliament had rejected the proposal for the participation of women in public life, which reflected the existing gender bias and stereotypes; what measures were in place to address this issue and to pass the bill? Another Expert said that negative stereotypes were leading to discrimination against women and various forms of violence against women, and asked about measures in place to combat them, including through the media and school books. What measures were being taken against perpetrators of violence against women, and also how was harassment of women being addressed, including of migrant women? How would the Domestic Violence Act be implemented in the coming period?
Experts further welcomed the adoption of the human trafficking law and noted that one third of the population was made up of migrant workers, including a large proportion of women victims of trafficking for labour and sexual exploitation. The delegation was asked to comment on internal trafficking between atolls, links between prostitution and tourism, protection of young girls falling in prostitution, the timeline for the ratification of the Palermo Protocol and the efforts to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse including the minors married under Sharia law.
Responses by the Delegation
The work in combating gender stereotyping was achieving progress, as seen through the increasing number of women completing higher education, becoming judges and lawyers and entering non-traditional professions, such as pilots. That said, the growing religious conservatism did have some negative impact on the situation of women in the country. The school curriculum and the text books had been revised through gender lenses; a new curriculum was being rolled out this year and the new books and school materials were free from gender stereotypes.
Trafficking in persons might be an issue and a large number of migrant workers, largely male, were entering the country. The human trafficking legislation was a landmark and there was international acceptance of the efforts to address the problems. Prostitution was not a major issue in the Maldives, including by foreign women migrants or by young Maldivian girls. The 2013 study on commercial sexual exploitation of children did not show an alarming number of children in this situation and had found that children at risk were those from dysfunctional families or with a history of drug abuse.
The Government had tried to introduce a quota for the political representation of women three times, but it had been rejected each time. There was currently a Cabinet proposal on a 30 per cent quota for women, which needed the support of political parties.
The issue of child marriages was not a major issue; the legal age of marriage was 18 and marriage could be authorised by a judge for children aged 16. The average age of marriage for women in the country had risen to 22 or 23 years of age.
It was hoped that the Gender Equality Law would go a long way in the establishment of temporary special measures, particularly for vulnerable women and in the political representation of women. The law contained several measures and affirmative actions aimed to ensure equal opportunity of women in employment, for example the percentage of women in the civil service, the extension of the length of paid maternity leave, and the improvement of standards in day care facilities.
The Palermo Protocol and the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers were now before Parliament and some progress had been achieved in their ratification. Paternity leave remained limited at three days, and there were more and more men taking paternity leave, but the support of women in pursuing their professional lives following birth remained a challenge.
The Head of the Delegation recognized the need for the reform of the Judicial Service Commission, the strengthening of the judiciary and bringing the system in line with international standards, and said that there was also a degree of the politicization in the issue and the way in which it had been represented which undermined the system of the judiciary in the country. The Government was committed to reach out and sensitize the stakeholders in the judiciary, and had in place a number of programmes on the Domestic Violence Act and domestic violence prevention, and on gender-sensitive legislation and promoting women’s rights, which were used in education and sensitization of judges, lawyers and prosecutors. There had been prosecutions of trafficking and domestic violence and those showed that victims of violence could have access to justice; as more women were aware of their rights, more would seek justice in the courts.
Questions from the Experts
The participation of women in the Government had improved, but their representation in other walks of political and public life was limited. There was no substantive progress in the representation of women in any state sector, which indicated the lack of temporary special measures and the lack of political will. The representation of women in local councils was extremely low, only 61 out of more than 1,000 seats, and this was a matter of grave concern because it impacted the participation of women in development programmes and made them less likely to make significant contributions at the local level.
Children born out of wedlock to Maldivian mothers would get the nationality, but this was not the case for Maldivian fathers; in addition, as per Sharia law, the children born out of wedlock could not be their fathers’ legal heirs. Children born out of wedlock continued to experience discrimination in access to services.
Responses by the Delegation
From traditional times, women had been participating in all areas of life in the Maldives, including in political life, but it was clear that challenges remained in the participation of women in labour and political spheres. The number of women in Parliament was indeed low, and additional concerted efforts in this area were needed; the Government was considering the system of quotas for women who in the past were not successful in contesting primary parliamentary elections. The Government was committed to increasing the number of women in the diplomatic or Foreign Service, but women were hesitant to accept overseas posting because they or their families saw them as the principal childcare provider. The upcoming Foreign Service Bill would professionalise the service and encourage greater representation of women. There were 104 Island Women Development Committees at the moment, which were not very functional and persons on the Committee were not remunerated. The Ministry was considering how to support their work and make them more active and so support the local governance system. Women were represented in Atoll Councils and some of the Island Councils were headed by women.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert took positive note of the progress made in the education of girls, particularly considering the challenges of being an island State. Prevailing traditional ideologies were a considerable obstacle to school attendance of girls, especially in the atolls, where girls were kept at home to help with chores and prevent them from falling pregnant. Concerning pregnancy among school girls, the Expert asked the delegation to explain why pregnant school girls were treated like juvenile offenders and noted the lack of policy regulating the return to school by a girl whose pregnancy was the result of violence.
The 2008 Employment Act was an impressive piece of legislation, said another Expert and asked how many cases of discrimination had been brought before the Tribunal, about labour inspections and implementation of the Act particularly in the private sector, and how much training was given on the Convention and International Labour Organization Conventions to the officers of the Employment Tribunal. The delegation was also asked about legal protection to women migrant workers and the monitoring of work conditions they enjoyed, measures to promote employment of local women in the tourism industry, and monitoring of exploitative practices in the tourism industry.
Other issues raised in the discussion included the increase in the availability of resources to the health centres on islands and the atolls, the plans to undertake a study into the prevalence of illegal and unsafe abortion and infanticide, and the introduction of contraceptives.
Responses by the Delegation
The Maldives was very proud of the achievements made in the area of education and the comparable enrolment and completion rates for both boys and girls in primary, secondary and tertiary education, including in the islands and on the atolls. The Government was taking action to ensure that victims of violence were enabled to resume their lives and schooling; obviously, stigma was indeed attached and their reintegration into the society was not an easy task.
There were no legal obstacles to access to school for vulnerable children; they were social in nature and the Government was working with the United Nations Children’s Fund on developing alternative schooling systems. The Government reiterated its commitment to the reproductive health of its population and the national strategy on the issue was in place. Since 2013, medical termination of pregnancy had been legalized in cases of rape, incest and health conditions of the mother and the child.
The Government was committed to reaching out to young girls and women to raise awareness about reproductive health issues, including unsafe abortions. In 2015, in cooperation with United Nations partners, the Government would undertake an assessment of family planning services at different levels in order to understand the needs of the population and the shortcomings of the system.
Equal pay for equal work was implemented in practice, and there was no minimum salary in the country, said the delegation. The Employment Tribunal had seven members, including two women; the number of complaints received from women employees was lower than that of men, and in 2014, 34 cases had been lodged concerning breach of training agreement, unjust hiring practices, unfair dismissal and others. The Tourism Master Plan 2013-2017 employed three main strategies to bring in more women in the sector: career path development for women, promoting female entrepreneurship, and making women feel safe at work. Further steps were being taken to protect the rights of migrant workers, and the requirements were now for foreign migrant workers to have health insurance and an official contract.
The commitment to reproductive health and family planning had increased over the past year; there were still challenges and the needs of the population needed to be better understood. Reproductive health activities also targeted unmarried persons, and preparatory work was ongoing to establish services for adolescents in each health centre. At the moment, there was no system for married children under the age of 18 to come into the school system. The Government was working with the United Nations Children’s Fund to develop alternative educational systems to encompass all the out-of-school children, such as victims of abuse or married children.
Questions by the Committee Experts
The Maldives had adopted a commendable social legislation and had in place a veritable social protection floor policy and a Committee Expert asked what were the intentions to increase the participation of women in retirement and old age pensions, whether gender analysis of the laws that were part of the social protection system had been conducted, and about measures to address discrimination against women in the housing sector. Exclusion of women from development planning represented a net loss for the country, particularly in the light of climate change, because rural women and island dwellers were depository of traditional knowledge.
Responses by the Delegation
Women’s access to retirement and social schemes was indeed limited and there was a need to develop a strategy for their increased participation in pension issues and increased access to housing, which was a problem for everyone in the Maldives because land was limited. It was hoped that the decentralization policy, which had been implemented several years ago, would increase the representation of rural and island women in local governance and the Government was aware of the need to develop measures that would increase their participation, including in planning for development and the environment.
One of the tasks of the Island Women Development Committee was to contribute to the development plans of the islands, and in that sense they worked together with the local islands and the atoll councils. This was an opportunity for the women to contribute their views, their knowledge and capacities. Challenges remained because this system was not operating as it should and the State was working on engaging more women in the development process.
Questions by the Committee Experts
Concerning access to justice, a Committee Expert reiterated the need for the independence of the judiciary and the creation of an environment conducive for their functioning, and expressed concern about the delay in the reform of the Judiciary Commission which had to serve as a watchdog. The Expert was concerned about under-age marriages because of a number of reasons, including the limited livelihood and income capacity.
The Expert noted that unmarried cohabitation was not allowed and was sanctioned with flogging, that marital rape was not an offence if parties lived together, and that accusation of rape could be proven only on a testimony of two males or four females. The Maldives had one of the highest proportions of divorce, with men having a much easier time in divorcing than women. Which measures were being taken to deal with those instances of discrimination which led to the vulnerability of women?
Responses by the Delegation
The Government had already taken some steps to improve the performance of the judiciary and increase the confidence of the population in the system, particularly by women. Polygamy was not such a major issue in the country, but the rate of divorce was a much more pertinent problem. Recognizing marital rape in legal instruments was an important development in the country; the Sexual Offences Act recognized sexual intercourse in a marriage as rape under certain circumstances and this was a breakthrough in the legislation. Forensic evidence in cases of domestic violence was now accepted in courts, and women were sensitized on how and when to seek professional medical help so that evidence was preserved. An amendment to the Family Law had been sent to the Majlis to address the negative impact of divorce on women by ensuring that matrimonial property was distributed equally.
DUNYA MAUMOON, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Maldives, reiterated the commitment of the Maldives to continue the domestication of the Convention, and to ensure greater awareness of its provisions among the judiciary, Parliament and public in general. The Maldives would also continue to increase women’s knowledge of their rights in order to ensure that their voices were heard at all levels.
YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairperson, commended the Maldives for its efforts and encouraged it to address the Committee’s concluding observations for the benefit of all women and girls in the country.
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