EXPERTS OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CRITICIZE MALDIVES OVER PROHIBITION ON WOMEN HOLDING TOP POLITICAL, JUDICIAL OFFICE
EXPERTS OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CRITICIZE MALDIVES OVER PROHIBITION ON WOMEN HOLDING TOP POLITICAL, JUDICIAL OFFICE
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber B, 763rd & 764th Meetings (AM & PM)
EXPERTS OF ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE CRITICIZE MALDIVES OVER PROHIBITION
ON WOMEN HOLDING TOP POLITICAL, JUDICIAL OFFICE
Government Considering Removal of Ban, Says Gender Minister
The Maldives Minister of Gender and Family, Aishath Mohamed Didi, faced tough criticism today over her country’s ban on the election of women to the presidency and vice-presidency, describing the prohibition as “odd” and “an anachronism” as she presented the island nation’s combined second and third periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
One expert said Luxembourg was the only other country with such a prohibition, but it was a monarchy where the Head of State, regardless of gender, had little political power, whereas the opposite was true of the Maldives President. The ban merely reinforced gender stereotypes and justified discrimination on the basis of gender.
Echoing that sentiment, another expert noted that Islamic countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh had elected female leaders, pointing out that neither Sharia nor the Koran prohibited women from holding political office. The Maldives’ next country report should show that the country’s reservations regarding political and public life, as well as marriage and family life, had been lifted.
In her response on that issue, the Minister said the Government was considering the withdrawal of the reservations and had proposed to remove the constitutional provision barring women from holding the country’s highest political office. Committee members were invited to discuss the matter with Maldives legislators and to push for those changes before the nation’s Parliament.
She said there was a provision for a quota permitting the President to appoint eight parliamentarians, including four women and four men, adding that she had advocated for the quota as a necessary temporary measure but had met resistance, with political factions claiming that women were not fit to hold the presidency, ministerial or parliamentary positions. Others claimed that quotas discriminated against men.
Other questions discussed today focused on why women could not become judges, and the level at which debate was taking place to change that; the legal implications of gender discrimination in the absence of a women’s rights law; and the changing mandate of the high-level Gender Equality Council.
The Minister said the question of eliminating the gender barrier in the judiciary was under consideration by ministers and judges. Debate was also ongoing at the community level and in the media, according to another delegate. The Justice Minister had announced the Government’s intention to appoint female judges under the mandate of the Judicial Service Commission.
However, the Minister acknowledged that judges and magistrates had not been sensitized to gender issues, partly because their heavy case loads made it difficult for them to participate in programmes run by the Ministry of Gender and Family. New training starting in late January could include training on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 23 January, to consider Austria’s sixth periodic report.
Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to consider the second and third periodic reports of the Maldives.
Introduction of Reports
The Maldives delegation was headed by Aishath Mohamed Didi, Minister for Gender and Family and included: Mohamed Latheef, Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations; Maana Rafiu, Director-General, Ministry of Gender and Family; Mazeena Jameel, Director, Child and Family Protection Authority, Ministry of Gender and Family; Mohamed Anil, Director, Attorney-General’s Office; Aisha Shujune Muhammad, Deputy Director of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Justice; and Aminath Shabeena, Third Secretary, Permanent Mission of the Maldives to the United Nations.
AISHATH MOHAMED DIDI, Minister for Gender and Family, told the Committee that her country’s Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, announced in 2006, represented a new drive to pursue the advancement of women’s rights. Since the submission of its initial report in 2000, the Cabinet had endorsed the Maldives Gender Policy. The country had acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention in March 2006 and held a regional meeting to create awareness of that instrument in November.
The Government was considering the withdrawal of reservations to articles 7a and 16, and had proposed to remove a constitutional provision barring women from holding the country’s highest political office, she said. New family law regulations had limited the jurisdiction of courts over the solemnization of marriage to children entering puberty, requiring the courts to seek advice from the Child and Family Protection Authority on such matters. The National Gender Policy had given public agencies the impetus to uphold gender equality, while the National Media Policy and National Disability Policy specifically included gender-sensitive and gender equality provisions.
Among additional measures to eliminate discrimination against women was a proposal sent to the Constitutional Assembly that included a provision on non-discrimination on the basis of sex, she said. The Human Rights Commission Act emphasized the rights of women and provided mechanisms for seeking redress in cases of violations. All recent legislation submitted to the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, provided for non-discrimination on the grounds of sex, while the Labour and Civil Service Bills outlined provisions for equal pay for equal work, equal rights for men and women, and paid parental leave, among other things.
She admitted that some measures to accelerate women’s development had not been successful, noting that the Gender Management System had not been as effective as initially envisaged. The Gender Equality Council had ceased to function, due in part to the high profile of its members. Institutional weakness and a lack of an effective monitoring mechanism accounted for the slow implementation of the National Plan of Action on Gender. Although efforts to bring women into Parliament through the constitutional reform process had been rejected on the grounds that they discriminated against men, more women had contested in the last parliamentary elections. While gender equality advocacy work had not significantly increased the number of women in traditionally male fields, two women had been appointed to diplomatic missions and many were to be trained as judges.
On gender stereotyping and prejudice, she said a proposal to secure a quota for women in the legislature had failed in the Constitutional Assembly. However, the Ministry of Gender and Family planned to propose a provision for a specified percentage of seats to be held for women. A study on the exploitation of women and children in prostitution was planned for 2007 and strategies would be formed on the basis of its findings. Moreover, the Ministry’s Study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences, based on the World Health Organization’s Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women had found that one in five women aged 15-49 had reported some form of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and that one in nine had experienced severe physical violence.
The study showed a need to increase the quality of health and social services for women, she concluded. Key actions to address the issues it had unearthed included the publication of its findings, submission to Parliament of a bill on women’s rights, amendment of the Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child so as to harmonize it with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and amendment of the Family Law, among other measures.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked about the Government’s efforts to withdraw reservations to articles 7 and 16 of the Convention, and to remove from article 34 of the Maldives Constitution, the gender bar prohibiting women from becoming President or Vice-President. What was being done to incorporate the Convention into domestic legislation, and had judges and law enforcement been trained in its provisions?
She also asked about the absence of women judges and the time frame for adopting draft laws pertaining to women’s rights. Why had it taken so long to change the mandate of the Gender Equality Council and what were its prospects for success? Could the delegation provide specifics on the technical, human and financial resources of the National Plan of Action? What was the budget of the Ministry of Gender and Family compared to other ministries?
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked about steps to incorporate the Convention into domestic law, the removal of the constitutional provision barring women from the highest political office and the inclusion of discrimination, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, in the draft law on women’s rights.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked why the name of the Ministry of Gender and Family had been changed and whether women’s affairs were distributed among various ministries. What was the Ministry’s structure and did it have departments charged specifically with gender equality and with applying the Convention to national policies and programmes? What relationship did the Ministry have with other ministries and what were its strengths and weaknesses?
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked about the Gender Equality Council’s lack of success and whether it was due to a lack of resources. Had implementation of the high-level Council’s work been assigned to a technical committee due to a lack of high-level political will? What was the relationship between the Ministry of Gender and Family and the Human Rights Commission? What role did non-governmental organizations play in the Ministry’s work?
Committee Chairwoman DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked about plans to adopt temporary special measures, as called for by the Committee in general recommendation 25, and stressed the importance of such measures as quotas.
Regarding application of the Convention, a delegate said international laws must be incorporated into domestic legislation before they became operational. The country was in the process of harmonizing and incorporating the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law.
With respect to the judiciary, another delegate said the Maldives had a male-dominated judicial system and was engaged in debate over whether to allow women to serve as judges. The Ministry of Gender and Family advocated allowing women judges and was studying Islamic jurisprudence with the hope that they would be allowed on the bench in the near future.
On removing the bar against women presidents and vice-presidents, she said the President had proposed lifting it as part of a Constitutional amendment. As for withdrawing the reservations on articles 7 and 16 of the Convention, it was difficult to give an exact time frame.
Turning to the Ministry’s budget, she said the current one was highest ever. In the past, the funding of women’s issues had been part of the social security budget and the Ministry had depended on resources from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other outside partners. It now had a separate budget for gender and family programming, though it still lacked technical resources.
Regarding inclusion of the Convention’s definition of discrimination in the draft law on women’s rights, another delegate said the instrument was indeed used in defining equality and discrimination.
Another delegate said the Maldives Constitution had an equality provision and planned to incorporate the Convention’s principles into domestic legislation. The definition of equality would be incorporated into the draft law on women’s rights but not the Constitution.
With respect to the Ministry’s name change, another delegate said the change from “women” to “gender and family” was intended to broaden the scope of its work to encompass both women’s and men’s rights. Social security issues now fell under the jurisdiction of the Labour Ministry.
On the Ministry’s structure, the Minister said she had changed its name, reviewed its mandate and created a section to monitor the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as their respective Optional Protocols. Further, Ministry staff had gathered national statistics on health, education and other sectors in order to improve planning and research. Findings on violence against women that had been made public revealed disturbing trends and much of the public were reluctant to accept them.
Concerning the Ministry’s relationship with other ministries, she said it worked closely with the Ministry of Planning and Development to ensure that gender was a cross-cutting theme in the National Plan of Action. It also collaborated closely with the National Council for Children, which comprised 16 or 17 focal points from various ministries. Gender disaggregated data had been incorporated into the National Census for the first time and the results of the 2005 Census would include that breakdown. In the past, the Convention could not be implemented across economic sectors due to the lack of national gender policies.
As for the Gender Equality Council, she said its high-level composition made it difficult to achieve a quorum at meetings of Deputy Ministers and Ministers. There was a proposal to set up a 15-member Committee to be chaired by the President. The Council itself had been turned into a policy-level decision-making body and its policies would be implemented by a Technical Committee representing most Government agencies and affiliated organizations, with the aim of implementing the Gender Management System through that body.
She said the Human Rights Commission had been formally created in late 2006 through an Act of Parliament and had held two meetings thus far. The delegation had asked the Commission for data on the number of gender discrimination cases filed, but that information was not available.
Another delegate said the role of non-governmental organizations in ministerial decision-making required more work, adding that those working on human, women’s and children’s rights were not adequately incorporated. There were plans to review women’s committees to determine whether they should become non-governmental organizations.
On special measures, another delegate said the Government was trying to remove reservations on articles 7 and 16. Regarding article 16, specific areas required work, including amendment of the Family Law, which in turn, needed parliamentary backing. A review of the Family Law would also be conducted to ensure adherence to the Convention.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked at what level the debate on women judges and associated problems was taking place. Were judges appointed by the President or the Minister for Justice?
Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked who would monitor the gender equality components of the Seventh Development Plan and whether development indicators were ready to be shared.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairwoman and expert from Croatia, asked about the time frame for incorporating the Convention into domestic law and whether a title had been created for the law on women’s rights. Would it be called the Law on Gender Equality?
Ms. DIDI said the debate on women judges was being conducted at the ministerial level and among judges.
Another delegate said the Justice Minister had announced the Government’s intention to appoint female judges under the mandate of the Judicial Service Commission. The debate was continuing at the community level and public opinion on that issue was strong. Women had been sent for training as judges and there would be new training opportunities this year. The issue was also being debated in the media, though general opinion had not been positive.
As for the Seventh National Development Plan, that was monitored by the Ministry of Planning and the relevant sectors, which conducted annual and bi-term reviews, the Committee heard. Development indicators had been identified and would be shared with the Committee through email.
Another delegate said no name had been chosen for women’s rights legislation. New laws were being drafted and the Government would seek recommendations from non-governmental organizations and the relevant economic sectors before their submission to Parliament later this year.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, discussing the State’s responsibility to challenge stereotypes, congratulated the Maldives on its commitment and asked whether a study on knowledge, attitude and behaviour had been conducted. If so, what were the results and were follow-up actions being taken?
Noting that stereotypes were reflected in the Family Law, academic areas, professional choices and political life, she urged real training for politicians, parliamentarians and decision-makers. The Media Policy’s incorporation of gender issues was a positive step and revisions to teaching materials could also be reviewed. While it was true that behaviour change took time, change must be hastened.
TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, discussing article 16, said that any Government failure to prohibit polygamy constituted a violation of the Convention.
Ms. CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, noted that no studies had been conducted on trafficking, the definition of which must be made clear and understood by all. Many papers centred on prostitution, but trafficking also included marriage brokerage, among other things. Further, it appeared that prostitutes were being condemned though they could also be victims. It was important to bring perpetrators to justice.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, asked why there had been only minimal cooperation with non-governmental organizations in drafting the report and expressed support for the development of legislation on trafficking and prostitution.
Noting that the Maldives was a tourist destination with the potential for sex tourism, she asked whether action was being taken to prevent it, particularly in hotels. Were measures in place to warn women leaving the country about promises of employment and the risks of trafficking? With no specialized police services to track trafficking, was there aid for those wishing to escape?
Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said violence against women was often “silent” and noted the high levels of child sexual abuse and expressed concern over the lack of legal measures on that issue. Given the increase in the number of divorces due to domestic violence, why was there no law covering domestic violence? Why was legal representation not permitted? The underreporting of violence against women, the lack of laws, enforcement and support systems for victims would escalate crime in violation of the Convention. A massive media campaign was needed to address attitudes towards women and punish perpetrators.
Minister DIDI said no survey had been conducted on stereotypes and conceded that sensitization alone would not be adequate. The scattered nature of the 1,200 islands comprising the Maldives made analysis of any programme a challenge as most of the funds allocated were often needed for transport.
On education issues, she said the Maldives had a small gender gap in school enrolment, but, at higher levels, boys gained more scholarships. Discussion was taking place on that issue and strategies had recently been developed to increase access to education for girls in their homes.
Addressing trafficking, she said much work was needed for the Maldives’ 300,000 people. The capital city had become the most densely populated piece of land in the world, thanks in part to a new social phenomenon of expatriate workers arriving to work in the construction sector, which had opened the door to social problems that had not existed in the past.
Regarding sex tourism, she said the policy separating tourists and local communities was quickly becoming outdated and changes were needed. The Government had consulted with UNICEF and was looking into the development of a Code of Ethics for tourist operators.
On incorporating non-governmental organizations into policy decision-making, she said the country did not have enough non-governmental organizations working for women’s and children’s rights and that the island women’s committees were like arms of the Ministry. There were plans to strengthen those committees and turn them into non-governmental organizations.
Regarding violence against women and child sex abuse, the Government had begun establishing multisectoral systems and hoped to develop shelters for women and children on 11 atolls by year-end. Such shelters were a completely new endeavour for the Maldives. The Government also hoped to have services on the islands for child victims of violence.
Another delegate added that the law on protection of the rights of the child, created in 1991, was deficient in some areas. To address emerging issues, the Government was amending it, especially in the area of trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. The Government was also working on child protection procedures, but the fact that the relevant agencies could not develop internal protocols was a problem.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked whether there was a law that addressed domestic violence.
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairwoman and expert from Croatia, asked about plans to establish shelters for women victims of violence. Would there be a specific law on domestic violence, in line with recommendation 19? Were there plans to criminalize marital rape?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked whether domestic violence could be addressed in the Criminal Code. If so, were cases being reported? On the judicial system, did the Maldives have magistrates’ courts and, if so, were there women magistrates? If not, to what extent was the judiciary gender-sensitive on issues of violence against women?
Ms. DIDI, responding to the question on shelters, said the strategy to create shelters for women and children had been developed.
Another delegate said violence against women was deemed an offence under the existing Penal Code, but marital rape was not. A new Penal Code submitted recently would consider marital rape an offence and the Government was working on legislation specifically for domestic violence.
The Maldives did have magistrates, the same delegate said, noting that the country also had a Court of First Instance organized into civil, family and juvenile divisions. While judges and magistrates were not gender-sensitive, due in part to their heavy case loads, it was difficult for them to attend Ministry of Gender programmes. New training starting in late January could include training on the Convention.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, said the ban on women in political office should be removed entirely, adding that provisions to protect women from sexual exploitation needed immediate attention. Why was there discussion about allowing female judges because of Islamic law while other Muslim countries had female judges? The Maldives should follow suit.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked if there was a time frame for withdrawing the reservation to article 7. Was the Government taking steps to increase the number of women in political posts, particularly in rural areas? Was it engaged in awareness-raising and education to change gender stereotypes? Why had Parliament vetoed proposals put forth by women parliamentarians on special temporary measures, and what was being done to adopt such measures? Were there initiatives to train women judges?
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted that neither Sharia nor the Koran prohibited women from being judges, ambassadors or from holding other political posts, and requested data on the number of women elected to political posts. There had been women Heads of State and Government in Pakistan and Bangladesh and there was no justification for claiming that the Maldives, as an Islamic State, could not allow women to hold political office. Its next report should show that the reservations to articles 7 and 16 had been lifted and that lifting was not, in fact, a violation of Sharia.
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said the ban of women holding the presidency and vice-presidency was an odd anachronism, noting that Luxembourg was the only other country in the world upholding such. However, Luxembourg was a monarchy that had no real political power whereas the President of the Maldives did. The ban reinforced gender stereotypes in general and the extension of patriarchal law justified discrimination. Did people in the Maldives not think it was backward that women could not become judges?
Ms. GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, requested statistics on women in professional posts and asked how many women held international political posts as compared to men. What steps were being taken and what targets were being set to put women in international posts?
Regarding temporary special measures, the Minister said there was a quota of eight parliamentarians from which the President appointed four women and four men. The concern was that the new draft Constitution would not set a quota for the President in the new Parliament. Political parties disagreed over whether a quota should be assigned.
Noting that she had advocated for the quota as a necessary temporary measure, she said she had met resistance, with one political faction claiming that women were not fit to be presidents, ministers or parliamentarians. Another faction said quotas discriminated against men. The proposal to establish quotas had been defeated by three votes and the Ministry had requested the Speaker to hold gender-sensitivity workshops for parliamentarians.
Regarding statistics on international-level appointments for women, she said that information was not immediately available. Until recently the Maldives had not had many embassies or foreign councils and it would take time to appoint women to international posts. That would likely involve training and the Ministry would provide information on the matter at a later date.
Another delegate said judges and magistrates were appointed by the Judicial Service Commission, which had recently begun functioning. Efforts were under way to allow women to serve as judges.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, suggested that the delegation replace quotas for women with minimum percentages for both sexes, a change in phraseology that had been effective in other countries. Would that new wording be acceptable to Maldives officials who rejected quotas?
Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked if the Maldives had set targets to achieve the Beijing Platform of Action.
The Minister said the Maldives needed more lobbying and activism by non-governmental organizations to push Parliament and other branches of Government to implement the Convention and adopt women’s rights legislation.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
HAZEL GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, asked whether the Committee could receive further details at a later stage on the training of judges. Which programmes would be compulsory?
Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, requested data on the level of education for women in professional posts and asked whether early marriage led girls to drop out of high school. What measures were taken to encourage girls to pursue careers in fields that did not traditionally employ women? Calling for more scholarships for girls, she asked what steps were taken to promote girls’ education in rural areas.
Ms. GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, sought clarification regarding the country report data on girls’ school enrolment, scholarships for girls and women in traditionally male-dominated occupations. Was the dropout rate among girls due to a lack of boarding schools?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked how the Government addressed discriminatory practices by employers in the absence of a Labour Code. Did the Labour Bill include provisions on training, health, safety and social security protection? Was there any legal provision in the Penal Code to address sexual harassment? What steps had been taken to ensure women’s equal access to jobs in tourism? Did the Maldives have a labour inspectorate, and were there plans to raise wages in the child care and health care sectors?
Addressing school enrolment, the Minister said that, according to the Ministry of Education, the dropout rate in secondary school was higher for boys than for girls. There was no gender gap in grade school enrolment and girls had higher primary school achievement levels. Teachers received high salaries. In addition, the Government had launched a strategy whereby it provided free secondary education to pupils in schools with at least 100 children enrolled. That strategy was important in ensuring that those in less populous areas obtained a good secondary education. Indeed there was a gender gap in higher education. Forty-eight per cent of students studying tourism were girls. Regarding tourism jobs, women did not seek employment at tourist resorts often due to their isolation and inappropriate sleeping accommodations. Highly paid waiter and cook jobs were usually filled by men.
Another delegate said a bill had been submitted to Parliament in February 2006, which, if enacted, would establish labour tribunals and trade unions for the first time. The bill had been debated and found consensus among all parliamentarians. Approval was expected by year’s end. However, it did not cover sexual harassment. Certain established regulations dealt with sexual discrimination, but they required more work. Such matters were dealt with through the Human Rights Commission and the Public Rights Bureau, but few people brought cases before them.
Regarding scholarships, another delegate said many were awarded on the basis of merit. Findings showed that boys performed better than girls and therefore were awarded more scholarships.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if pregnant girls were allowed to return to school, and if not, whether that policy would be changed to allow them to do so, given the importance of education in the advancement of women.
Ms. GUMEDE SHELTON, expert from South Africa, reiterated her questions regarding the percentage of undergraduate scholarships awarded and asked whether that percentage was taken from a pool of girls or of eligible people. What career guidance initiatives were available to women? Were such Government initiatives current or were they planned for the future?
Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked whether gender and reproductive health issues were included in secondary education curricula. What was the reason for the higher drop out rate among boys?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked about Government efforts to motivate women to take up non-traditional jobs, and about the lack of a sexual-harassment provision in the Labour Bill. Why did the Government believe it would be more appropriate to include it in separate legislation? Given the lack of laws, what cases were brought to court to address discriminatory employment practices?
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, Committee Chairwoman and expert from Croatia, seeking information about maternity leave, asked whether it was available to all employed women, including those on temporary contracts. Had material on removing stereotypes been integrated into teaching curricula?
Minister DIDI said pregnant girls did not have the opportunity to return to school as the Law on the Rights of the Child stipulated that, once a child had given birth, that child had become an adult. That stipulation was a concern, particularly in cases of rape, and such girls needed another chance at education.
Regarding the 39 per cent of girls awarded undergraduate scholarships, she said they were chosen from a pool of both males and females. That percentage could change as scholarships were based on merit. The Ministry’s request for a quota for girls had been rejected on the grounds that decisions were merit-based. As for the higher drop out rate among boys, boys often sought jobs in the tourism sector. The new Labour Law was attempting to reduce that trend as such jobs often did not provide safe conditions. Most resorts would hire children aged 16 and older.
On temporary contracts, she said there had been instances in which maternity leave had not been given to Government staff on temporary contracts, and she had expressed to the President the need to accord women in those positions the same rights as other women. However, measures safeguarding equal pay for equal work, irrespective of gender, were in place.
Regarding sexual harassment, another delegate said it was not permitted under the Penal Code and would also be considered an offence under the proposed Labour Bill. A few sexual harassment cases had been sent to the Gender Ministry, but there was a need for a more practical way to seek redress. Hopefully, labour tribunals and trade unions would help create the proper atmosphere.
Another delegate, addressing maternity leave, said that, pending adoption of the Labour Bill, women were entitled to 45 days maternity leave under an existing regulation. On diversification of employment opportunities, the “Yes Campaign” reserved 40 per cent of training opportunities for women.
Turning to higher education curricula, another delegate said reproductive health was not covered, though there were after-school hours for students to discuss HIV/AIDS and other issues. In addition, the Ministry of Health had developed special programmes and a gender review on all education materials that would be conducted in 2007.
The Minister added that, in grades 6 and 7, social studies and other classes would cover HIV/AIDS. In secondary schools, the UNFPA was running a life skills programme encompassing gender and reproductive health issues. However, that programme was not available to every child or across the country.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked what programmes were in place to improve nutrition in anaemic women. Was drug addiction a big problem and was it related to tourism? Was sex education offered in schools, and if not, did that result in teenage pregnancy? How prevalent were illegal abortions and to what extent were unwed pregnant girls and mothers ostracized?
Ms TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how many health care centres the Maldives had, what kind of health care services were available to rural women and what they cost. What steps were taken to ensure easily affordable and available health care in order to decrease the maternal mortality rate? Would family planning be available to unmarried people in the future? Did rural women continue to need their husbands’ consent to use contraceptives, and were pregnant unmarried girls still subjected to the medieval practice of flogging?
Minister DIDI said all the least populated islands had a health post staffed with a nurse and trained midwife, while low to moderately populated islands had health centres with at least one doctor. Moderately populated islands had a hospital and highly populated ones had regional hospitals.
Regarding nutrition strategy for anaemic women, she said the Department of Public Health and UNICEF had formed a partnership to create a strategy.
Drug addiction was indeed a widespread problem throughout all the islands but it was not related to tourism, she said, noting that most drugs were imported from Sri Lanka. The Government approached drug addiction mainly as a health concern and had recently reviewed its drug rehabilitation programme.
She said sex education was not taught in schools. On sexual harassment, the Government and UNICEF would soon introduce the “No, Go, Tell” programme, encouraging girls to say no, to go away and to tell somebody about unwanted sexual advances.
Efforts were under way to legalize abortion in cases of rape and the matter had been brought before the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, she said, noting that it had not been well received and that she was working with the Attorney-General’s Office to push for legalized abortion for sexually abused girls. Discussions were under way on administering the “morning after pill” to abused girls. The pill was not considered abortion but a preventive measure. It would be difficult to legalize abortion for married people over the age of 18, but it was permitted when the pregnant woman’s health was at risk.
On rural versus urban health care, she said services were limited on islands with less than 500 people and a wider range of services was available in large hospitals. All services in health posts and health centres were free. There were no helicopter ambulances available on the islands but in some cases pregnant women with life-threatening conditions had been flown to large hospitals for treatment.
Regarding the lack of family planning for unmarried people, she said the country was deeply divided over the right of single people to such services. In the past, people had been required to show marriage certificates at pharmacies before receiving contraceptives, a practice that was still required by law but not enforced in practice. Further work and discussion was needed to reassess family planning policies. The Ministry had held discussions with UNICEF on the flogging of sexually active unmarried women.
Another delegate added that people convicted of conducting extramarital sexual relationships, including girls under 18, could be sentenced to flogging, but the courts administered sentencing at their discretion. Some island courts had carried out floggings but most did not. Greater efforts were needed to abolish the practice.
Judges had been given new sentencing guidelines, another delegate said. For the first time, officials were trying to introduce alternative punishments to replace flogging, such as detention or supervision. Family planning was not available for unmarried people since pre-marital sex was considered an offence. That created a difficult, challenging situation for women.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
Ms. BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, asked if the Maldives had day-care centres and hostels in rural areas. How many hospitals had female directors? Was the phenomenon of mail order brides prevalent in rural areas?
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked whether discrimination existed regarding nutrition among boys and girls, particularly within families. On sex education, could a different approach be taken among teachers, doctors and others at the grass-roots level?
Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that, regarding equal pay for equal work, a report by a non-governmental organization contradicted the report. Could the delegation address the issue of equal work for equal value? Regarding flogging and banishment to outer islands, for what offences were such sentences applicable? Were men subjected to flogging or extra-marital offences?
Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked whether contraceptives were free. Also, some information on maternal deaths attributed them to unsafe abortions in 1997-2002. What measures would be taken to prevent such deaths?
On day-care centres, the Minister said that was a new concept in the Maldives and the country had only two, both located in the capital. Extended families normally lived together and the mother looked after the children. The need for the centres was not seen on a country-wide level.
Another delegate said a joint survey with the UNFPA showed a lack of desire for the centres, mainly over concerns about leaving children with strangers.
Turning to the issue of bribes for women and girls, the Minister said more research was needed as that was not common in Maldives culture. People were married because they wished to be and arranged marriage was not common. Hesitancy to discuss sex education could perhaps be attributed to the fact that sex outside marriage was a crime.
On job vacancies, she said there were many instances of gender biases and her Ministry regularly conducted “sensitivity work”, monitoring newspapers and encouraging companies to change their policies. However, the Government could not do anything legally to change practices.
Turning to family planning devices, she said some, including condoms, were free and others were expensive. To prevent maternal deaths, the Government had put together equipment, resources and strong personnel training, particularly for nurses in the field of gynaecology and obstetrics.
Another delegate said with respect to flogging that punishment for sex outside marriage was applied to both men and women. Banishment was applied to many offences, but the new Penal Code would eliminate those punishments.
Proposed new legislation on equal pay for equal work addressed that issue, according to another delegate.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, pointed out that no details had been given regarding the reservations to article 16 and asked the Minister to clarify which paragraphs had provoked reservations. Page 28 of the report noted that the Family Code was being reviewed. Was the marriageable age the same for boys and girls? When marriage was consummated, did a woman require a guardian and was one provided by the Government? If so, that was a violation of the Convention. Once marriage took place, was a dowry paid to the bride? Was there a marriage contract? Could a woman seek a divorce because of her husband’s wish to engage in polygamy?
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about the timeline required to amend the Family Law. Would women’s groups be consulted? Would there be a domestic violence provision, given that the Maldives had no domestic violence legislation? Where custody of children was awarded to the wife, were there safety nets for her if the husband failed to pay child support? On counselling, how many trained counsellors were available? In cases of domestic violence, would personal protection be given to the wife and children?
The Minister said 18 years was the marriageable age for both boys and girls, though the Family Law stipulated that, under exceptional circumstances, those under that age could be married. Consummation required approval by the parent. After marriage, a dowry of about $1 or $2 was normally paid. There was also the possibility for a marriage contract.
She said there were special measures under the Family Law to make polygamous marriages more difficult. The Government was also reviewing article 16 very carefully to understand where there was a need to harmonize other laws. Separately, the Government was considering bringing domestic violence under the Family Law as separate legislation could take time to pass through Parliament.
Another delegate said the increase in requests for early marriages could be associated with a rise in Islamic extremism.
Turning to prenuptial agreements, another delegate said people could opt for them but few chose to do so, perhaps due to a lack of awareness. Such agreements could restrict polygamy.
Upon divorce, custody of children under age 7 was generally awarded to the mother, she said. Those over that age were allowed to decide with whom they wished to live. Child maintenance was a nominal sum and often difficult to obtain. Most women did not ask for it. On counselling, the courts did not have counsellors but there had been talk of outsourcing that function to professional counselling services.
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