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Maldives: Bridge gender gaps to accelerate progress, say UN experts

MALE/GENEVA (22 September 2022) –UN experts applauded the Maldives’ strong commitment to gender equality in law and policy, which they would like to see translated into practice.The Maldives is at a tipping point as a fragile democracy, in the face of rising religious fundamentalism that is holding back women and girls and impeding the achievement of gender equality.

“If the Maldives is to develop and prosper as a nation, it must harness the potential of women and girls rather than restrict them by societal perceptions and rules that relegate them to subordinate roles,” the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls said in a statement at the end of a 12-day visit to the country.

“The Maldives has a rich cultural history where matriarchy once flourished, and women widely held positions of power. However, the propagation of religious conservatism imposes the subordination of women and questions their competence to participate in public life.”

The experts welcomed new laws and recent institutional measures focusing on gender equality but said long-standing provisions are still discriminatory and punitive, denying women and girls full human rights and freedoms. Gender-based violence is widely prevalent and tolerated, they said. Survivors face many barriers in access to justice and remedies, and perpetrators enjoy impunity.

While the experts praised the Maldives for its outstanding leadership in the global arena to address the deadly threats posed by climate change, they called for the integration of a gender perspective in the national response.The experts said that development projects for infrastructure and tourism have been crucial for the advancement and security of all Maldivians. However, when these are designed and implemented, women and girls are often left behind.

“Women and girls have a right to be free and to be heard and, above all, they are entitled to be equal partners in development and to contribute to the Maldives’ future through active participation in all spheres of life.”

The experts expressed concern that fundamentalist ideologies in the Maldives encourage reprisals against those standing up for equality, freedom and human rights

“Women human rights defenders are being targeted and face misogynistic and sexist attacks,” the experts said. The Working Group’s recommendations included calling for speedy implementation and resourcing of laws, policies and institutions, combined with a counter narrative that empowers women and girls as equal citizens and bearers of human rights.

“The Government must do more to address the root causes and drivers of sex and gender-based discrimination, which include belief systems that deem women as inferior and practices that deny their autonomy and agency,” the experts said.

The Working Group met national and local authorities, women and girls, civil society organizations, journalists, elected women leaders, UN entities and other international stakeholders, and visited schools, health and care facilities, prison, in Male, Kulhudhuffushi, Maafushi, Maduvaree, and Guraidhoo.The Working Group will present its final report to the Human Rights Council in June 2023.

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