Complaining about a misogynistic and sexist president doesn’t seem unusual today, given the number of such leaders around the world. But many will be concerned when they see a headline that reads, “A 15-year-old rape victim sentenced to flogging” or “Woman sentenced to death by stoning” or even “Female parliamentarian spat on by a male counterpart on the parliament floor”.
Unfortunately, these are true stories from the Maldives, each printed following the 2012 coup d’etat which overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected president and subsequently brought to power President Abdulla Yameen.
Since seizing power, Yameen has been subject to allegations of corruption—including a plot to launder up to $1.5 billion through the Maldivian central bank—and eroding the rule of law. He has also become increasingly notorious for human rights abuses and the persecution of women. For him and his allies, these things go hand in hand, and the politicians implicated in corruption are often those most vicious in their attacks on women.
This stands in contrast to the first democratic president, Mohamed Nasheed, who made progress towards empowering women by introducting free healthcare services and financial assistance to single mothers, as well as passing a landmark domestic violence Bill aimed at providing female victims emergency protection and easing a woman’s ability to obtain a divorce. Nasheed, while in office, openly spoke against practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, and public flogging of women for adultery.
Thus, it was not surprising that women were among the most visible participants during the protests following the coup, the largest in the country’s history, calling for the restoration of democracy. They were confronted with water cannons, batons, pepper spray and subjected to targeted assault by the police.