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'No space for women! Where should we go now?'

Shahudha Mohamed
12 July 2020, MVT 17:08
A photo taken during the JaagaEhNeh protest on Sunday. PHOTO: AHMED AWSHAN ILYAS/MIHAARU
Shahudha Mohamed
12 July 2020, MVT 17:08

Protestors gathered in front of Hotel Jen in capital Male' on Sunday, with a list of demands for state authorities and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Titled #JaagaEhNeh (which roughly translates to "there is no space"), the protest was aimed to hold perpetrators of rape and sexual assault accountable and to expedite the justice process for victims.

Organisers of the protest demanded for the state to guarantee the safety of women, convict perpetrators, fire state officials and political appointees accused of crimes, arrest and implement the law against abusers despite their political or social stature, allow media to report cases of sex crimes without influence, ensure the safety of women in workplaces, allow investigative committees to operate independently, reform the systems established to protect women, believe survivors, stop systematic abuse, and allocate funds from the state budget for social protection.

The protest was arranged amidst allegations that recently surfaced against multiple high level state officials, including a member of staff at the President’s Office.

“Fire the abusers”, “expedite investigations”, “stop politicising our bodies and freedom”, individuals at the demonstration chanted holding various signboards, highlighting that systematic abuse is also a form of abuse.

Protesters attempted to move the demonstration in front of Velaanaage, the office complex where several government institutions are located, but Maldives Police Service barricaded them in the narrow street adjacent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Despite various requests by organisers to continue forward with the peaceful protest, authorities did not allow the demonstrators to cross the barricade — an act that “proved how there was no space for women in this country”, protestors said.

Stating that women are abused in homes, in workplaces, on the road, in public and everywhere else, they asked, “Where should we go now?”

"We call for the government officials in positions of authority to come outside and listen to our demands", one of the protest organisers, Noorbaan Fahmy, called. "Justice should be served!"

Speaking at the demonstration, the editor of The Edition, Rae Munavvar, revealed that no action has yet been taken against the Secretary of Communications at the President's Office, Hassan Ismail, against whom she lodged a sexual harassment case at the police, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the President's Office.

Although authorities assure that investigations into the case are ongoing, Hassan Ismail still continues to serve at the same position under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

A photo taken during the JaagaEhNeh protest on Sunday. PHOTO: AHMED AWSHAN ILYAS/MIHAARU

"It has been six months, but there has been no progress on the case", she stated, speaking at the protest.

"He is still sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned room. Free to sexually harass more people. Don't let this happen!"

However, President Solih recently fired Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed over allegations of sexual assault raised by his female staff, after personally meeting with the victims and listening to their experience.

Participants of the protest drew parallels between the two cases, questioning why certain individuals were not sacked or, at the very least, suspended while they are under criminal investigations.

Towards the end of the protest, participants requested the police to allow each protester to walk to Velaanaage and place their signboards at the sidewalk and stairs of the institution.

Police agreed to let two participants at a time cross the barricade to place their signboards, but denied the opportunity for the rest of the participants after event organisers Rae Munavvar and Aryj Hussain set their signboards at Velaanaage's sidewalk.

Some commotion ensued with the lack of police cooperation in carrying out a peaceful protest, which resulted in participants scattering their signboards on the road in front of the barricade.

A photo taken during the JaagaEhNeh protest on Sunday. PHOTO: AHMED AWSHAN ILYAS/MIHAARU

However, the protest concluded without any violence or arrests.

Public ire continues to increase over the government's meagre record of arresting and convicting perpetrators of sexual offences despite several promises to support the rights of children and women.

Recently, a collective of gender equality advocates originating from Family Legal Clinic (FLC), Nufoshey and Uthema Maldives launched the #FundOurSafety initiative, voicing demands to declare rape and sexual offences as serious criminal offences and reallocate state funds for the protection of victims.

Meanwhile, the police have warned over increasing incidents of child sexual abuse, urging parents and guardians to be aware and report knowledge of any such information to the police's Family and Child Protection Wing at +960 3000600 or the Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services at 1412.