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Gender-Based Violence during COVID-19 Pandemic in the Maldives: An Analysis of Reported Cases

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Executive Summary

Gender based violence (GBV), including domestic violence (DV) and violence against women (VAW) in particular, is indicative of deep-rooted gender inequalities that is predominant in most societies, including Maldives. In most countries across the world, including the Maldives, 1 in 3 women experience some form of violence which is intensified by their gender. VAW results in women’s physical and psychological distress and imperils the autonomy of women to claim and to enjoy their human rights. During the COVID-19 pandemic, occurrence of GBV has been reported as increasing throughout the world, especially in developing countries such as the Maldives. The current study explores the prevalence of GBV during the pandemic-related lockdown period in the Maldives (January 2020 to September 2020).

The purpose of this study is to create an evidence based roadmap for reorienting the existing GBV/DV programme to encompass a human rights-based and survivor-centred approach. As such, the study will also inform the design and delivery of the national GBV/DV response programme, including the campaign to change public perceptions and attitudes towards GBV/DV. In particular, this study is designed to:

  1. Provide a desk review of relevant national strategies and legislation on GBV/DV and other available guidelines on the GBV/DV programme in the Maldives.

  2. Analyse cases and administrative records of GBV/DV-related issues reported during January to September 2020 to MoGFSS/FPA.

  3. Determine the current service and communication gaps, covering urban and rural settings, and inform suitable communication preferences to address gaps and myths regarding GBV/DV.

This study utilised a mixed-method approach included collection of qualitative data through key informant interviews (relevant authorities) and gathering of quantitative data from the reported cases from January to September 2020, available from MoGFSS and FPA. The document analysis revealed that in the Maldives, while there exists a good legal framework, which include Gender Equality Act (Law no. 18/2016), Domestic Violence Prevention Act (Law no. 3/2012), Prevention of Sexual Abuse and Harassment Act (Law no: 16/2014), and Sexual Offences Act (Law no: 17/2014), and related policies to promote gender equality and address GBV/DV, both their implementation and awareness amongst the public are limited. Further, the traditional patriarchal system ingrained in Maldivian society remains powerful, negatively impacting women's lives as these cultural and social norms tend to be a basis for GBV/DV against women. According to this study, female adolescents are more likely to suffer from GBV/DV than their male counterparts. Further, during the lockdown period, women aged between 19 to 40 years were more than four times more likely to report as a survivor of GBV/DV than their male counterparts. This study has shown that the risk of violence have been magnified during the lockdown period, when survivors had to live in close proximity to their perpetrators or when families experienced financial strain. Finally, public’s awareness of laws and the availability of services are limited, and lockdown situations had further negatively impacted communication about both these services and how survivors may seek help from the respective institutions.

Based on these findings, we make five practical recommendations as a way forward in mitigating GBV/DV in the country, which are:

  1. Make available comprehensive sexuality education both within and outside schools;

  2. Establish women’s economic empowerment as a strategy for prevention of GBV;

  3. Change social norms that perpetuate violence against women and children;

  4. Ensure that adequate services for the rehabilitation of perpetrators are introduced and are made accessible at all levels; and

  5. Strengthen the national capacity to use and analyse data for policy advocacy