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Laying the groundwork for gender equality in the Maldives

Laying the groundwork for gender equality in the Maldives

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Published by ADBGAD
While Maldives ranks relatively high in education and health, and has reduced maternal and infant mortality rates, it scores poorly in political empowerment and economic opportunity for women. Although progressive legislation cannot by itself bring about gender equality, it can help to provide legitimacy for special programs and support to women. ADB is helping prepare a Gender Equity Law through its GDCF. Imrana Jalal, gender specialist, explains how the Support for Gender Equality Law Project will, among other things, legitimize the use of temporary special measures to promote gender equality, including promoting access to and limiting constraints to decent work for women.
While Maldives ranks relatively high in education and health, and has reduced maternal and infant mortality rates, it scores poorly in political empowerment and economic opportunity for women. Although progressive legislation cannot by itself bring about gender equality, it can help to provide legitimacy for special programs and support to women. ADB is helping prepare a Gender Equity Law through its GDCF. Imrana Jalal, gender specialist, explains how the Support for Gender Equality Law Project will, among other things, legitimize the use of temporary special measures to promote gender equality, including promoting access to and limiting constraints to decent work for women.

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Published by: ADBGAD on Dec 11, 2012
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12/11/2012

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The e-Newsletter of the Gender Network
 
December 2012 | Vol. 6, No. 3
Laying the Groundwork for Gender Equality in theMaldives
By Imrana Jalal
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 The Maldives is synonymous with paradise: a double chain of 26 atolls in the IndianOcean, its white beaches and clear waters are known as a playground of the world’swealthy.But for many women living in the Maldives, there’s still a long way to go to reachUtopia.While Maldives ranks relatively high in education and health, and has reducedmaternal mortality and infant mortality rates, it scores poorly in politicalempowerment and economic opportunity for women. Challenges remain in theareas of maternal and child nutrition, educational attainment, vocational education,higher education and gender-based violence.In recent years gender inequality appears to have diminished in the Maldives.Maldives’ Gender Inequality Index (GII) value is low at 0.320, ranking it 52 out of 146 countries in the 2011 index. Only 6.5% of parliamentary seats are held bywomen, and female participation in the labor market is 57.1 per cent compared to77% for men.Worse, civil society groups have reported significantly increasing restrictions onwomen’s dress, mobility, autonomy, forms of employment, voice and ability tomake independent decisions.In addition, preliminary results of a 2006 Minister of Gender and Family survey onviolence against women showed that one in three women in the Maldives betweenthe ages of 16 and 45 had experienced physical or sexual violence at some point intheir lives.Challenges also exist in women’s participation in decision-making, with womenunder-represented in local councils and the national legislature (Majlis), and policymaking positions in government.
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Senior Gender Specialist, ADB
 
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Gender segregation in the labor market
The economy of the Maldives relies mainly on tourism, andpresents significant economic opportunities for women, yet only4% of tourism employees are women. Hospitality schools areoverwhelmingly dominated by male students. Women lack basicfreedoms, including mobility, and autonomy to make personaldecisions regarding employment.Women’s participation in the labor force remains one of the main challenges forgender equality in the Maldives. While the government is encouraging women’sgreater economic participation in the formal labor market, it appears that societycontinues to prescribe a predominantly domestic role for women.This lack of opportunity is particularly concerning considering Maldives has one of the highest rates of female-headed households in the world, at 35% in 2010, dueto high divorce rates and because many men leave their homes and family to workas fisherfolk or in the tourism sector. Although women’s participation in theagriculture sector is high -- mainly as a result of the greater numbers of menworking away from their home islands, and the significantly high rates of divorce --almost a quarter of female-headed households have no income-earner, with only21% of female household heads economically active in the week preceding the2006 census.Women’s domestic work burden is also high, especially since the average householdsize is large (6.6 nationally, but 8 in Malé) with on average three children to carefor.
Commitment to Change
The Government of the Maldives has shown positive commitments to advancinggender equality, ratifying the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but in the 13 years since the Maldives acceded toCEDAW, legislation, policies and practices fall far short of granting women fullgender equality.Section 17 of the Maldives Constitution, together with the government’scommitments under CEDAW require state parties to adopt proactive laws,measures, policies and strategies to promote equality and empower women – toallow for Temporary Special Measures (TSM). A Gender Equity Law (GEL) willprovide the legal framework for such TSM.Although temporary special measures could be used by the State party as a policyto accelerate the achievement of de facto equality between women and men, nonehas been introduced to date to address gender gaps or enhance gender equality,even though the Constitution allows for it.
 
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There is ample opportunity in the Maldives for gender equality to be advanced andtranslated into economic and social empowerment for women. However, it isnecessary to remove legal obstacles to advancing gender equality by laying thelegislative groundwork and foundations.The current period of major political reform and democratic transition presents amajor opportunity to catalyze economic, political and social reforms for womenthrough groundbreaking legislation that will lay the legal foundations for genderequality. The Maldives has recently asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) tohelp prepare and implement a GEL.
Legislating for Gender Equality and Temporary Special Measures (TSM)
A GEL can help in numerous ways. Despite the existence of some gender sensitivelaws and policies, barriers remain to the full realization of gender equality in theMaldives, including weak institutional capacity, and rising conservative, gender-discriminatory interpretations of religion are also reinforcing traditional andstereotypical views of women’s roles in society.Although progressive legislation cannot by itself bring about gender equality, it canhelp to provide legitimacy for special programs and support to women withoutbeing regarded as discrimination against men. Further, gender equality laws canrequire TSM and the allocation of resources to close gender gaps and advancegender equality. Without such a law it is difficult to justify the special allocation of resources and other advantages to women.The
Support for Gender Equality Law Project 
is financed under ADB’s Gender andDevelopment Co-operation Fund and aims to promote gender equality in access toresources and opportunities, and women’s full enjoyment of rights, including indecision-making.
 A Law to Address all Facets of Women’s Lives
An all encompassing Gender Equality Law will define and prohibit all forms of gender discrimination and pro-actively promote gender equality through TSM. Itwould state the basic principles of gender equality, define whose responsibility it isto promote gender equality and provide accountability mechanisms includingspelling out the responsibility of specific public agencies.The scope of the GEL should apply not only to government but also to the privatesector, family and community. A good GEL can address gender equality in allsectors, as well as economic, social, cultural and political inequalities, and providefor proactive gender design in health, education, agriculture, tourism,infrastructure, water, energy and transport sectors, as has been done in otherAsian countries.

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