The Politics that Governs Gang Violence

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“You can’t compare us (Maldivian gangs) to the ones in the UK or to other countries. We are very different…Maldivian gang violence can be much more brutal and frequent as this is a small community and people can’t hide in places for that long.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

The recent deaths of two 14 year old boys just this Friday (03rd June 2016), has once again stirred the outrage of the public when it comes to the existence of gangs and associated violence, especially in the capital. Calls on the authorities to take action has been pouring in from all sides, while the Home Minister Umar Naseer tried politicizing the issue as he is prone to do so to in order to earn his paycheck.

All the voices will die down eventually in a couple of days as it usually does, because for one, there is not much people can do apart from going onto the streets and playing out their own form of vigilante justice, secondly, the issue is far more complex than the very obvious resultant effect of violence and bloodshed, and thirdly, the law enforcement and the justice system has been in a loop of repeated failure for far too long for it to do an abrupt reversal and start being true to the principles of the establishments in question.

The Numbers

“Before we went out to attack…not to kill, but now… we use Nite 10; 30-40 tablets of 10mg each, drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, then we are numbed out and feel no pain when we kill.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

While research into gangs and resultant behavior has been far and few when it comes to Maldives, The Asia Foundation published  a report on “Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’” in 2012 which highlighted the reasons behind the emergence of gang culture in the country. A National Values Survey (NVS) conducted by the Foundation in 2011 brought to light that there existed about 20 – 30 different gangs operating in Male’, with 50 – 400 members in each group. I can only imagine that the numbers must have increased by now.

The research while primarily conducted in Male’, conducted 24 in-depth interviews with gang members and held focus group discussions with gang members as well. The picture that emerged then was a harrowing one at that, with gang members themselves expressing concern about escalating violence.

The website mvmurders.com lists down homicides that have occurred in the country, an attempt to document the lives that has been lost to senseless violence. Though not all of the murders recorded resulted from gang violence, most of it in fact can be attributed to just that. With 57 murders recorded, 49% of them have taken place in Male’, while 12% in other islands within the Kaafu Atoll and 7% in Laamu as well as Haa Dhaalu.

In terms of years, the highest percentage of murders (18%) were committed in the year of 2012 followed by 2015 in which 14% of the recorded murders from 2011 to-date have taken place. 2016 is following closely on the heels of 2015, with 6 murders already recorded, and we have barely made it halfway through the year.

For a country with a population that was recorded to be just 344,023 according to the latest census carried out in 2014, 38% of whom live in Male’; the numbers paint an alarming picture, given the continued inadequacy of the institutions in place to take constructive action to address the issue.

Emergence of Maldivian Gangs

“I had a very rough family… had many problems…my Dad used to beat me up. One time my Dad was so mad at me that he stepped on my neck…I see the gang as my family… they are much better…” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

It is only natural that the incumbent home minister be blamed on a large scale for the insensible deaths that has taken place. While I agree that he is indeed responsible in a big way since he has been occupying that position for over 2 years now, the inevitable truth is that the culture and existence of gangs that we see so prominently now, emerged during President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s regime.

President Maumoon’s policies on centralizing development created the cesspool that is Male’ City, which in turn led to the unraveling of socioeconomic differences on a large scale. Thus spurred the establishment, growth and activism of gangs in the country, largely centered in the capital. This culture has been for the most part supported by the elites in the political structure, which is how gangs survive, become stronger and more embedded within the system.

According to the report from The Asia Foundation, one of the core reasons driving youth to join and participate in gang-related activities stems from the widespread breakdown in family structures which made them seek out ways of belonging in order to replace the breakdown of their familial structure. Because they want to turn away from problems at home, they seek out the companionship of the less than savory, which in the end means these children become part of the structure that forms these gangs.

Report also highlighted the weak democratization in certain areas which contributed to the problem. The political and business elite making use of gang members as a means to an end forms the cycle of exploitation and indebtedness that exacerbates the issue. This also means that for the youth, gang related activities also become their way of earning a paycheck – as difficult a pill as it might be to swallow this fact.

Lastly, the report also highlighted on the harsh sentencing carried out for youth committing minor offenses, the resultant effect being increased disillusionment among young people about the system that governs.

Ground Reality

“If one of the gang members is harmed or killed…we will have it in our hearts forever…we will only get peace if we take revenge…we will only be satisfied when we have killed the person.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

A little bit of walk down the memory lane helps form the picture that relates back to the findings of the report discussed above. It was in June of 2008 that “gangs declared peace” in Male’, by announcing a new “alliance” or “peace treaty” in a press conference renouncing violence against each other. According to the press conference, the group would work with the government on issues such as blood donation drives for thalassaemic patients.

If I recall correctly, this was following an increase in violence on the part of gangs, which required the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) to come out into the streets to show to the public that they were indeed worthy of their monthly salaries. I also vividly recall one of the officers giving an interview to the press on how they had worked together with the gangs to hammer out this deal. In time, people also forgot.

Since then, gang related murders has become a sort of norm in the country. Periods of violence and lulls that people have more or less gotten desensitized to. The murder of Bobby in 2012 remains forever prominent because he was an innocent killed along the way, a case of mistaken identity.

Stories of how the senior judges of the Criminal Court have special procedures in place when it comes to gang related cases is also something we have heard over time. Police officers who are committed to doing their jobs, compiling evidence and presenting them in court to convict members of gangs on the offenses committed does not seem to make much headway when it comes to an issue that is riddled with corruption and vested interests of politicians.

One has only got to bring to mind an incidence that took place during Abdulla Riyaz’s reign as Police Commissioner, who faced the issue of a police officer that refused to testify against a member of the notorious Masodi gang for doing him harm. I remember Riyaz being livid over it; he might have been one of the executors of the coup in 2012, but from what I saw, he was someone who was big on establishing the police culture within which most law enforcement agencies in other countries thrive. But once again, the politics involved, the fear of being faced with a worse fate meant that even the police officer backed down on giving his testimony to court that would have convicted the gang member.

Moving on, we come to the current home minister’s reign. The man, as pompous as he might be, had a vision of grandeur in tackling drugs and gang related crimes in the city. Investment in the dog squad was one such move. Enforcement of MoniCon (monitoring and control) orders was another.

It was Umar Naseer’s move on former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, a man who has been pictured many a time with various gangs along with his beloved President and wife, that clipped the wings of the golden unicorn that Umar rides on. His powers as the Home Minister were basically cut down to the point where he could still sound like pomposity itself while twiddling his thumbs at work. This was largely attributed to Umar’s orders to low ranking officers within the police service to investigate then Tourism Minister Adeeb for alleged unlawful activity.

In 2014 Maldives Police Service (MPS) launched an operation to dismantle huts used exclusively by gangs in the capital. The operation however, was a short lived one. What began in August of 2014 was quickly brought to a halt in September when President Abdulla Yameen decided cease the dismantling operation. As he stated it, the operation was being brought to a stop “until a solution could be found after studying the whole problem”. The President also stated that, though the operation had been undertaken with “good intentions”, dismantling the huts alone would not provide a long-term solution. So here is where one needs to ask, where does the long-term solution that the President was hinting at lie? And how soon, if ever,  would we see it?

Recalling the speech that was delivered by the President after jailing ex-VP Adeeb on various charges, which includes the alleged assassination attempt on the President, is also evidence enough of the lack of political will behind the rhetoric echoed by the government on gang violence. On a televised speech, President Yameen confessed that gangs were given money by Adeeb, and that an alternative arrangement needs to be sought when it comes to maintaining that particular line of “friendship” after Adeeb had fallen out of favour.

These I believe were statements delivered by the head of state, live on national television. One has to look no further to realize that gang related violence and other such activities are here to stay, as long as politicians who are in power continue to bankroll, make use of and back them.

One interesting development along the way, before the recent murders took place, was the incidence where Special Operations (SO) officers of MPS ransacked three gang hangouts, with no protocol or official mandate backing this “operation”. Equipment used by gang members were smashed to smithereens, blood was shed, though luckily none of it resulted in loss of lives; the story that emerged was that one of their officers had been threatened by a gang member or something of the sort. I believe threats of the sort must be hurled every now and then and that SO officers are more than able and thick skinned enough to handle a few slurs and insults.

This makes me believe that something more happened, something which their superior officers didn’t want to deal with officially, resulting in the officers taking matters into their own hands. While I don’t condone the act itself, I believe that this hints the level to which the issue of gang related violence and other such crimes has fallen – there is no justice to be had, so might as well take matters into own hands to ensure that the gangs receive the message loud and clear. Do not mess around with SO officers.

Not much news emerged in an official capacity on what took place afterwards. There was talk of SO officers being shuffled here and there, but we all know that putting up with SO is a ‘necessary evil’ by the government of the day, as long as they want a squad of people who would not hesitate to follow orders and beat citizens up. That is the most apt and fitting description of the squad I can come up with.

The news this morning that some 19 individuals apprehended right after the spate of violence took place have all been released is another such example. According to government aligned newspaper Avas, a love triangle seems to have been the reason over which the violence began in the first place. The chilling, matter of fact account from the anonymous gang related source cited on the paper says as much.

Interestingly enough, the police were quick to deny that the arrests made had been in anyway related to the murders that were committed within a span of just a couple of hours. The “lack of evidence” cited is just one of the many proverbial slaps on the face of the public, something which I believe will continue to happen long into the future. At the time of writing this article, a police news conference brought forth the news that two individuals had been arrested over the murders.

Is there a way out of this mess?

“I have tried to get a real job but I have not had any luck. Being in the gang allows me to earn some money. If I get a proper job I will leave the gang life.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

While it is more than difficult to view the road ahead with any positivity, a “solution” such as the one proposed by the home minister is one doomed to fail. Umar Naseer told in an interview given to Avas that there are plans to send off minors involved in gangs to a police training facility, I believe with the hopes of disciplining these children. An issue that is multi-dimensional in nature requires multi-pronged solutions in order for positive changes to emerge.

  1. First and foremost, if any change is to take place, there has to be political will behind it. No social issue can properly be addressed without the backing of the government in place. Solutions requires funds, commitment and policies that can identify and address the various issues that can emerge and change over time. Which is why, with President Yameen at the government’s helm, it is near impossible to see the incumbent regime doing anything constructive regarding the existence and operation of gangs within the country.
  2. The law enforcement establishments needs overhauling in their entirety. There will never exist room for justice nor peace for the people of the country, as long as the police and the court system continues to trample on the rights of the people enshrined in the Constitution and the laws of the Republic. Changes need to happen from within, from the attitudes of the officers in place to rooting out corrupting influences and practices. Though easier said than done, I believe that reforming these key institutions is a necessity that needs to happen for any positive change take root on the ground.
  3. Developmental policies of the government needs to undergo radical changes if we are to stem the social issues owing to the centralization based developmental agenda that is currently in place. Everyone talks about how Male’ City is overcrowded, how social issues are rampant, how families break apart having to make do in congested one room “apartments”, the rising costs of living, the inequality divide that is prominent. All of this relates back to the fact that majority of the population has to shift to the capital in order to seek for better services in terms of education, basic healthcare and beyond. President Mohamed Nasheed’s decentralization policies were a starting point towards giving authority with accountability to provincial zones within the country – a dream long forgotten now. However, I still believe that decentralization is the key towards alleviating the burden of citizens who flocks to the capital – and along with it, the social issues which in the end leads to establishment and existence of gang related activities within the country.
  4. Education is the most powerful tool in empowering people. Which is why the educated always accuse the incumbent regime of despoiling contemporary education policies that could make a difference. Subjects on morality and ethics, education in terms of best practices in Islam are all lacking in our education syllabuses. Furthermore, identifying those kids who are having trouble in dealing with the school environment, the root cause behind kids who are acting out – all this requires teachers to go beyond their mandate and care about the welfare of their students beyond the borders of the classroom and school. This in turn requires that teachers be equipped with the skills to do so, that counselors employed in schools work with students to make a difference. It is a tough and ofttimes a heartbreaking journey for teachers who give their all to the “difficult” students, but I believe that this indeed would make a difference.
  5. Employment opportunities for the youth are crucial, if we are to keep them gainfully employed without having to resort to activities that are at most illegal in nature. Maldivian youth shy away from menial labor that can be classified under the 3D sectors (dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs such as construction). This is the reason why the government needs to identify areas in which youth would be willing to work in, to step up their efforts in vocational training, and ensure that entrepreneurship thrives and is given a fair chance in the economy. All this requires collaborative effort in terms of agencies specialized in youth, education as well as other sectors that could help pave the way forward.
  6. Family counseling services, as highlighted in the Asia Foundation report is also crucial. The stigma associated with seeking counseling, the policy issues related to giving graduates in the field the room to work and grow is essential. Otherwise, family issues that grows out of hand would continue to fester, leaving behind wounds that might never get the chance to properly heal, if ever. All this relates back to young children turning to the next best thing – gang culture within which they find that sense of belonging that should be nurtured within families.

The solutions outlined are just certain areas that I can think of, which requires proper in-depth study, finances and of course commitment and the backing of the political elites if they are to make a difference. I just hope that the people realize that without any of this changing, our country would become intolerable for the generations of tomorrow, the young ones that we are nurturing to lead this country of ours into the future.

Preventing the Next Ziyadha

VAWOMEN

Source: Deviant Art

‘Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime’
(Heise, L., Ellsberg, M., and M. Gottemoeller 1999)

It was during December of the year we just bid adios to, that the news of a woman named Ziyadha Naeem from Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Thinadhoo made the headlines. While details that emerged were scantily few, her 40-year old husband was arrested on charges of sexual abuse while Ziyadha lay in the Intensive Care Unit of the state run Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, fighting for her life. Doctors fearful of her critical condition denied the permission for Ziyadha to be airlifted out of country to seek treatment from abroad. Ziyadha finally succumbed to her injuries and passed away on the 28th of December.

Details of her injuries are indicative of severe abuse via a sharp object, having rendered her unable to walk properly. Ziyadha sought medical care from the regional hospital in her island 20 days after she sustained the injuries according to news sources. By the time she had traveled to the capital Male’, and sought the attention of a doctor well known in the Maldivian gynecology circles, it had already been too late. Ziyadha’s husband and his family meanwhile denies the charges, carrying out their own version of PR for the 40 year old who till today remains under police custody. Ziyadha had sustained her injuries all by herself, if her husband’s family are to be believed.

Ziyadha – Same Story, Different Victim

Ziyadha’s story is nothing new on the large scale of violence sexual and otherwise that are faced by women all over the country. A study carried out in Maldives on Women’s Health and Life Experiences by the UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, in coordination with Ministry of Gender and Family back in 2007 reveals alarming statistics of how widespread a “disease” violence against women is in Maldives.

According to the report, 1 in 3 women aged 15-49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. While 19.5% of the women aged 15-49 indicated that the violence that they had experienced had come from an intimate partner, 29.2% of women in the same age bracket had reported experiencing emotional abuse by a partner at least once. While intimate partner violence seems to be more widespread in the atolls, aka rural areas than in the capital, non-partner violence such as physical and sexual violence at the hands of male family members seems to be more rampant in Male’.

While the data in itself and what it reveals is disturbing, I believe that it just skims the surface on how widespread physical and emotional violence against women remains in our society. What happened to Ziyadha has come to our attention in various other cases in the past and in recent times.

One needs to look no further than the case of 3-year old Mohamed Ibthihal who died due to injuries sustained at the hands of his 25-year old mother Afiya Mohamed. While many are overwrought with emotion over the brutality that Ibthihal had suffered at the hands of his mother and rightly so, all emotions aside, Afiya herself had been a victim of the nonexistent system of protection afforded to women like her, women who had endured cycles of abuse for so long that it had become a way of life. Years of abuse had finally culminated in an act so horrific that few would, if at all, look beyond what she had done.

Another case, another year. 2010 saw the murder of Hassan Shahid at the hands of his ex-wife Mariyam Nazaha, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in August of 2011. Nazaha’s story was one of a chronic cycle of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, with witnesses giving statements on how they had seen Shahid abuse Nazaha on occasions. However, none of that factored in on Nazaha’s sentencing carried out by the Criminal Court. She remains behind bars for the foreseeable future.

A different case, a different island. 2012 brought to our attention the case of a 15-year old girl arrested from S. Feydhoo, the southern most atoll in Maldives. Her stepfather who had allegedly being abusing her for years which had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy had been the tipping point which had led to their arrests. She was sentenced to a round of flogging which triggered an international outcry that overturned that particular sentence. However, the fate of this girl is similarly echoed by countless others who are abused in such a vile manner by those that should protect and cherish them through their most vulnerable years. Society frowns upon these victims, believing THEM to be the ones at fault, the loose ones without any morals.

4 cases of sexual and physical violence against women of different age groups discussed here is indicative of several things. One, the system has failed these victims miserably. Two, there exists no safe haven for either girls or women of sexual and physical abuse. Three, government seems to lack the political will to tackle such a widespread and rampant social issue that is eroding away the very fabric of our society.

Current System – Lacking in Too Many Ways to Count

2012 saw the ratification of the Domestic Violence Bill which declared all acts of domestic violence as a punishable crime and afforded protection and safety to victims of such violence amongst the wide range of areas covered in the bill. However, zooming in on Ziyadha’s case brings forth the lack of an Evidence Bill that would aid the prosecution of the case against her husband.

Since Ziyadha presented herself to the medical institution 20 days after she sustained the injuries, it would only be secondhand testimonies of the doctors who had attended to her as well as those that she had divulged to what had happened to her that would be sole basis of the case if I am not mistaken. There is however news circulating that Ziyadha’s body is to be sent abroad for postmortem which might yield better clues as to what happened that fateful day. Questions remain however on how would one prove that she had sustained her injuries from the hands of her husband, from whom she had been living separately by then. I am no lawyer, so I will leave it up to the legal experts to sort that out and talk about it, if they may.

The community of Thinadhoo echoes sentiments of the lonesome life that had been Ziyadha’s. The fact that it was the norm for people to approach her to relate stories of the exploitative lifestyle that had been her husband’s. Having married him against the wishes of Ziyadha’s own parents, Ziyadha suffered largely in silence. Her husband’s comfortable income had never materialized to alleviate the poor living conditions that Ziyadha had been subjected to. The alleged injuries had taken place according to sources when Ziyadha had gone to seek her husband on matters of textbooks and such required for the upcoming school year. Instead, she left this world, leaving her 3 children behind, bereft of a mother and a father who perhaps given the unjust system in place, might just walk away a free man.

Chronic Domestic Violence – Indicative of Total Abysmal System Failure

Ziyadha’s case carries with it the hallmarks of cases similar in nature. For a country that boasts of 97.3% in the ratio of female to male primary enrollment figures (as per World Bank’s data on Maldives for 2013), the lack of awareness afforded to the youth on certain issues stems from the incomplete education system in place. Certain “sensitive” issues are excluded from the education curriculum altogether because of fear of reprisals from the more conservative in the society.

Sex education, which is equated with students being exposed to pornographic elements in the eyes of those that believe it would only promote promiscuity, indicates the fact that they themselves lack the awareness so much so that that they miss the point by a mile when it comes to importance of inclusion sex education in the curriculum. It can be tailored to meet the needs of our society – doesn’t have to be the suite that the Western education system wears.

But one can only go that far by actually realizing and accepting the importance of such a subject in the curriculum at a particular point in time. Sex education is about advising on practicing safety, about the choices each of us have, especially females, and knowing how to identify when you are being exploited by someone you have to trust; all important factors towards creating awareness amongst youth of both sexes to promote the idea of respecting each others choices among other things.

One cannot talk on an issue of this nature without addressing the sheer failure of the Maldivian health system that is in place. We as Maldivians experience the total lack of adequate medical care and assistance in the country, so much so that it is common for families to go on medical “holidays” with all their savings in tow because we know that the entire system is a mockery to the people of the country. No government that has come and gone, including incumbent President Yameen’s administration has been able to tackle the wicked problem that is the Maldivian healthcare system. Ziyadha’s inability to secure the kind of treatment that was required for her injuries, apart from the fact that she waited too long without seeking treatment, is indicative of the lack in the healthcare as well.

Come to the point of law enforcement, I still keep questioning as to why they didn’t question Ziyadha when she would have been able tell her side of the story. Maybe I am missing something, but none of the details that have appeared in the news sources seem to indicate what happened between the time of her being admitted at the hospital and when she succumbed to the coma owing to a hemorrhage in her brain. Worried family members had indicated that they were not at all satisfied by the lackluster efforts being showed by the Maldivian Police Service in investigating the case further. Ziyadha’s family worry, and rightly so, that the husband might just walk away, unscathed.

Focusing on the executive, one sees the lack of political will on the part of the administration to tackle social issues of importance. Because solving issues as complex as that of prevalent abuse and establishing formal institutions in place that can work to thwart and address these issues, won’t show up as boldly on the Maldivian skyline as a bridge between Male’ and Hulhumale’ would. Nor would it garner the support of the “youth” that this administration “wins” every time they inaugurate a futsal pitch in a corner of some island somewhere.

The fact that “Gender” itself is an area that is shuffled and re-shuffled every time a cabinet reshuffle takes place is indicative of the failure of the administrative agencies in place to cater to this particular area. It is most often than not, areas that specifically deal with the marginalized and at risk members of the society that gets booted and placed under a “new” administration that more or less makes the same mistakes as the previous one.

The budget that trickles down to these areas are significantly lower when compared to those granted to independent institutions that aren’t responsible for providing social services as such. The abysmal failure of the administration lies in being unable to or not being interested enough to address and strengthen these key areas of the government that require adequate funding and robust management in order for them to be able to carry out their tasks in creating awareness and also their duties in relation to the prevention as well as addressing the needs of the victims of violence as discussed here.

One cannot forget the sheer atrocity that has become of our judiciary system when talking about abuse of this nature. Injustice leaks out of the very pores of the entire justice system; no one in their right minds would equate our courts as ones that are just and able. Stories of how women who seek to be divorced from their abusive husbands, who in turn are commanded by the esteemed judge to “try and work things out and return if not”, which means going back home with the abuser; are ones that are far too common for peace of the mind. Most of the time these women are dependent financially on the husband, and adding children to the mix makes the situation more precarious than for a single woman.

Fact that women get labeled as loose and immoral for talking about what goes on in their marriage, the violence they are subjected to which many believe should be part of upholding the sanctity of ones marriage, is a notion that has to be done away with. There is also the point where court officials are seldom discrete about what goes on in within the four walls of the court premises. The more juicy the “gossip”, the better these stories are to relate to friends, which then spreads like wildfire across the society, because ours is a close knit one. The chauvinism on blatant display when it comes to certain judges at these proceedings is another reason that the system fails to recognize and address the abuse these women are subjected to.

It is the failure of the legislature that the Evidence Bill remains collecting dust on one of the shelves at the Parliament House. Few, if seldom raise these issues, the government aligned members too busy trying to keep their proverbial balls from chafing against President Yameen’s swift reprisal that would come if they don’t dance to his tune. Meanwhile, the members of the “opposition” remain in a deadlock, unable to push through the issues that they deign to bring to the forefront, because the government aligned MPs reign majority over the Parliament and push back anything of importance to the people that might land in one of their committees.

Where do we go from here?

The UNFPA report of 2007 in its conclusion recommended 5 broad areas that needs addressing in order to tackle the issues at hand. Strengthening national commitment and action is the first and foremost, without which no governmental plan or action can achieve its intended objectives. This includes strengthening the management of the related institutions to providing adequate funding to carry out their activities, inadequate funding to these organizations which I have seen from experience happen far too often.

Promoting primary prevention which includes prioritizing prevention of child sexual abuse and equally importantly reaching out to men to change their behavior are key ares of prominence. This relates back to creating awareness which again means commitments and costs incurred by the government for these ventures. As much as it might seem to the elected officials that these funds would be better spent in building infrastructure, if the social fabric of the society lies in tatters when all is said and done, there would be little need for skyscrapers to show the glory that is Maldives.

Strengthening the health sector response is of course highlighted which also includes the very important aspect of enhancing the capacity of mental health care, an area that most wouldn’t touch because once again, it is a topic that is seldom talked about in the country.

Supporting women living with violence through formal institution through means of legal advice, counseling and medical care to informal support systems such as family and community networks are highlighted. While NGOs exist in the country that address issues specific to women, I hardly see anything materialize on the ground other than the usual marathon against violence or one color coordinated campaign or the other to mark the “occasions” as required. These merely make a blip on the peoples radars as they have become something of the norm. While the woman next door gets slapped for the umpteenth time by the husband she cowers in fear from, the guy next door walks in after the run that was supposed to be creating awareness and avenues of help for the neighbor suffering at the home adjacent.

Last, but not the least, strengthening the criminal justice response is indicated, which includes training and sensitization on violence against women for all involved in the criminal justice system. I wonder how well such a training would be received when quite recently, prior to the launch of the new penal code, Supreme Court actually barred judges from attending the training sessions held to create awareness on the incoming system. Such is the backwardness of those heading the system which makes one feel hopeless and helpless in the view of anything getting better.

Change; It Starts from Within

I believe, we, as the society have a far more crucial role to play. We are the ones who can rock the boat that the lawmakers stand on, the elected officials who promise us a trip to Mars and back, if we would just place that tick on the piece of paper that affords them a luxurious lifestyle for the succeeding 5 years. WE need to create avenues where we can question our elected members, push them towards achieving what WE want. We need to strategise ways to make even someone who is hard of hearing as our incumbent President know that we, the people, demand better from his administration.

WE need to believe in the change that we want to foster and bring. WE need to change our perspective and outlook on abuse and victims of abuse. WE need to let go of the notion that it is not our business, as long as it doesn’t happen to one of ours. WE need to empathize. WE need to care. Then only the change that WE clamor for will materialize, of course through tough years of hard work to get there.

Maldivian government needs to take preemptive measures before the next Ibthihal or Ziyadha makes the headlines. But with an administration that cares naught what the people think, the hope that remains is one that flickers out too often. I believe that it is WE, the people who can bring the change WE want. And it is WE, the people that need to take that first or even hundredth step for that matter, towards achieving the goal of creating a society that takes care of its vulnerable and affords them security, when they need it the most.

“We must unite. Violence against women cannot be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance, by any political leader or by any government.” – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon