Maldives continues to discriminate against women


EditorialThis web site has the original of a Maldive court document that shows that the Maldives imposes a discriminatory inheritance tax when a person dies leaving only female heirs. This tax was imposed as late as 29 November 2006 on the estate of a man who died on 14 February 1992, leaving a widow and two daughters with no apparent male next of kin

22 January 2007

The Maldives acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 1 July 1993. In spite of this it continues to violate international law in contravention of CEDAW.

Upon accession the Maldives made the following reservation:

The Government of the Republic of Maldives will comply with the provisions of the Convention, except those which the Government may consider contradictory to the principles of the Islamic Sharia upon which the laws and traditions of the Maldives is founded.

Furthermore, the Republic of Maldives does not see itself bound by any provisions of the Convention which obliges to change its Constitution and laws in any manner.

On 23 June 1999 the Maldives modified the reservation as follows:

  1. The Government of the Republic of Maldives expresses its reservation to article 7 (a) of the Convention, to the extent that the provision contained in the said paragraph conflicts with the provision of article 34 of the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives .
  2. The Government of the Republic of Maldives reserves its right to apply article 16 of the Convention concerning the equality of men and women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations without prejudice to the provisions of the Islamic Sharia, which govern all marital and family relations of the 100 percent Muslim population of the Maldives .

By basing a reservation to an international treaty on domestic law and changing a reservation after it has been made, the Maldives is in breach of Articles 27 and 19 respectively, of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. After a State Party has bound itself to a treaty under international law it can no longer submit new reservations or extend or add to old reservations. It is only possible to totally or partially withdraw original reservations.

The Maldives submitted the revised reservations after it enacted a new constitution that violated CEDAW nearly four years after acceding to the convention.

In the new reservations, a reference was also made to the Maldive authorities' ad nauseam claim that the Maldives is 100% Islamic. This reference was not made in the earlier reservation. In 1998 a number of Maldive Christians were arrested and tortured in prison, many of them women. Several American and European nationals were deported following the arrest of the Maldive Christians. The Maldive mullahs felt that it was necessary to issue a warning to the international community and teach the world a lesson over the issue of the local Christians. This warning to the world came in the form of the deportations and the amended reservations to CEDAW.

In a recent meeting of the United Nations General Assembly’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a Maldive government minister, Mrs. Aishath Didi, described the prohibition on women heads of state as “odd” and “an anachronism”. The fact is that Islam clearly does not allow female heads of state.

Until 31 December 1952, the Maldive constitution allowed for a female head of state. As late as 1952 a woman (who is still alive) was nominated to become regnant monarch. The nomination was vetoed by the mullahs who insisted on removing this loophole when a new constitution was enacted on New Year's Day 1953.

Until the mid 20th century the Maldives was only nominally Islamic, with custom and traditional norms taking precedence over Islam in almost every walk of life. Until 1964, every year on a prescribed day, the chief mullah (this office is now merged with that of the president of the republic) issued a proclamation reminding Maldivians and the government of their obligations under Islam. These were promptly ignored by both the citizenry and the government. Maldive women had the freedom to dress according to indigenous norms and give their children Divehi language names. They also had the freedom to be governed by female rulers. One by one, these indigenous freedoms were assaulted by the mullahs. It looks increasingly likely that very soon every Maldive women would be forced into the outlandish Islamic head-dress called hijab by decree.

It is a myth to say that countries in which the state religion is Islam allows women to become head of state. Admittedly Indonesia had a woman president of the republic but then Islam was never the state religion in Indonesia. Neither is it in Turkey, which has seen a woman prime minister. Bangladesh and Pakistan have had women prime ministers but a prime minister is merely a head of government rather than a head of state. Iran allows female presidents of the republic but in the Islamic Republic of Iran the head of state is the Valy-e-Faqih or the Supreme Spiritual Leader. The Valy-e-Faqih wields enormous power over the state and is required to be a man.

It must, however, be noted that Pakistan (which also included Bangladesh at that time) had a female head of state from 1953 to 1956 when that country was still a constitutional monarchy. It was indeed "odd" and "an anachronism" at that time that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a female and Supreme Governor of the Church of England was the head of an Islamic state. This was rectified when Pakistan became a republic in 1956. For the first nine years of its turbulent life, Pakistan had Christian heads of state- King George VI and then Queen Elizabeth II.

The Maldives continues to discriminate against women in many ways that have yet to come to the notice of the international community.

This web site has the original of a Maldive court document that shows that the Maldives imposes a discriminatory inheritance tax when a person dies leaving only female heirs. This tax was imposed as late as 29 November 2006 on the estate of a man who died on 14 February 1992, leaving a widow and two daughters with no apparent male next of kin. The court document that we have shows that the Maldives Civil Court seized 20.833% of the estate and paid it into an account in the Maldives Monetary Authority. This tax would not have been levied had the deceased left behind male heirs. The deceased had taken steps in his lifetime to spare his wife and daughters of the full injustice that Islamic law would otherwise inflict. So his estate consisted essentially of a sum of money owed him by the government at the time of his death.

We will be making this court document (numbered 476/MC/2004) available to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women as and when required. The Maldive authorities take heart from the fact that this legal provision does not have to be invoked often. It is probably once in several decades that a person dies without leaving any male heirs.

We will also be making this document available to the state parties that objected to the Maldives reservations on CEDAW. These include Austria, Canada, Finland, the Kingdom of The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, and the Federal Republic of Germany.