Women in the Maldives face street harassment

June 17, 2010

“At midnight Rachael, 25, returned from a friend’s place. Glancing around to make sure she was not being followed, she climbed the stairs to her seventh-floor apartment.

When she’d first arrived from the UK several months ago to work on a government project, she had smiled and replied to the greetings thrown her way on the street. She stopped doing it when the men started following her.”

This is from an article in the Minivan News about the high rates of street harassment that women, especially foreign women, face in the Maldives (the smallest Asian country that is comprised of 1,200 island in the Indian Ocean. The local population is 300,000 and the annual visitor population is 600,000). The harassment is usually verbal and vulgar, no matter how covered up the women are when they are in public. There are also many cases of groping and stalking.

For foreign women working there, harassment is usually a daily occurrence. The native women interviewed said they are not usually harassed as often and rarely is it physical. One woman mused that “physical harassment directed at local women has lessened ‘as guys know that we will scream, and slap them and embarrass them if they try anything.'” Interesting, if true.

The police officers interviewed for the article said that there are very few reported cases of harassment or assault in public by women and they urged women to report it if the are harassed. Depending on what the person has done, they can prepare a case under the public nuisance laws and send it to the Prosecutor General’s office.  In the article, the good news is that two of the foreign women interviewed called the police and said the police were wonderful and took their complaints seriously.

So even though I had to look up the Maldives to see where it’s located (time to brush up on my geography!), I am unsurprised that street harassment is rampant there. I find it interesting how two-thirds of the populations is comprised of visitors and I wonder how that contributes to foreign women being harassed more than local women.

Anyway, obviously this is a global problem and it must end!