URGENT: Maldives: Sex without Consent is always Rape

06th February 2014

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) request the attention of the international community regarding the state of women’s rights in the Maldives after the President’s veto of a bill containing limits on marital rape.

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) are highly concerned at the state of women’s rights and freedoms in the Republic of the Maldives.  WLUML sees the recent veto of the sexual offences bill by President Yameen an indicator that Maldivian women’s dire situation.

The sexual offences bill was vetoed on the grounds that it contravenes Shari’a, owing to the bill’s criminalisation of certain instances of marital rape.  In fact, the bill falls seriously short of criminalising marital rape all together, only doing so in four instances: while a case for dissolution of the marriage is in a court; while the divorce filed by either husband or wife is pending; sexual intercourse to intentionally transmit a sexually transmitted disease; and during a mutually agreed separation (without divorce). 

WLUML do not endorse the passing of the bill in its current state as it contains many problematic elements, particularly those that criminalise same-sex relations.  However, we express our alarm that the limited legal recourse for women contained in this bill was deemed controversial enough for it to be vetoed. This decision - which comes 18 months after a 15-year old rape victim was sentenced to flogging - suggests that women in the Maldives are living with serious restrictions on their freedoms and are treated unequally by the law.

President Yameen’s veto came after the vice-President of the Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) Academy, Dr Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef criticised the bill as un-Islamic.  On an online forum, Dr Iyaz stated that a woman must display complete obedience to her husband and his sexual needs: “With the exception of forbidden forms of sexual intercourse, such as during menstrual periods and anal intercourse, it is not permissible under any circumstance for a woman to refrain from it when the husband is in need.”

In response to this position, we reiterate that sex without consent is always rape - between husband and wife, or any persons. WLUML condemns the misuse of religion to justify a man’s rape of his wife and violence against women of any kind. 

We remind the international community that this is a highly conservative interpretation of Islam.  We reiterate that this interpretation is not representative of all Muslims’ view of their faith.  In fact, it actually opposes the values of equality, tolerance, and non-violence - which many Muslims see as the core of Islam. It certainly does not reflect many Muslim women’s feelings about their entitlement to full human rights and gender equality.   Indeed, in many Muslim-majority countries marital rape is a crime – including some of the countries which subscribe to the same school of fiqh as the Maldives.

We are aware of the power that religious arguments have in silencing those who seek equality and justice.  We insist that this violently patriarchal strain of fiqh is both an affront to progressive interpretations of Islam and a misuse of religion aimed at perpetuating women’s oppression.

We express our solidarity with the women of the Maldives and stress their right to be treated as full and equal human beings who live free from violence.  We stand with proponents of equality throughout the world and reject any religious justification for the denigration, violation, and subordination of women.

Created by: 
Isabel Marler