Trigger Warning: Talk of sexual assault, rape, and death

The notion that a woman’s sexuality and autonomy should ‘belong’ to a man is what lays the groundwork of a patriarchal society. Men tend to experience an illusion of control in a patriarchal society. This mentality is not a generic trait that men possess but rather a belief that they are control society. Therefore, men believe they are entitled to women. These notions of male dominance can be extended to religion and culture. We see that this dominance is deeply rooted within the Maldivian society. 

Everyone is threatened by patriarchy’s power, and it is a historical problem and concern. But abusive men use control and power to mess with a woman’s mental and physical health. When a women’s mental and physical health is threatened, so is their autonomy which can deteriorate their sense of self. The influence of power and authority is dominant in society.

A patriarchal framework plays a crucial role in domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. They come from social and cultural conditions. In the Maldives, they can be examined in terms of how these norms are represented in culture and religion. This concept has a direct effect on mentality, powerlessness, and discrimination in partnerships that are a direct result of patriarchy. 

What does “our women” mean?

“Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”

– Bell Hooks in ‘Understanding Patriarchy’.

Patriarchy is defined as a system of control where men dominate and control women. It is a system that has dated back thousands of years. Control over women is valued and regarded as a sign of strength in this violent system.

Take this phrase for instance: “We must protect our women from abusive situations“. When a man says this, he is automatically implying that women are weak and are unable to protect themselves from abusive situations. These types of phrases work to treat women as property or an object for men to control. This mentality is one a lot of men share in the community that allows men to think they can control a woman’s sexuality and autonomy. This entitlement over women is deeply ingrained within and reinforced through a patriarchal society. 

Forms of male-dominant control in the Maldives

Patriarchal male control extends to gender roles, marriage, autonomy, and education. In the Maldives, it is expected for men to provide for his family while the women stay at home and watch the children. Women are expected to cook and clean and take care of every domestic part of the house. Meanwhile, the man’s only job, by patriarchal standards, is to come home from work and relax. These norms are taught to men from a young age, and this is where the illusion of control stems from. 

In addition, women are expected to provide “services” such as sex and childbearing. This expectation stems from the assumption that a woman needs to “give back” for what they mean to provide them financially. In this violent system, a man’s value is tied to how well they can be a provider for their family.

Women are expected to comply with their partner’s every demand, regardless of whether or not they have given consent. It is understood that in marriage, consent is automatically given to the husband. Regardless of the day, the assumption is that the man always has consent from the second they are married. It stems from a patriarchal male control to control women and their autonomy. 

This sort of patriarchal violence and control does not only operate in private spheres but also public spheres. Sexual harassment in public spaces has been a problem in the Maldives for a very long time. There are countless stories of women who are groped and assaulted on the street because of a violent system that perpetuates this kind of behavior from men. This kind of treatment towards women is normalized and treated as a woman’s problem. It’s assumed that it’s the woman’s fault due to the dress she wore or the fact she was walking alone on the street. The blame is always the woman’s and never the man’s, even when he commits the crime in question. 

Patriarchal norms from a conservative understanding of culture and religion

“The conservatives in all the countries of South Asia espouse rigid and fundamentalist understanding or interpretation of religion and culture that promote male dominance and women’s subordination as a virtue.” – Vahida Nainar in ‘Patriarchy in South Asia: Structures and Relations’

It is difficult to weaken patriarchy’s dominance in a country where it is practised every day, especially when these norms are interpreted in culture and religion. Patriarchy is also implemented in the policies and laws that are passed. Every structure, system and decision that is made to protect men and control women is always rooted in patriarchy. There are loopholes in the Maldivian legal system that hinders justice for many survivors of abuse and sexual assault.

In the Maldives, children under the age of 13 cannot give consent unless they have marital relations. However, in the Special Provisions Act to Deal with Child Sex Abuse Offenders, an adult man is allowed to coerce young girls under the age of 13 to participate in an illegal marriage. In 2019, a 13- year-old girl was forced to marry three times and was later impregnated by her third husband.

According to the article, her family held extremist views of religion, denied her basic education and healthcare rights, and exploited her by using the cover of ‘marriage’ to manipulate her into an illegal marital relationship with three men. The article also mentions that the authorities were aware of the case since 6th June 2018 and that they were keeping a “close eye” on her situation. 

The loopholes in the legal system exploit abused women and children. In that case, a child’s autonomy was exploited by her family because of their extremist beliefs which are influenced by patriarchy. Having religious laws and principles set in the legal system to protect women has not stopped men from committing crimes such as these. The influence of extremist views and beliefs are rooted in patriarchy and perpetuated by the laws that are practised. These types of policies must be abolished to reduce male dominance and exploitation of young women and girls. 

The loopholes in marital rape

In 2015, Ziyadha Naeem was brutally raped by her husband and succumbed to her injuries days later. Her husband was charged with marital rape, manslaughter, negligent homicide and possession of pornographic material. The post-mortem examination that was conducted in India, confirmed that her injuries were caused by marital rape. Her body has signs of abuse and had sustained injuries to organs in her body.

Last year, her husband was charged with marital rape and other criminal offenses. It was the first time that someone had ever been convicted of that criminal offense. Notable officials and parliamentarians celebrated the win and mentioned that “it is a step towards protecting women’s rights in the Maldives.”

Another official stated that “it is a historic moment as it is the first time a marital rape has ever been recognized in court.” Even though it took a few years to seek justice for Ziyadha, there is still an issue with the loopholes of marital rape. 

In the Sexual Offenses Act, under ‘Offense of Marital Rape’ it is declared that a husband having sexual intercourse with his wife without her consent can be considered marital rape under certain circumstances. These circumstances that consider marital rape are that if the married couple is in the process of ending their marriage in court, an application for divorce by either parting pending in court, the husband has a sexually transmitted disease with the intent of putting her life in danger or the married couple living separately even though they are not divorced. When looking at these circumstances under this section, it means that the ‘Offense of Rape’ is not considered under marital rape.

The law states that rape is a criminal offence but those specific circumstances are considered marital rape. There is still a massive loophole that allows marital rape regardless of whether or not these circumstances are considered. Another misunderstanding of marital rape is that marriage means automatic consent between them despite that it may have been consensual or not.

Regardless of the relationship between two people, rape is rape. This act mentions that rape is wrong on both accounts, but marital rape is only considered a criminal offense because of those circumstances, it is still rape at the end of the day. 

Challenging the patriarchal illusions of control

The response to patriarchy and control over a woman’s autonomy is predictable. Men understand that they can fix problems that are entirely in their control by simply telling women, “Don’t worry, we have got everything under control” or “You don’t have to worry about this anymore”. Their denial casts aside all of the issues of violence and tries to look at this situation that can be controlled based on how they can solve this issue through their lens. This type of response and denial over patriarchy is dangerous and ignores a lot of the issues that are deeply rooted in patriarchy. 

Patriarchy is the main obstacle that stands in the way of women’s advancements. It understands that men are in control, whether it is passing laws or seeking justice, the legal system will always protect men from the power of the state. If people challenge and question the system within a patriarchal framework, it would be possible to eliminate harmful violence and male control. It is important and necessary to understand the system and how the laws and policies are set with challenges that stem directly from patriarchy and the unwillingness to accept gender equality. By fighting these issues head-on, it would ensure future generations eliminate the patriarchal illusion of control.


bell hooks – Understanding Patriarchy

Vahida Nainar – Patriarchy in South Asia – Structures and Relations

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