A group of civil society organisations has called on the authorities to ensure justice for a 50-year-old woman from the island of Lhaimagu in Shaviyani atoll who was attacked with bleach on Saturday morning.
Haleema Adam, president of the Lhaimagu women’s development committee, was hospitalised after the perpetrator threw bleach on her face.
“Cowardly acts such as this adds to a long list of violence and harassment that a large majority of the women in Maldives face on a daily basis,” reads a joint statement issued Sunday by Transparency Maldives, Maldivian Democracy Network, DhiYouth Movement, Nufoshey, Addu Women’s Development Initiative, and Meedhoo Ekuveringe Chain.
“Women continue to be subject to harassment, intimidation, and violence from the parliament floor to the streets of our islands and in our work environment.
“While studies show that one in three women in the Maldives face sexual and physical violence, this attack against Haleema marks a new, more public form of violence against women.”
The NGOs urged the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and to “take all necessary measures to ensure that no man or woman in the Maldives has to ever endure such violence and terror.”
Two male suspects aged 23 and 21 were taken into custody hours after the attack. The Shaviyani Fonadhoo magistrate court has since remanded the pair in police custody for 10 days and seven days, respectively.
The police said Sunday night that Haleema’s face was doused with bleach. The investigation has established how the incident occurred and cases will be forwarded for prosecution shortly, the police said in a statement.
According to the Kulhudhufushi regional hospital where Haleema was treated, the attack did not cause serious injuries to her face or eyes. Her right eye was harmed but her eyesight was not affected, a hospital official said.
A separate joint statement issued Sunday by women’s rights groups including Uthema Maldives, Voice of Women, Women and Democracy, and the Society for Health Education meanwhile observed that while acid attacks occur in the neighbouring India and Bangladesh, such incidents are unheard-of in the Maldives.
Throwing acid or corrosive substances to disfigure a woman’s face causes “irreparable damage” and leaves deep psychological scars, the NGOs said, adding that in most cases the perpetrator is known to the victim.
According to the president of the Lhaimagu island council, Haleema saw her assailant but was scared to identify him because of death threats.
“Such a barbaric act carried out against anyone anywhere in the Maldives is of grave concern,” the NGOs said, adding that the victim’s fear of identifying the perpetrator is “a serious social impoverishment for the whole Maldivian society.”
Taking the necessary steps to ensure that such incidents will not occur is a legal responsibility of concerned state institutions, the statement continued.
“As all women living in the Maldives have constitutionally guaranteed human rights to life and personal security and to live and work in a free environment, the state has a constitutional duty to provide these rights and to ensure that it cannot be denied,” the NGOs said.