Women leaders
Women's organizations


Maldives comprises some 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean. Originally Buddhists, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid-12th century. Islam is the official religion of nearly the entire population. Strict adherence to Islamic precepts and close community relationships have helped keep crime under control.

The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language related to Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka. The writing system, like Arabic, is from right to left, although alphabets are different. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools.

The Maldivian economy is predominantly based on tourism and fishing. Of Maldives' 1,200 islands, only 198 are inhabited. The population is scattered throughout the country, and the greatest concentration is on the capital island, Male. Limitations on potable water and arable land constrain expansion.

Development has been centered upon the tourism industry and its complementary service sectors, transport, distribution, real estate, construction, and government. Taxes on the tourist industry have been plowed into infrastructure and also used to improve technology in the agricultural sector.

Links to the Maldives


Women's situation
Women's rights advocates agree that wife beating and other forms of violence are not widespread. There are no firm data on the extent of violence against women because of the value attached to privacy in this conservative society. In 1997 the Government commissioned a study by a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) on domestic violence, but it was never completed. Police officials report that they receive few complaints of assaults against women. Rape and other violent crimes against women are extremely rare.  None were reported or prosecuted during the year. Under Shari'a the penalty would be flogging, banishment, or imprisonment for up to 5 years. 

Women traditionally have played a subordinate role in society, although they now participate in public life in growing numbers and gradually are participating at higher levels. Women constitute 38 percent of government employees, and about 10 percent of uniformed NSS personnel. Well-educated women maintain that cultural norms, not the law, inhibit women's education and career choices. In many instances, education for girls is curtailed after the seventh grade, largely because parents do not allow girls to leave their home island for an island having a secondary school. Nonetheless, women enjoy a higher literacy rate (98 percent) than men (96 percent).  Due largely to orthodox Islamic training, there is a strong strain of conservative sentiment--especially among small businessmen and residents of the outer islands--that opposes an active role for women outside the home. However, the Government continued legal literacy programs to make women aware of their legal rights and workshops on gender and political awareness in the outer atolls. The Government also has built 10 of 15 planned women's centers in the atolls, which are facilities where family health workers can provide medical services. The centers also provide libraries and space for meetings and other activities with a focus of the development of women. 

Under Islamic practice, husbands may divorce their wives more easily than vice versa, absent any mutual agreement to divorce. Islamic law also governs interstate inheritance, granting male heirs twice the share of female heirs. A woman's testimony is equal to only one-half of that of a man in matters involving adultery, finance, and inheritance. Women who work for wages receive pay equal to that of men in the same positions.

In October the Cabinet replaced the National Women's Council with a Gender Equality Council to serve as an advisory body to the Government to help strengthen the role of women in society and to help ensure equal participation by women in the country's development. Also during the year, the Government, with the assistance of the European Union and the U.N. Population Fund, expanded a program of small loans to women for development projects to additional islands. 

Read more on the situation of women in Maldives in this report.


Important political facts

Government type: Republic. Parliamentary form of government with a very strong executive.

Head of state: President, who is elected by the Majlis and confirmed by national referendum. The incumbent, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was first elected in June 1978, reelected four times, most recently as the only candidate. The president's term of office is five years.

Legislature: Unicameral. The Majlis (People's Assembly) has 48 members, 40 members elected for a term of five years in one eight-seat and nineteen two-seat constituencies and 8 members appointed by the president.

Executive: The head of government is the President, who appoints and presides over the Cabinet.

Most recent elections

October 16, 1998

November 19, 1999.Turnout is 77.4 %, only non-partisans have been elected. No parties exist.

Women in power: 3 seats (6.0%) held by women in the Majlis. There is a woman, Rashida Yoosuf,  appointed in the Cabinet as Secretary of Women's Affairs and Social Security.


Government related sites

Political resources on the Maldives

Elections in Maldives

Governments on the WWW: Maldives

Links on the Maldives

Women's situation

Important political facts

Government-related sites
Political resources