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As the construction work sites spread throughout the already densely populated city of Male’, these days the capital of Maldives, known for its mosques and colorful buildings, became noisier. Unsurprisingly, the sounds of a loud petrol saw cutting rebar followed by the hammering of hardworking young foreign carpenters while a diesel mixer starts its spinning rhythm, became the soundtrack of yet another successful Safe Space session.


At the first floor of the Jazz Café every single chair is taken and the waiters are busy taking orders and bringing free drinks to the participants. On the improvised projector screen can be read: “SHE in collaboration with UNFPA presents: Safe Space”. Azzam, a youngster himself, is SHE’s (Society Health Education) Reproductive Health facilitator leading today’s session. He is known for his sparkling sense of humor and everyone seems to know or have heard of him.



“Today we are going to talk about Healthy Relationships”, he announces, “What is the role of men and women in SRH (Sexual & Reproductive Health)? In average, Maldivians get married at what age? Why do we marry at such a young age?”, Azzam ventures into the topic.


According to the “Thematic Analysis on Youth in the Maldives”, the average age at marriage for men is 25.8 years and for women 22.5 years. However, divorce is on arise and at age 15-24 about 10% of these young people are already married for the second or third time. At the age 25-29, 14% of males and 20% of females have already married multiple times.



“Young people get married early because they long for privacy. They live in very small apartments shared with their parents”, says a girl from the front table. As everyone seems to be in agreement, the conversation moves on to the possible events leading to divorce one of them being domestic violence among other forms of abuse.


“What is an unhealthy relationship?”, he asks.


Space Sessions are known for its interactive and fun quiz. As answers are submitted anonymously from the participants’ mobile phones, 17 people respond righteously “When I am coerced to do things I don’t want to do” while others go for the option that comes with a laugh “When we have burgers for breakfast”. Emotional manipulation and violence come timidly as answers, it’s a sensitive topic after all.


In Maldives, about 19.5% of women aged 15-49 who had ever been in a relationship, reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner while 29% reported having experienced emotional abuse. About 26% of the cases consist in emotional violence, 15% physical violence, 5% sexual violence and about 18% were a combination of physical and sexual violence.




“You have to be good to your partner, obviously”, says one of the boys.


“Pressuring someone to have sex against their will, even if you don’t use physical force, is rape”, defends Azzam. “Consent matters. When a girl says no that means no”, adds Aishath also from SHE.


“Where can we get contraceptives in Maldives? Who’s responsible for buying it? How do you prevent an unplanned pregnancy?”, Azzam continues.

“Aren’t they supposed to support each other and discuss it together?”, questions one of the boys while another joked “you are not supposed to talk during sex” making everyone laugh. Another participant mentions that “praying before and after sex”, just like pre-marriage counselors suggested before he got married, “might be a good idea to help couples to be on the same page and relax”.


As the session comes to an end, Azzam invites the 30 participants to explore opportunities to become advocates for SRH themselves: “try to talk with someone about sexual assault, contraceptives, consent”.


Sha, aged 22, recently joined SHE to become a youth leader and a SRH advocate. “I am really happy to be part of this session. I wish we had more opportunities like this so we can talk openly about these important skills to make healthy life decisions”.



In Male', the only facility that provides SRH information and services to young people belongs to the Society for Health Education (SHE), UNFPA and SHE are looking for alternatives to expand this kind of services in and outside the capital city. In a country where Family Planning services are accessible to married couples only, upscaling the adolescent and youth friendly option is estimated to be the most cost-effective strategy to scale up sexual and reproductive health in Maldives.


Tatiana Almeida