The Maldives is a country of 26 atolls and hundreds of islands scattered over 90,000 square kilometers. Its population is mainly rural with the majority of its people living in villages on small islands. Most families are nuclear in nature and there is great respect for elders. Women enjoy a very respected role in society and are allowed to keep their maiden names after marriage. Polygamy is very rare in Maldives and premarital sex is strictly illegal.
Education is very important for the Maldivians and there are several government-funded schools across the country. The main language is Maldivian (also known as Divehi), and English is widely spoken especially in tourist areas. The official religion is Islam, and freedom of religion is severely restricted.
In the early years of this century, President Gayoom implemented a plan to modernize and democratise the nation. A multiparty system was introduced and governmental checks and balances were strengthened. Women were also allowed to run for the presidency. In 2008 a new constitution was adopted, allowing for more political freedoms and a greater level of democracy.
Tourism, the country’s primary industry, provides four-fifths of the nation’s GDP. The Maldives’ unique marine geography offers a variety of water and underwater activities to visitors. In addition to luxury resorts and hotels, the Maldives is home to many high-end restaurants and spas. Transportation between the islands is facilitated by boats and scheduled shipping services. The main airport is in Male.