Excellencies, Distinguished Permanent Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good day to you all.
It is a pleasure for me to join this esteemed panel to address this virtual side event on “Women’s Human Rights and Environmental Sustainability: Challenges and Opportunities”.
At the outset, let me be very clear: The Maldives firmly believes that sustainable development can only be achieved with the full empowerment and participation of women and girls.
Today’s reality is that environmental issues are indivisible from social and economic issues; are indivisible from human rights; and most importantly, environmental issues are indivisible from advancing women’s rights and gender equality.
The commitments our governments have made in Agenda 2030, the Paris Agreement and SAMOA Pathway are well documented, but the true challenge we face is in ensuring that these commitments result in meaningful action to achieve sustainable development. We can only accomplish this through gender equality and gender balance in decision-making as well as improving the responsiveness to gender issues in the development, implementation and monitoring of policies and actions.
I would like today to bring a small island developing country perspective to the issues of sustainable development and gender, particularly in the context of climate change.
In this unprecedented year of COVID pandemic, we as leaders must not lose sight of the many significant challenges we faced before COVID and will continue to face long after.
One such challenge, climate change has been devastating for our tiny island country. It is eroding our beaches, and killing our island coral reefs, and it has contaminated our very scarce fresh water supplies and reduced our fish stock. We are experiencing higher tidal waves, winds, sea swells and flooding. This is our reality today, but looking forward we see an even bleaker future that would submerge our entire country, affecting women and girls first.
Globally, the Maldives and other small islands are on the front lines of climate change; and locally, on our front lines are our women. I think of the women of the island of Kandhalhodhoo, whose financial autonomy through fish processing was wiped out in the 2004 tsunami, forcing them to bear the brunt of the disaster when they were subsequently relocated to a different island. I also think of the women farmers of Vaadhoo Island who grow yams and other crops who are facing reduced yields because climate induced hotter days and drought have altered rainfall patterns and tidal swells. These scenarios run across our island nation.
Climate change is undermining the self-sufficiency, livelihood and economic independence of our women and girls across the country and the world.
For the Maldives the number of islands that require emergency shore protection or are facing floods or other disaster is rising each year. The frequency, and severity of extreme weather events is testing the absolute limits of adaptation. For us, and others – from hurricanes in the Atlantic, to forest fires on the West coast of the Americas – climate change is today.
As I mentioned earlier, our Government, and I personally, place great importance on the implementation of Gender Equality. We have taken unprecedented steps to give effect to gender equality and the advancement of women’s rights at all levels of our society.
Globally, the Maldives is proud to co-lead Feminist Action for Climate Justice under the Generation Equality Forum at UN Women and I am personally proud of our strong efforts to achieve gender parity in our Heads of Missions in our Foreign Service.
Nationally, we have taken steps to allocate a portion of local council seats to women and have appointed our first two women Justices to the Supreme Court. We also recognize that there are other barriers to women’s empowerment and participation in the workforce and have embarked on programmes to provide adequate childcare, paid maternity leave, flexible working arrangements and to address the social barriers limiting women’s participation in sectors such as tourism and aviation.
More broadly, we have taken measures to step-up gender equality and sensitivity education in our school system.
While climate change and its impacts are non-discriminatory and affect us all, women and girls everywhere often disproportionately bear the negative impacts of climate change because of various factors such as limited access to resources, limited mobility and other socio-economic considerations. Through our various policy interventions we hope to increase the resiliency of our women and other vulnerable communities to climate change.
To conclude let me say that the fate of the women of Kandholhudhoo and Vaadhoo is the fate of the Maldives, and the fate of the Maldives is the fate of the world. I am confident that through important forums like this we will continue to advance our collective efforts to achieve sustainable development while ensuring that we are gender inclusive, responsive and empowering. Only by ensuring that women are integral to the development, implementation and monitoring of policies and actions can we ensure that no one is left behind.
I thank you.