High-Level General Assembly Thematic Debate on “Advancing Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls for a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda”
Intervention by H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Maldives to the United Nations
United Nations, New York, 6 March 2015
PANEL 2: PANEL: ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT
Thank you, Madam Chair
At the outset, I would like to thank His Excellency President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa for his initiative in convening this High Level event. Gender equality and empowerment is an issue that is close to our hearts, and we welcome this opportunity to reiterate our steadfast commitment to women’s rights in the Maldives and around the world. We join the voices today calling for a universal, transformative post-2015 development agenda, including a stand-alone goal on gender equality and empowerment. We hope that the Beijing+20 review next week will guide us in strengthening the gender-based goals and targets of the new development agenda.
The advancement of women is a national priority for the Maldives Government. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are embedded in our Constitution. The laws of our country guarantee the same rights and freedoms to women and men alike. We have legislation addressing domestic violence, sexual harassment and offences, trafficking of women and girls, and discrimination against women in access to employment, education, health and other public services. Further, the Government has proposed a Gender Equality Bill, aimed at promoting gender equality, prohibiting gender-based violence, and safeguarding women’s rights and freedom from discrimination. This Bill is premised on the ideal of an egalitarian society which denounces harmful gender stereotypes and allows equal opportunity for all, women and men.
While these legislative changes are significant, we recognise that new laws, policies and programmes will only go so far. The tallest obstacles on the path to women’s empowerment are discriminatory social attitudes and cultural norms. The Government recognises the importance of complementing the legal framework with normative change and building a culture of respect for human rights. Although there is no formal or institutional discrimination in the Maldives, we are aware that women have difficulty surpassing traditional family roles and stereotypes. For example, two of the biggest industries in the Maldives, tourism and construction, remain male-dominated sectors.
Education is key to empowering women and girls to overcome these challenges. Gender gaps in education threaten to cleave larger social and economic gaps between men and women, in terms of wages earned, positions held, job security, health and happiness. Closing the gap in education has the opposite effect: skilled and qualified women can earn more for their work, rise in rank, live more fulfilling lives, and support the next generation of women to gain quality education.
The Maldives is a small island nation and a young democracy, yet we have shown remarkable progress in the field of women’s rights, particularly in education. The Maldives has established gender parity in literacy, enrolment and attainments at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Any child, boy or girl, can go to school for free, with complimentary textbooks and stationery. Now, the majority of high achievers in both primary and secondary schools in the Maldives are girls. In tertiary education, around 70% of graduates are young women. In the national Technical and Vocational Education and Training Service, 70% of participants are women.
These achievements are not to be taken lightly—nor should they to be taken for granted. The positive, upward trend in girls’ and women’s education does not automatically translate into gender equality in the workforce. Although there is no discrimination in pay, as pay is determined by position, and not by person, women still earn less, as they still occupy more lower-paying jobs on average, and are underrepresented in executive positions, on corporate boards and political offices. As women remain the biggest contributors to the care economy, while simultaneously increasing their participation in the workforce, they need more support with maternity leave, flexible working hours, and day care.
In order to address such issues the Government introduced flexible working hours for pregnant and women with children below the age of three to work from home based on a standardised approach. Furthermore, the new amendment to the Civil Service Act now allows 60 days excluding public holidays as maternity leave. In order to increase women’s representation in public boards, the Corporate Governance Code was amended mandating a minimum of two women on the Board of Directors of every registered company. While the Government acknowledges the progress it has achieved, we remain vigilant on new and emerging challenges faced by women and stand firm in addressing these issues.
If I could ask two questions to the panel is: In addition to creating an enabling environment, what can be done to ensure that higher rates of education amongst women translate into more opportunities for decent work? Secondly, how can we re-engage women who have left the workforce, typically due to family responsibilities, and provide them with full support to regain employment at a later stage?