Agenda Item 29: Advancement of Women
Statement by Ms. Zeena Mohamed Didi, Second Secretary
Permanent Mission of Maldives to the UN
United Nations, New York, 8 October 2015
Thank you Mr. Chair,
At the outset, my delegation wishes to express our appreciation to the Secretary General for the reports submitted under this agenda item for our consideration. We also commend the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women for their dedicated engagement with Member States in the protection and promotion of the rights of women and young girls around the globe.
We have come far in our pursuit of equal rights for both women and men. It has been thirty-six years since the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. It sets the international standard for what is meant by equality between men and women. Today, we have achieved near universal ratification of the Convention.
Over the past decades, we have witnessed unprecedented global movement for the advancement of gender equality and women empowerment. From Cairo to Beijing, to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, we have seen renewed commitment to the advancement of gender equality.
These global frameworks envision a world where each young girl and woman can exercise their fundamental human rights, such as learning to read and accessing education, living free from fear and violence, making her own choices, being a leader and earning equal pay for equal work. The progress we have achieved so far gives us hope. But what we have set out to achieve is far from complete.
Women continue to be subjected to the horror of violence; at least one in three women is subjected to violence in their life time; millions of girls are being forced into modern-day slavery; thirty-six million girls are out of school today; no country has closed the gender gap 3.1 million girls are being directly affected by the conflict in Syria;– these figures are more than just numbers; they are precious human life. So much more needs to be done. Together, we must go beyond what we have accomplished so far.
The Maldives remains committed to the values of gender equality through numerous national and international commitments. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are entrenched in the 2008 Constitution of the Maldives. The Constitution not only guarantees equality between both women and men; but also has provisions for affirmative action to ensure equality. Through the enactment of legislatures, successive Governments have created a conducive environment that ensures that the principle of equality is a right that women are able to exercise in all spheres. All women enjoy equal pay for equal work under the Constitution of the Maldives. The 2008 Employment Act guarantees maternity leave for working mothers with 3-months of full pay. The Government is currently in the process of finalising the Gender Equality Bill and present it to the Parliament this year. Once passed the Act will further strengthen national standards for gender equality and confirm that our national standards are consistent with CEDAW.
Young girls and women have a right to feel safe and live without fear of violence. Yet, the sad truth is that girls and women continue to be subjected to sexual violence and harassment. It not only robs women and girls of their equality but they are left with physical and mental scars for life. The Maldives has enacted various legislatures as safety nets to prevent violence against girls and women. The Domestic Violence Act of 2012 has enabled the building of safe houses for abused women. Acts on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Offences have been enacted, making gender discrimination unlawful, and establishing the first formal mechanism to hear sexual harassment complaints. It has further strengthened the legal framework to protect women, children and migrants from violence and sexual abuse. Together with the Anti-Human Trafficking Act and Penal Code, these laws provide victims of abuse with the legal powers to prosecute their perpetrates.
Despite these progress, many challenges remain. The ethos of conservative Islam leaning towards extremism, traditional societal norms restrict young women from leaving their islands in pursuit of economic opportunity, and therefore their representation in the workforce is limited. Though the Maldivian economy is based primarily on tourism and fisheries, both these industries have incredibly high challenges for women to overcome. With gender parity in education and a higher percentage of girls among high achievers in secondary and tertiary education, there is therefore a mismatch between education and employment with respect to girls and women. Similar challenges stemming from social norms often hinder women to gain positions of leadership. Few run for political office and fewer still are elected. This results in decision-making bodies, such as the legislature being devoid of gender perspectives, with the burden placed on a select few to perpetually advocate on behalf of half the population. While the proportion of women in cabinet is 23% and women in Executive Boards is 26%, and the ratio of women in the Parliament is a mere 6% .
The Government of Maldives remains determined to find solutions to address these challenges. The Government has embarked on policies to empower women economically through flexible working hours in formal employment, targeted micro-loans, single mother benefits, home-based employment opportunities and day-care facilities. Laws on protection, programs on gender mainstreaming, efforts at better social awareness are all being geared to in the hope to see our women realise their dreams free from coercion or social pressure.
National efforts will guide the social psyche with time, but eliciting greater passion from a disparate population is hard. Though there are more young girls than boys in higher secondary and even tertiary education, their leadership outside of the classroom has not materialized.
No Maldivian man will doubt the strength of Maldivian women. Yet there is a need for more engagement by both genders to further the role of women in social, economic, and political sectors. Gender stereo typical roles have been too entrenched in the Maldivian society. It is for the government and the civil society to ensure that the Maldivian society creates the space for women to be significantly active in personal, community and national development. In addition to new educational subjects like civic education, there is also an effort to introduce gender-sensitized programs into curriculum. Educating young people on values of respect and equality build a foundation for a progressive and healthy populous.
We are at a turning point for women’s rights. The 2030 Agenda recognised gender equality not just as a stand-alone goal, but a goal central to achieving all the goals. The Agenda gives a new impetus and drive to the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women. We must seize this opportunity, nationally and internationally, to ensure a transformative change in girl’s and women’s lives everywhere. Gender equality per se is not sufficient anymore. We need to aspire for equality of outcomes for girls and women through equal opportunities in every sphere of life. The road ahead has cleared up, but yet there is a long way to tread!