by Her Excellency Ms Shidhatha Shareef
Minister of Gender, Family and Social Services
13 February 2019, New York
Madam Chair, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, and stakeholders in the movement to empower women,
A society’s true progress is seen in the way it treats women. In how it empowers women, provides them with the opportunities to reach their full potential, and provides them access to services without any discrimination. If we have done that, we are definitely on the path of progress. This is what my country believes in and aspires to become - a society that values its women and treats them as equals.
President H.E. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih assumed office last November with policies geared towards women’s social and economic and political participation.
Over the past decade, the Maldives has made remarkable strides in enhancing the situation of women and girls. The Government of Maldives provides universal free education in all of its inhabited islands. We are the ffirst country in the region to provide 12 years of compulsory education and 14 years of free schooling for all. We have achieved gender parity in literacy rates, school enrolment, and attainments at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. In fact, girls continue to Maintain as the highest performers.
Access to higher education has been made easier, through online courses, and regional education hubs, enabling a significant number of women on the islands to access affordable higher education. Technologies are introduced to make education more accessible.
We have made extraordinary progress in health sector Over the last 25 years, maternal mortality in the Maldives has plunged more than any other country’s, over this time period, with a staggering 90%. Infant mortality rate shrunk from 186.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017. The Government provides universal health coverage to all across the country. Despite the numerous challenges due to our dispersed geography, basic health care facilities are provided in all the inhabited islands, and services of sea-ambulances have been introduced in some regions as well.
In the Maldives, we have a Constitution that prohibits any discrimination based on gender. We enacted a Domestic Violence Prevention Act in 2012, recognizing domestic violence for the first time as a crime and providing legal protection for victims.
To promote and protect women’s rights and to encourage greater participation of women in community, economic, political and public spheres. A Gender Equality Law in 2016 was rectified. The law prohibits victimization and introduces remedies for discrimination based on gender. It also highlights the duties and responsibilities of State institutions and other relevant parties to achieve gender equality.
The new Administration drives towards increasing the number of women in executive positions, to expand their role in decision-making. President Solih has set an example at the very outset, by appointing 35% of his Cabinet of Ministers as women.
Despite the positive progress we have achieved, our challenges are manifold. Women’s participation in formal employment is significantly low in the Maldives. According to the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey, 63% of the labour force is male while only 37% is female. Out of those, 61% men are employed while for women, it is only 39%. The value of unpaid care and domestic work remain largely unrecognized. An unfair share of household responsibilities coupled with lack of childcare services make it exceedingly difficult for women to be employed or take up leadership positions. We must change our society’s beliefs on these traditional gender roles. Hence efforts are made in Maldives to address these issues.
To support for working mothers, the current government has been introducing flexible working schemes for working mothers, in order to alleviate these disparities. As such on the occasion of this year’s International Women’s Day the government has introduced a 6 months paid maternity leave for working mothers.
The government has been working on expanding financial inclusion of women, especially in the remote islands, by giving them easy access to loans and mobile banking. Special lending schemes targeted for women in agriculture will be introduced in the near future.
The Maldives is lagging further behind on the role of women in politics and public policy, with only 5 women among 85 members of parliament.. We cannot make sound policies for the entire population, when half of the population are under-represented. We must rectify this. We must remove the economic, social and cultural barriers inhibiting women from successfully contesting for and winning elections.
Madam Chair, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman,
Despite discrimination and prejudices faced, we have made a lot of progress.
We will continue investing in efforts until every women and girl in the Maldives achieve equal opportunities, choices acceptance and access
I thank you.