Third Committee of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly,
Agenda Item 28: Advancement of Women
Ms. Shiruzimath Sameer, Representative of the Maldives Delegation to the 69th Session of the
United Nations General Assembly
New York, 14 October 2014
Thank you, Madam Chair.
At the outset, I wish to express our appreciation for the useful briefings and observations made by the heads of UN-Women, UNFPA and CEDAW at the beginning of the debate under this Agenda Item. My delegation is grateful to the Secretary General for the reports submitted for our consideration.
It has been 35 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Maldives joined the Convention in 1993 and the Optional Protocol to the Convention in 2006. This treaty has now gained nearly universal acceptance, with a few notable exceptions. In the past three and half decades, the world has taken several steps forward on the path to gender equality. Women are earning more for their work, rising in rank, gaining maternity leave and healthcare entitlements; more girls are going to school and pursuing their dreams.
Gender equality has always been a priority issue for the Maldives. As per UNDP's records of 2013, the Maldives has the highest ranking in terms of gender equality in the South Asian region in the Gender Inequality Index and the second highest in the Gender-related Development Index. The laws of our country guarantee the same rights and freedoms to women and men alike. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are embedded in our Constitution.
The Maldives has enacted a suite of legislation upholding these principles and providing for the equal participation of women in political, social and economic activities. Under the Constitution, all women enjoy equal pay for equal work as their male counterparts. Under the 2008 Employment Act, we have guaranteed maternity leave for working mothers with 3-months full pay. The Domestic Violence Act of 2012 has enabled the building of safe houses for abused women. This year, two new Acts on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Offences were enacted, making gender discrimination unlawful, and establishing the first formal mechanism to hear sexual harassment complaints. Together with the Anti-Human Trafficking Act and Penal Code, these statutes provide victims of abuse with the legal powers to face their abusers, and ensures that there is no de jure discrimination against women in access to employment, education, health and other public services.
Equality in the law is indeed a positive step, but that alone will not lead to women's empowerment. To achieve real and sustainable outcomes on gender issues, we must work on changing practices and perceptions. The Maldives is slowly but surely realising substantive equality for women, as reflected in our progress towards reaching Millennium Development Goal 3 on gender empowerment and equality. One hundred percent of girls and boys in the Maldives are enrolled in primary schools; there is gender parity in both primary and secondary education; maternal mortality rates are down to 13 per 100,000 live births; and more than 99% of mothers-to-be have prenatal care and 95% of births were delivered by skilled health staff.
Despite this progress, many challenges remain. Violence against women is a major issue. A nation-wide survey revealed that one in three women between the ages of 15 and 49 had suffered from physical, sexual or emotional violence in their lifetimes. One in nine reported severely violent abuse. One in eight reported sexual abuse as a child under 15 years of age. The results showed, disturbingly, that the majority of the perpetrators were immediate family members.
In the Maldives, traditional attitudes and cultural norms are the tallest hurdles on the path to women's advancement and human development as a whole. Although there is no formal or institutional discrimination in the Maldives, we recognise that women have difficulty surpassing traditional family roles and stereotypes; in terms of employment, men remain predominant in key economic sectors, including tourism and construction. Further, the engagement of women in decision-making roles remains all too low. The proportion of women in Parliament is only 5.9%, while in local councils a mere 5.3%. No woman has ever run for President in the Maldives. As our country undergoes the democratic consolidation process, we are acutely aware that democracy cannot be fully realised without the equal participation of women at all levels of government.
While we move forward, there are new obstacles in our path. Conservative religious interpretations have manifested in Maldivian society, which promote new trends such as under-aged marriages, non-vaccination of infants and decreased school enrolment rates. Young girls suffer the most from these practices. Such interpretations of Islam wrongly assume that women's participation in the public sphere should be restricted, and women should be confined to a household role. But these perspectives run against the position of gender equality, protected in the laws and Constitution of the Maldives, and respected by our institutions. The Government of the Maldives is determined to counter these attitudes and raise awareness on gender-based violence and other women's issues, in partnership with international agencies. Women in the Maldives are gradually learning of their rights and, with legal and economic support, are becoming empowered to leave abusive relationships and regain control of their own future.
We cannot be complacent. The Maldives will continue to fight for inclusive and holistic gender empowerment, at home and abroad, including through our participation in the Human Rights Council and through our membership in the Board of UN-Women. As we shape the post-2015 development agenda, the Maldives reiterates the need to maintain the stand-alone goal on gender equality and empowerment. This is a goal which aspires to equal rights, access and opportunities for women of all ages, colours and creeds. It must be effective and it must be transformative. Transformation is only possible if there is universal coverage, taking into account the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. There cannot be human development without women's advancement. There cannot be sustainable development without gender equality.