Statement by Her Excellency Ms Zenysha Shaheed Zaki,

Minister of Gender and Family

Sixty first session of the Commission on Status of Women

Priority theme: "Women's Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work "

United Nations, New York, 15 March 2017

Mr Chair,

Let me first of all welcome your appointment as the Chair, and express our delegation's warmest congratulations to you and other members of the Bureau of this sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Let me also express our gratitude to the Secretary General for his reports prepared in accordance with this mandate.

Mr Chair,

For more than twenty years, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action has guided the significant national and collective progress we have made towards realizing gender equality and women's empowerment. These gains have also been strengthened and consolidated by the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, despite many achievements towards these goals, the task before us remains challenging and progress has been uneven. In even the most advanced countries, women largely remain excluded from senior management positions in both the public and private-sector, and are under-represented in decision-making processes. Furthermore, for women living around the world, economic opportunities are limited by the persistence of social conventions regarding the gendered division of labour. As a result, women are expected to assume, often exclusively, the domestic responsibilities for their household, without any pay. Therefore, despite the substantial progress we have made, it cannot be said as yet that gender equality, particularly in the economic sphere, has been truly realized in any country.

It is for this very reason that we have gathered here today, to identify concrete examples of policies and share best practices that can bring us closer to the implementation of the Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda.

Bearing this in mind, I would like to share some of the recent initiatives launched in the Maldives aimed at empowering women and promoting their participation in the economy.

The Government of Maldives has made the realization of gender equality one of its key policy priorities. The cornerstone of our efforts is the Gender Equality Act, passed by our Parliament last August, which prohibits all forms of gender discrimination and enshrines in law, the principle of equal pay for equal work.

Such legislative mandates, however, must be realized through concrete policies aimed at increasing the participation of women at all levels of the economy. To this end, the Government believes that engagement with civil society organizations should be further strengthened and that women's voices should be represented from the grassroots to the policy-making process.

In an effort to promote women's participation in leadership positions, in 2014, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, made it a mandatory requirement that at least 30% of seats on the managing boards of all government agencies, commissions, and state-owned enterprises be filled by women. I am pleased to note that we have met 80% of this target to date.

Mr. Chair,

The Government of Maldives also believes that it is equally important to strengthen participation of women in the private sector. Although the Maldives has made significant progress in increasing women's participation in the formal economy, the full potential of a large percentage of women remain unfulfilled, as they continue to take on their traditional roles as domestic caretakers.

Such women are now being engaged in the formal economy with the help of the co-operative society known as SABAH, which aims to commercialize the traditions of handicrafts and food production that have been passed down by women from generation to generation. By providing skills training, productivity enhancements, and marketing techniques, this initiative enables women to participate in the formal economy without leaving their home.

Furthermore, to encourage more women to join the formal economy, the government launched special lending schemes last year, targeted at small and medium enterprises, under which 40% of loans were specifically reserved for youth and women.

Mr Chair,

As a country where young people make up the majority of the population, the youth empowerment agenda is closely linked with the women's empowerment agenda. The importance of investing in children's education, raising awareness and empowering girls cannot be stressed enough.

In the Maldives, building upon our previous success in achieving universal primary education for both boys and girls, free schooling has recently been extended to the last two years of secondary education, or until the age of 18. I am also pleased to note that girls now comprise over 55% of secondary school graduates in the Maldives.

Women and girls empowerment, however, remains hindered by the disproportionate incidence of abuse and violence. With the view, that realization of gender equality requires lifting the unequal burden of gender-based violence, the Government not only provides protection to victims but also conducts regular prevention programs.

Mr Chair,

Ultimately, gender equality cannot arise simply from government decrees or external mandates. It must be a process that is nationally-owned, tailored to local culture and customs, and which stems from the grassroots. It shall demand courageousness on the part of women and the support of men. In the Maldives, our aim is clear, as is the path we must take. The Government remains committed to continue moving towards the ultimate goal which we all share, until the day we can truly say that men and women are equal, not just in principle but in practice.

We are firm in our belief that society cannot make progress unless women have equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities in the community.

I thank you.