International Women's Day 2020: to achieve 'Generation Equality'

Opinion editorial by Ms. Catherine Haswell, UN Resident Coordinator to mark International Women's Day 2020.

2020 kicks off the Decade of Action for achieving the most ambitious and universal internationally agreed development agenda in world history. We have just 10 years to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To get there, we need to bring people from all ages, gender, race, ethnicity and countries together to drive actions towards gender equality. Gender equality is a goal in itself, and is key to achieving the other 16 SDGs. Quite simply, our international commitments cannot be met without gender equality. The benefits are not just for women and girls, but for everyone whose lives will be changed by a fairer world that leaves no one behind. This is Generation Equality, the theme of International Women’s Day 2020.

Gender equality means that our access to rights and opportunities is not affected by what gender we are. It means planning, designing and providing services and employment opportunities to all people, not only for half of them. To achieve this, the profile of both the planners and decision-makers needs to reflect the reality of our population, both men and women. It is the role of leadership, in all organizations and governments, to ensure balanced representation.

While the scale of the challenge is large, we must applaud positive achievements. The Maldives has ratified the Domestic Violence Prevention Law (2014) and the Gender Equality Law (2016), introduced the quota system for 33% of Local Council seats to be allocated to women, and taken measures to ensure a more active role of the Women’s Development Committees (2019). Legislation is critical, but turning legislation into meaningful change is the true measure of our commitment. Recent appointments of women to senior roles in the government, judiciary and state institutions is welcomed.

One critical area where more needs to be done is opening the field for women and girls to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Education and jobs in technology are critical, because global estimates say that 90% of future jobs will require these skills. Without these skills, our efforts to bring women in to the labour market will quickly reverse. Globally, only 18% of professionals in technology are currently women.

The Maldives provides universal access to education for boys and girls. Nevertheless, girls and women face challenges in pursuing higher education and jobs in technology and innovation. We must also do more to combat the belief that technology is an exclusive domain for boys and men, which continues to negatively affect the confidence of girls to move into the field. In recent years, civil society has played a key role in mentoring and enabling opportunities for girls and women living in the islands through programmes such as ‘Django Girls’, ‘Girls to Code’ as well as web and game development trainings. But to have a real impact, these efforts must be scaled up through dedicated collaboration between the public and private sectors to increase opportunities for women in technology, including flexible working options which enable women to stay in the workforce.

We need to ensure that our modest achievements towards achieving equality are not stalled, or worse, reversed. To achieve sustainable and inclusive development, the equal participation of women is essential in areas of particular importance to the future of the Maldives, such as creating new technologies for environmental protection, fisheries and agriculture. The experience and unique insights of girls and women are necessary to make real gains towards economic growth, peace and equality.

Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, the United Nations is committed to putting women at the centre of the global development agenda, and supporting the Maldives to eliminate barriers faced by women. Repealing laws that discriminate against women and girls; increasing protection against violence; closing the gap in girls’ education and digital technology; guaranteeing full access to health services and rights; and ending the gender pay gap are just some of the areas we are targeting.

As Secretary-General António Guterres has said, it is time to stop trying to change women, and start changing the systems that prevent them from achieving their potential, for the benefit of us all.

Speech by
Ms. Catherine Haswell
Resident Coordinator
UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations
United Nations Population Fund