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Media Center > Speeches > HON PM BAINIMARAMA AT THE WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP IN CLIMATE DIPLOMACY BREAKFAST

HON PM BAINIMARAMA AT THE WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP IN CLIMATE DIPLOMACY BREAKFAST

10/18/2017
His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Fiji,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

We all know that women and girls are both critically vulnerable to some of the worst effects of climate change and vital to an effective response. So it is my great pleasure as incoming COP23 President to welcome you to the Gender Diplomacy Breakfast this morning.

And to assure you that throughout the term of Fiji’s presidency, gender issues will get the priority they deserve.

As the world experiences the extreme weather events, rising seas and changes to agriculture caused by climate change, women often have the least resources to cope. And this can add an extra burden to the poverty and lack of opportunity that billions of women around the world already face.

But Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, women are also powerful agents for change. Vast numbers are already stewards of natural resources and guardians of traditional knowledge. But as global conditions deteriorate, we know that women can lead the way in protecting food supplies and water resources. And in doing so, can protect their communities.

We also know that when women are well represented in decision-making processes, their ability to share skills and knowledge strengthens our collective effort to face the challenge of climate change.

We go into COP23 committing ourselves to the principles of justice and equality in which women and girls are afforded the same opportunities as men and boys. We can all be proud that the adoption of the First Gender Action Plan will take place at COP23. This will help ensure that the benefits of climate action are shared equitably. And we need to integrate these principles and practices throughout the work of the institutions that govern our collective response to climate change.

A great deal deserves to be highlighted not only here at the Pre-COP but when we get to Bonn. But I just want to say something about Fiji’s response to the gender issue that I think will resonate with many of you wherever in the world you call home.
Our COP delegation consists of close to 50 per cent women and we would obviously encourage other delegations to aspire to increase the proportion of women on theirs.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, you have all seen our Chief Negotiator in action. And I’m sure you’ll agree that Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan is a great representative for Fiji. We have entrusted her to a role of great importance to this process and to the world. And she is also a great role model for women and girls, not only in Fiji but everywhere.

The same applies to our MC this morning, my Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, the Honourable Mereseini Vuniwaqa, who speaks passionately about some of the challenges our own women face and how they are contributing to our collective quest to find answers.

Over the past decade, we have made a lot more progress in ensuring that women assume leadership positions. Fiji currently leads the Pacific in female representation in Parliament. Dr. Jiko Luveni is the first woman to ever serve as Speaker of our Parliament. And alongside our Secretary-General to Parliament and Secretary to the Cabinet, it is the first time in Fijian history that all three of those positions are simultaneously held by women. In my Government, four women oversee significant ministerial portfolios, and we are proud of that representation. But I also acknowledge that it is far from good enough and that we need to do much better.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, a cornerstone of my Government’s program is to empower Fijian women in all parts of the country and from every walk of life.

We have taken a long, hard look at the issues facing women in Fijian society. And we are investing more Government dollars than ever before in initiatives specifically designed to uplift Fijian women and level the playing field for them across the Fijian economy.

Last year, we raised the budget for the Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation, with increases to programmes that focus solely on supporting the women of Fiji. These include a Women’s Plan of Action and the setting up of a 24- hour help line for women and children in partnership with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre.

Again this year, we supported a National Women’s Expo to encourage more Fijian women to showcase their skills commercially in a whole variety of fields.

And many women are also benefitting from our Small to Medium Business Grants Scheme, in which we are encouraging Fijians to either start new businesses or develop existing ones as part of our wider aim to encourage an enterprise culture in Fiji.

As the Fijian economy enjoys an unprecedented period of growth – eight years and counting - we are translating that growth directly into policies that uplift every Fijian – particularly our women and girls. Thanks to the free education, subsidised bus fares and free textbooks that my Government has introduced for the first time, more girls are enrolled in school in Fiji today than ever before. And this empowerment is transforming the prospects of many girls by not only freeing them from the poverty trap but opening up a world of opportunity.

When education tuition wasn’t free, and parents had to choose which child they could afford to educate, it was frequently our girls who had to stay home. That heartbreak is now a thing of the past. Assisted by Government, parents no longer have to bear the financial burden of sending their children to school. So that now – finally - every child in Fiji can carry themselves as far as their interests, abilities and hard work can take them. And when they take the next step into higher education, we’ve vastly expanded our scholarship programmes to help fund that ambition.

It is by far my Government’s proudest achievement. And successive studies have shown that when women are educated, they are not only better placed to raise living standards for themselves and their families, they are much more likely to embrace effective family planning. And because that reduces the population burden on the environment, it is in the top ten most effective ways of combatting climate change.

So Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, improving the status of women is a core imperative in tackling the effects of climate change. That is what we are doing in Fiji. And that is what we must do around the world.

We have a great deal to look forward to at COP in terms of advancing the gender issue. The Presidency – together with Switzerland – is organising a dinner for female leaders on November 13, the eve of Gender Day. And on Gender Day itself, there will be a High Level Breakfast supported by the Mary Robinson Foundation. Now that is a woman I admire - someone who is making a real difference and whom we had the pleasure to host in Fiji a couple of years back.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to address you this morning. And let’s make COP23 a time for gender action as part of our wider campaign for climate action. Because in both cases, we have no time to waste.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.
 
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