Your excellency Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid,
Your excellencies honorable Ministers,
Your excellencies Ambassadors
Representatives from private sector and civil society
WHO Representative Dr. Arvind Mathur
Our distinguished UN colleagues and friends,
Thank you all so much for joining me here this afternoon. Your presence means a lot to me. I do remember meeting many of you for the first time. Time has flown so fast since then. I also remember the day I arrived in the Maldives. Well, the Maldives did not welcome with its best blue shades that day. As I stepped out of the airport, the hazy ocean spread in front of me.
Beyond, Male’ looked like a mini-Manhattan, a mini-Manhattan with colorful high-rise buildings. The cloudy weather was a reflection of my state of mind that day. I took a deep breath. Back in 1997 during an interview for my first UN job, I said passionately that one day I want to be a UN Representative. Seventeen years later in October 2014, I was heading to my dream job.
Landing in a new country with a new job always gives me goose bumps. It is a combination of anxiety and excitement, the former weighing more. I did not know what to expect from this miniature capital city, and from the island state better known for its luxurious resorts. My family and friends said, “Poor Shoko, she is off the career track”
Four and half years later, all I can say is that experiences in the Maldives have been extraordinary. By far the best job. Not because it is an “Instagram-able” country, but my work covered a combination of development, political analysis and sensitive human rights. This is what the UN stands for. Some of our work is visible, such as improving water access and waste management for communities. Some may not be so visible, such as closed-door diplomacy, strategic policy support and capacity development.
Hard work pays off. One day when I was walking back to the office, a random person on a motorbike stopped and said, “Thank you for all the good work of the UN”, and he just left. It made my day to hear the words of appreciation unexpectedly. I also felt rewarded to witness Maldivian’s firm commitment to democracy. The voter turnout of 89% at the presidential election last September was amazing. And all went so peacefully. It was truly democracy in action! UN reiterates our commitment to working with all of you to develop an SDGs-based national development vision and enhance social cohesion.
Despite all the work we have done, one big disappointment was to see the results of the recent parliamentary election, only four women elected. We went from 5 female MPs to 4, placing Maldives global ranking at 186thout of 191. If we truly want gender equality we need more women in leadership and decision making levels. We have to be bold. I hope the recent announcement by the President to introduce a quota system at the local council level will become reality and inspire young girls across the country to demand a seat at the table.
I am personally very passionate about gender equality. Being a combination of East Asian, soft spoken, women and (relatively!) young age for managerial responsibilities, I have never been seen as a typical leader type, so I worked extra hard to build trust with my colleagues and counterparts like you all.
Through these days and years, I have also come to realize that it is most important to believe in ourselves, our ability and our potential. I have met so many young girls and women with so much potential in the Maldives. Even the majority of the UN team here in Maldives is female, showing us what we can accomplish when both women and men work together.
Together with you, we have worked to;
- SDG advocacy
- One UN Climate Action project
- Working with police, PG, caseworkers to respond to violence against children.
- Elimination of key diseases like malaria, and strong advocacy for Non-Communicable Diseases
- Roll out the Penal Code
- Develop the Gender Policy and National Human Rights Action Plan.
- New area of our very relevant work for prevention of violent extremism.
Somebody warned me that being an RC would be a very lonely job. It was actually the opposite. Of all nine assignments in the UN, this RC job has been the most gratifying and exciting experience.
What made is so? My team I have here. With a fantastic team in place, we can find solutions to overcome any challenging external factors. I want to thank each of you for your hard work and dedication. I feel very lucky and proud to have been a part of such a great team.
Maldives is the place, where my dream has come true to be the UN Representative. Maldives is my second home, where I have lived longest time outside of Japan.
The day has come. The day to turn back and look at my little Manhattan one more time, with nostalgia before moving to a new country, a new job. My next destination – Incredible India!
So once again, thank you very much, and I look forward to our next rendez-vous in India, or back home here.
Today we say good luck to a wonderful leader who has inspired us and worked towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Maldives will always welcome you back with open arms.