Australian High Commissioner to Maldives David Holly and Country Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Maldives Ritsu Nacken signed a grant agreement on Monday to ensure the provision of reproductive health (RH) and gender-based violence (GBV) information and services to women and girls in Maldives amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Worth USD 300,000 (approximately MVR 4.5 million), the grant will further strengthen the Maldivian government’s efforts to guarantee access to such services.
The grant will facilitate the operationalization of two Reproductive Health Centres located in the capital Male’ and Haa Dhaalu Atoll, support capacity-building efforts to prepare service providers to assist survivors of violence, initiate advocacy programmes, and procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for RH facilities across the archipelago.
Speaking at the ceremony held to sign the agreement, UNFPA Country Director Ritsu Nacken stated, "In the COVID-19 response, we must recognize the gender-differentiated impact of the pandemic. The needs of women and girls are often neglected in emergency settings. UNFPA continues to support the most vulnerable women and girls, whose protection and health needs must be at the centre of response efforts to ensure no one is left behind".
"Australia is pleased to support UNFPA to provide services to women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic in Maldives. Globally, experience shows that domestic, sexual and gender-based violence increases during crises and disasters. It is important that support services for women and girls in Maldives can now continue during the COVID-19 pandemic", said Australian High Commissioner David Holly.
UNFPA emphasized the need to ensure continued provision of life-saving sexual and reproductive health services, noting COVID-19 pandemic's impacts on progress made towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women and girls, making them more vulnerable to health, social and economic risks due to existing inequalities, socio-cultural beliefs and unequal power relations.
According to UNFPA, the rapid increase in COVID-19 infections in Maldives has increased strain on other support services delivered by the health system, while lockdown measures have caused a higher incidence of gender-based violence.
UNFPA has been cooperating with international partners amid the pandemic to expedite efforts to attain the three key targets of zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women by 2030.
Australia’s pledge to UNFPA constitutes part of an AUD 630,000 aid package to Maldives, which is intended to boost the country's response to COVID-as well as efforts to recover from the pandemic.
As neighbouring nations located in the Indian Ocean, Australia and Maldives maintain a long-standing bilateral relationship.