Speech by H.E. Debbie Remengesau

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct honor to be here for the Universal Peace Federation’s World Summit, among friends and allies from nations and organizations around the world, and I look forward to working together to achieve our common goals.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Mother Moon, Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, Chairman and the Universal Peace Foundation—especially those working behind the scenes—for all their hard work in organizing this event and making our successful gathering possible. Thank you.

I would also like to thank the people of South Korea for making us feel so at home and for the longstanding friendship between my country and yours.

I am here today to deliberate on the theme of “Peace, Security and Human Development,” highly important and interrelated subjects that are crucial to the survival of the human race. I would like to begin by sharing a little bit about myself and the cultural traditions of my country, to give you some context and background.

My name is Debbie Remengesau. I am the mother of four, a grandmother of six, and a homemaker.

I am from the Republic of Palau, a remote island nation situated in the north-eastern Pacific Ocean. By population we are one of the smallest nations on the planet with about 20,000 citizens.

I am married to a fisherman who has lately taken some time out of his fishing career to become the President of Palau!

Since my husband’s career change, we have less fish in the house, but I have the distinct honor of being Palau’s First Lady!

Palau is a matrilineal society. In our traditional leadership, women have always held positions of power and respect. In fact, it is the women of Palau who choose our male clan leaders and it is women who dismiss him if he is not doing a good job!

Our men dictate the security and protection of our communities and our country. In this way, men and women fulfill important, interconnected roles that weave together the secure fabric of our society.

Our deep-rooted cultural wisdom and traditions have been faithfully passed down through the generations: women and men working side by side for the betterment of our people and country.

But this is not the case in most of the world. In most countries, women are hugely underrepresented in positions of power. And in some, they are even silenced.

This is the greatest threat to the Peace, Security and Human Development of our planet. When 52% of the world’s population does not have a proper seat at the table, we rob ourselves of half the ideas, solutions, vision and leadership necessary to address the many crises the world is now facing.

In my culture, the influence of women is not limited to culture and traditional practices. Women played an integral role in our struggle for independence and peace and asserted that our traditional principles be at the heart of our nation’s new Constitution.

In what became a long and painful time in our history, our women leaders called upon the powers that have traditionally rested with women. Courageous women travelled between villages and islands; they shared information with each community and stood up to intense outside international pressure in order to secure a “Nuclear Free” provision in our Constitution.

It was grassroots networking at its best and at its hardest: women talked to women as they worked in their Taro patches. This case is now featured in textbooks for students of government globally as an example of “women having political efficacy効用,” but for us, this is the way we have always done things.

And in securing the world’s first Nuclear Free Constitution, the women of Palau promoted peace—not only in our own country, but in a message that resonated around the world and ignited change.

Today, inspired by our matriarchal cultural identity, women are active contributors both traditionally and in our modern development as a young nation. Women hold many roles in government and private sectors, from judges, doctors, teachers and businesswomen, to cabinet ministers and public officials in our State and National Congresses. And we are one of just a few countries to have had a woman serve as vice president.

At this stage in our world’s history and in our humanity, this message of gender equality in leadership is of vital importance. But equality wasn’t the only valuable lesson our ancestors taught us...

Ancient Palauans understood the critical value of the environment to our survival, security and way of life. We have long known what the rest of the world is fast discovering: that without a healthy environment, we have no future. This urgent threat to our world’s environment is possibly the biggest challenge to peace, security and human development that we, as the human race, face today.

As world citizens, it is our responsibility to protect, conserve and respect our oceans and our lands—our precious planet. Our children, our future generations, are counting on us to preserve our resources for their survival.

For without a healthy planet there will be no peace, only war; no security, only uncertainty; and no human development, only human decline.

Palau is a large ocean state and the ocean that surrounds our beautiful island home is a constant reminder of how, despite our remote location, we are inextricably ほどけない程にlinked to the rest of the world.

Just like in a marriage, this link is for better, or for worse.

Because of this connection, today we Palauans find ourselves unexpectedly on the front line of global environmental challenges such as climate change, global warming, and pollution. As a mother and a grandmother, this is deeply concerning to me.

Pollution threatens our marine life and the coral reefs サンゴ礁that sustain our livelihood. Rising water levels as a result of climate change have destroyed parts of our country and will soon completely devastate some of our Pacific island neighbors such as Kiribati and the Marshall Islands—leaving their people without a country to call home.

This poses the greatest threat to survival and security that our country has ever encountered. Our children’s future is in peril and it will take the efforts of all of us to rewrite the ending of this story.

People say that Palau leads the world in conservation and it is true that we were the first country to ban nuclear testing, the first to ban the destructive practice of bottom trawling, and that our waters are the world’s first shark sanctuary—but all of these decisions were made using our ancient cultural wisdom of environmental stewardship: not doing these things simply did not make sense if we wanted our environment, and therefore our people, to survive.

But we can’t do it alone. We need the world to join us.

Three years ago, my husband and our traditional chiefs declared Palau’s national waters and exclusive economic zone the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, thus closing our ocean to commercial fishing and creating the largest percentage of fully protected marine territory in the world. This move will help replenish depleting fish stocks, protect endangered species, and help our precious ocean recover.

This decision was a modern interpretation of our traditional cultural practice, but this time, by helping with food security, it will benefit the rest of the world, too.

To help spread this global message, at the end of 2017 a women-led initiative in Palau created another world’s first: The Palau Pledgeパラオの誓い.

The Palau Pledge is our official passport stamp and is printed into every person’s passport on arrival in their own language. It is a mandatory promise to Palau’s children that each person must make and sign, saying they will do the right thing to protect and preserve Palau’s precious environment and to respect our children’s home and future. It acts as a reminder to our people that we don’t inherit this world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children and we hope it will make all our visitors think of the impact they have on our planet’s environment when they return home.

Once again, the Palau Pledge has set an example for the rest of the world to follow and has already inspired other territories and nations to take on similar schemes. Last year, both Hawaii and New Zealand announced they were following Palau’s lead and introducing a similar Pledge of their own, inspired by their cultural wisdom.

Imagine if all our politicians, business leaders, legislators and educators made decisions guided by an environmental Pledge to the next generation.... What a different world this would be.

The Palau Pledge is also another example of a women-led project that has provided an innovative way to help solve a pressing global issue. It is one of millions of such examples worldwide of how women can contribute to the Peace, Security, Human Development and Protection of our precious planet.

Imagine what would be possible if we unleashed 自由にするthe world’s most untapped resource: the creativity, passion, hearts and minds of the women. Now imagine if we brought this force to bear on the challenges we currently face…

I believe that we would change the world.

So today I have a message for the women of our planet: as mothers and grandmothers we have tremendous power to effect real change in our communities and our countries.

Together we are strong. And I encourage you today to be inspired by the women of Palau, who unite in times of crisis to take a stand for what’s right, lead their community and come up with new ideas and solutions to the problems we face.

We owe it to our children, and our children’s children, to take the lead when it comes to giving them a healthy, peaceful and secure world to inherit.

I hope you can join me on this journey and together, we will restore their birthright.

Thank you or as we say in Palau, Mesulang.

 H.E. Debbie Remengesau

Author: H.E. Debbie Remengesau

First Lady, Palau

 

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