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“Equality for women means progress for all”

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Pratibha MehtaAs published in Phu Nu Viet Nam on 7 March 2014

Today, as we enjoy another International Women’s Day, I want to emphasize the importance of achieving equality for women and girls. This is not just because gender equality is a fundamental human right. Viet Nam will find it very difficult to make socio-economic progress without it. The evidence is clear.

Gender equality leads to better economic growth. Women’s leadership helps companies perform better. Parliaments with more women enact better legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support.

Equality for women means progress for us all.

Next week, at the global level, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meets for its 58th session in New York.

It takes place as we intensify our efforts to achieve the MDGs, and formulate a new generation of sustainable development goals, and the post-2015 development agenda.

We are also approaching the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – an anniversary that urges us to fully meet the commitments made nearly 20 years ago.

Here in Viet Nam, Government and civil society partners are preparing to present the next report on progress made on the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination of Women before the CEDAW committee in July 2015.

Taken together, these events and activities present us with a once in a generation opportunity to position gender equality, women’s rights, and women’s empowerment at the heart of a sustainable development agenda.

But before we can look forward, we must also look back.

The MDGs have transformed the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people. They have lifted people out of poverty, improved education and health outcomes, and enhanced environmental sustainability.

By any standard, here in Viet Nam, progress has been remarkable. Most of the 2015 MDG targets have already met, and in some cases exceeded.

Viet Nam halved poverty between 1993 and 2002, and again by 2012. Living standards improved greatly and hunger dropped dramatically.

Having achieved the primary education goal, Viet Nam is already striving to achieve universal lower secondary education.

MDG targets on child health care are almost met. Maternal mortality has decreased.

Yet in spite of this success, challenges remain. Focusing on national averages has masked growing inequalities. In Viet Nam the gap is widening between rich and poor, particularly for ethnic minorities, migrant workers, and those in hard to reach areas.

Women, in particular, continue to face challenges in accessing health and education, and in achieving equal power, voice and rights.

The skewed male-to-female sex ratio at birth is just one example, averaging 112 boys born for every 100 girls in Viet Nam.

Women are less likely to access advanced education, and decent work that includes social protection. The wage gap between men and women is increasing. Women are less likely to own land and other assets.

Women are also under represented in decision making at all levels.

Women are at risk from domestic and other forms of violence. In 2010, a national survey revealed that six out of ten ever-married women had experienced some form of physical, sexual or emotional violence at some point time in their lives.

Only now is the true cost being calculated.

As we accelerate our actions to achieve the MDGs we must invest in gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment across all goals and priorities.

Any new generation of goals adopted in the post-2015 agenda must be transformative, universal, and rights-based, fully aligned with key international instruments such as CEDAW, with equality, including gender equality, at the core.

The new development agenda must also build stronger institutions, governance and accountability to deliver real change for women and girls.

So what should it seek to achieve?

Firstly, it must end violence against women. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are simply not possible if we don’t end violence and fear of violence – and if societies still consider gender-based violence to be acceptable.

Secondly, it must also expand women’s capabilities and access to and control over resources, so that they have full choice and options about how to live their lives.

Thirdly, it must ensure that women take full part in household, public and private decision-making. It's critical that women have an equal voice and participate in and influence the processes and institutions that shape public policies, and household and private sector decisions.

We stand at a critical point in time for women and girls. We cannot afford to lose any ground on gender equality and women’s rights.

Equality for women and girls is not just a dream. It is a duty of governments, the United Nations and everyone around us.

As the UN in Viet Nam, we remain fully committed to supporting the Government and its civil society partners in advancing the status of women and promoting gender equality.

As we strive to eliminate poverty and promote sustainable development, equality for women means progress for all!

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