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Speech by UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Pratibha Mehta at the Workshop on prevention and control of violence against women and girls

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Date:         25 November 2013
Event:       Workshop on prevention and control of violence against women and girls
Venue:     Melia Hotel, 44B Ly Thuong Kiet St., Hoan Kiem Dist., Ha Noi.

Mr. Huynh Vinh Ai, Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Representatives from line ministries and social organizations;
International development partners, UN colleagues and the media;
Ladies and gentlemen
I am delighted to welcome you to this important ‘Workshop on the Prevention and Control of Violence against Women and Girls on this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

This workshop marks the official opening of the annual 16 days of activism to end violence against women globally, as well as here in Viet Nam.

One in three women will be subject to violence at some point in their lives.

Violence knows no borders. It affects women and girls of all ages, all income levels, all races, and all faiths and cultures.

The vast majority of cases still go unreported and unacknowledged. Survivors are left wounded, invisible and suffering in silence.

Everyone has a right to live free of violence. It’s a fundamental right – a right enshrined in international human rights law through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the Beijing Platform for Action; and most recently the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children adopted this year.

Globally, there is growing understanding of the high-costs of violence against women. It devastates families, communities, and society as a whole.

Violence against women hurts national economies, and hinders progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Viet Nam has gathered evidence of the scale of the problem over the past few years.

According to the National Study on Domestic Violence Against Women in Viet Nam from 2010, 32% of ever-married women have experienced physical violence in their lives. If we add sexual violence and emotional abuse, this figure climbs to 58%.

Most abused women, 87%, had not sought help from formal services or people in authority.

Only now is the true cost being calculated. In Viet Nam, women who are victims of domestic violence earn up to 35 per cent less than other women.

Altogether, the opportunity cost and productivity loss of domestic violence amounted to more than 3 per cent of Viet Nam’s GDP in 2010 alone.

Since 2011, new studies – on the imbalance of sex ratio at birth; on the links between masculinity and domestic violence; and a study on the cost of domestic violence among others – have all helped to increase our understanding of gender based violence in Viet Nam, as well as the current policy and programming gaps.

Gender norms, including perceptions of masculinity, gender and family roles are strongly linked to violence against women.

The underlying cause is unequal power relations, as well as social norms that condone violence against women within both the private and public spheres.

In-line with Confucian and patriarchal social structures, gender roles in Viet Nam are highly polarised.

Masculinity is associated with sexual aggression, power, authority, and ‘heat’, which is often linked to alcohol and anger.

At the same time femininity is associated with sexual passivity, subservience to men, nurturing roles in the family, and ‘coolness’. This is linked to maintaining calmness and family harmony.

In this way violence by men against women has been ‘normalized’. It is regarded as ‘natural’ for a man to get angry and to maintain authority over his wife - his wife’s fault for not maintaining family harmony, or accepting her husband’s authority.

By addressing this kind of violence through grassroots conciliation, rather than a strong legal system, has led to impunity; meaningless apologies, imperfect sentencing; and a general climate of tolerance that discourages anyone from reporting.

Tolerance for domestic violence is also linked to institutionalized social norms, and ideals of the ‘Happy Family’. Although a laudable goal, it increases pressure on both men and women to maintain a public face of harmony, and teaches women to struggle on in silence.

Viet Nam passed the Law on Gender Equality in 2006, the Law on Domestic Violence and Control in 2007, and the Law on Suppression and Prevention of Human Trafficking in 2012. Decrees to help implement the Domestic Violence Law were issued in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The National Strategy on Gender Equality, 2011-2020, and the National Programme on Gender Equality, 2011-2015 have both increased Viet Nam’s ability to address gender inequality. The revision of the Labour Code in 2012 prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace.

However, unless the underlying social norms that make violence against women socially ‘acceptable’ in Viet Nam are addressed, then prevention, disclosure, law enforcement, reporting and successful prosecution all become more difficult.

Focusing in too narrowly on domestic violence rather than all forms of gender-based violence – as well as the linkages between them - also makes victims and perpetrators of violence against women outside of the home invisible.

For example, the risk of sexual harassment at work is higher for young people aged between 18 and 30. Young women are especially at risk as they occupy a larger share of lower level jobs than men, and are more vulnerable to harassment by their male superiors.

Harrassment can range from unwelcome flirting and lewd remarks, to physical touching, suggestions of sexual intercourse, and sexual assault and rape.

Harassers and victims often know each other well, with the harasser often in a position of authority. However, due to fear of reprisals and institutional response mechanisms very few victims come forward for help.

Sex selective abortion; early marriage; human trafficking or forced migration; sexual harassment at the workplace and in public places; and commercial sexual exploitation are all practices that are putting many vulnerable and marginalized groups of people - particularly women - at unacceptable risk.

We have identified a number of gaps in legislation and policy. For example, the recent ‘Women in Justice’ research, undertaken by the UN, shows that violence against women is not effectively prosecuted even for the few cases that are reported.

Many serious acts of violence are also defined as ‘administrative violations’ rather than penal offences.  If the injuries are below ‘11%’, domestic violence is not considered a criminal offence, but only an administrative violation which will result in warnings or fines.  

Some studies have shown that these fines are then passed onto the victim, often the spouse that has been abused.

Another problem is the tendency to overlook the linkages in addressing each form of gender based violence independently.

Interventions are often aimed at reducing only one form of gender based violence, with different ministries and agencies given responsibility. This leads to an incoherent, incomplete and often disjointed approach despite the root cause often being the same.

The focus must move beyond domestic violence, to a more holistic approach that recognizes all forms of violence against women as a severe manifestation of gender inequality.

This calls for a multi-sectoral, centrally co-ordinated approach to prevention and response, under the strong leadership of a single agency.

There is an urgent need to provide quality, multi-sectoral services to women who have experienced violence. We must remove the barriers they face in accessing them.  This is particularly urgent for the most vulnerable groups, including ethnic minority women, and those living with disabilities.

We must continue to build awareness and sensitivity of service providers and law enforcement. They must be aware that violence against women should not be tolerated, and that survivors are not to be blamed.

To monitor progress, there is a need to generate regular, reliable and rigorous data on gender based violence. We must also seek to understand the changing dynamics of violence against women with rapid economic progress.

Currently, there is no national mechanism to compile the data from different sectors into one comprehensive statistical database on GBV.

Evaluating the effectiveness of existing laws and interventions must also be a priority.  The current revision of the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code must be taken as an opportunity to comprehensively review all laws and decrees addressing violence against women such as the Law on Prevention and Control of Domestic Violence, as these laws are interlinked.  

There is also an urgent need to develop a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation framework to ensure that any scale-up of interventions is evidence- driven.

As stated in the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women held in New York last March, all States have the responsibility and obligation, at all levels, to use all appropriate means to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women and girls.

States must exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of violence, and provide protection and support for victims and survivors.

We must stop violence before it occurs.

We need education in schools that teaches gender equality and mutual respect. We must ensure boys and girls are shown appropriate gender roles at home and in public places. We must inspire young people to fight for equality as a human right.

Men and boys are a vital part of the solution.
‘Real men’ say no and take action if they witness violence against women.  

To all the men here today I say ending violence cannot succeed without your help.

You have a critical role to play.


The UN in Viet Nam remains firmly committed to supporting the Government and civil society partners, to advance the status of women and promoting gender equality in Viet Nam.

Let me end here with a quote from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which so eloquently expresses the simplicity of what we are discussing this morning:

"Violence against women must not be tolerated, in any form, in any context or in any circumstance. There can be no exceptions, no excuses and no delay."

I look forward to the in-depth policy discussion this morning, as part of our efforts to stamp out this pandemic of violence against women in all its forms.

Thank you very much for your attention and participation. I wish you every success in these discussions.
Together lets end violence against women and girls.