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Opening remarks by Mr Kamal Malhotra United Nations Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative, Viet Nam at the Policy Event on Gender Equality on the Occasion of International Women's Day 2016

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Date: 03 March 2017

Event: Policy Event on Gender Equality on the Occasion of International Women's Day 2016

Venue: Melia Hotel, 44 Ly Thuong Kiet, Ha Noi

  • His Excellency Minister Dao Ngoc Dzung, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, and Chair of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Vietnam;
  • Excellencies Ambassadors;
  • Ladies and gentlemen;

It is my great pleasure to deliver opening remarks for this policy event to mark International Women's Day, my first in Viet Nam.

This year, across the world, we are gathering to shed light on "Women's economic empowerment in the changing world of work" as the theme of International Women's Day.

Women's economic empowerment and the realization of women's rights to and at work are essential for the achievement of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 8 on decent work together highlight the significance of women's economic empowerment; full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women; and equal pay for work of equal value for sustainable development.

The world of work is changing in significant ways.

On the positive side, globally women are increasingly engaged in paid labor in both the service and manufacturing sectors, and this is increasing women's autonomy and independence in many contexts.

However, even as globalization has brought millions of women into paid labour, it has also reproduced gender inequalities by concentrating women workers at the bottom of the global value chain, in the lowest paid jobs, in piece-rate, subcontracted work and insecure forms of self-employment, with little or no access to social protection.

If we look at Viet Nam, it is undeniable that the country has achieved remarkable economic growth in the past 30 years. Viet Nam is a dynamic, emerging economy with 73% of women participating in the economy. This is the 3rd highest rate in the 10 ASEAN economies where the average is around 65.5% and some upper middle income countries have much lower rates. Thanks to growing opportunities in the export sector, female employment in manufacturing in Vietnam is growing at a faster pace than male employment, and the proportion of women wage workers with social insurance is substantially higher than men who work more in the domestic private sector. It is clear that women are contributing significantly to Viet Nam's GDP growth rate and that rate would be much lower if it was not for the significant economic contribution of women.

However, we also have evidence that the economic growth of the country is not necessarily translating into greater gender equality for all.

As there will be a full presentation today on the current state of women in the economy, I will refrain from going into great detail but here are some facts to give you a sense of the challenges which remain.

- Only 29% of working women are engaged in wage employment compared to almost 40% of working men. Wage employment is often associated with better working conditions and socio-economic status.

- On the other hand, more women than men are in vulnerable employment due to a larger share of women working as family workers (such as on family farms or in family business) with no independent access to income.

Despite gender parity in education which has significantly improved even at higher levels, the gender gap between average male and female annual earnings has widened from 13% in 2004 to 20% in 2012. The causes include decline in the share of employed women with technical qualifications, strongly gender-stratified fields of study, and persistent employer stereotypes that lead to women clustered in low-paying sectors and occupations.

Women in Viet Nam also still face discrimination in law, such as the unequal retirement age which the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended that the Government review and address.

We also know that rigid gender and cultural norms are restricting women's opportunities. Women in Viet Nam, as in many other places around the world, bear the disproportionate burden of domestic work and care work and they are expected to balance this responsibility with productive work.

This unpaid care work of women is not economically valued and adequately supported through social policies such as maternity protection that is available also for workers in the informal economy. As Viet Nam faces a rapidly aging population that will require care, we anticipate that the burden on women will only be increasing if affordable social services are not offered.

We cannot talk about the changing world of work without touching on technology. Viet Nam is yet to witness the impact of technology in the workplace to the same degree as some of its more economically advanced ASEAN neighbors. This is due to the high cost of upgrading technology and the lack of skilled workers to operate the technology. However, the question is not if, but when, the advances will affect Viet Nam. ILO estimates indicate that 86 per cent of all wage workers in Viet Nam's textiles, clothing and footwear manufacturing could face a high risk of automation due to advances in technological engineering. This could have a profound impact on women workers in particular, who across all industries in Viet Nam are 2.4 times more likely than men to be employed in an occupation at high risk of automation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The SDGs seek to leave no one behind, and that means no women or girls should be left behind. Transforming the world of work for women requires the elimination of structural barriers and discriminatory laws and social norms to create equal economic opportunities and outcomes. Let me offer a few recommendations.

First, we must work to eliminate occupational segregation by addressing discriminatory social norms and promoting women's equal participation in the labour market, education and training. We must support women, particularly young women's, access to skills and training in new and emerging fields, especially science, technology, engineering and mathematical education and digital fluency, by expanding the scope of education and training opportunities. This will enable women to diversity their occupational choice and enter jobs in emerging fields and growing economic sectors.

Secondly, we need to expand and reprioritize fiscal expenditure for social protection and care infrastructure, such as, early childhood education and health care, elderly care, and maternity protection to reduce the burden of care work on women. This includes establishing universal social protection floors as part of the national social protection system in order to ensure access to social protection for all, including workers outside of the formal economy.

Third, as agriculture still remains the dominant sector of employment in Viet Nam, more so for women than for men, we need to invest in improving the productivity and earning capacity of women who rely on agriculture as their main source of livelihood and ensure that small-scale women farmers are not left behind in efforts to promote contract farming linked to the global economic value chain.

Lastly, the government of Viet Nam must continue to remove discrimination in laws such as the unequal retirement age for women and men. It also has to establish and strengthen the compliance mechanism to hold employers accountable for implementing the many good provisions that exist in the laws to promote women's right to decent and productive work.

I hope today's dialogue will mark an important milestone in our journey – one when we celebrate the significant progress made but also recognize how much more we need to do, and where we make the necessary commitments and investment to bring about lasting change and transformation for gender equality in Viet Nam.

The United Nations stands ready to support the people of Viet Nam in this journey.

Xin Cam On!