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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 2018

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Date: March 8, 2018

Venue: Pan Pacific Hotel, 1 Thanh Nien Road, Hanoi, Viet Nam


  • Excellency Doan Mau Diep, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Chair of National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Viet Nam;


  • Excellencies Ambassadors,
  • Ladies and gentlemen;

On behalf of the United Nations in Vietnam let me wish all of you Happy International Women's Day, not just to the women here. I am glad to see many men here today and am pleased to note that both Deputy Minister Diep representing the Government and myself representing the UN are men who support enhancement of gender relations.

It is my great pleasure to open this event to mark International Women's Day in Viet Nam.

This year, across the world, we are gathering to shed light on "Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls" as the theme of International Women's Day.

Each year, the UN system champions the rights of rural women on the International Day for Rural Women. In 2018, the Commission on the Status of Women, the CSW, the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, will tackle the challenges and opportunities facing rural women as a priority theme. The CSW has called for tearing down the barriers to rural women and girls worldwide.

Over the last two decades, Viet Nam has made impressive progress in improving people's well-being and reducing gender inequalities, including in rural areas. In particular, Viet Nam achieved a major decline in the maternal mortality rate and there is no longer a significant difference in net enrollment rates between girls and boys in primary and lower secondary education. These are significant achievements which we should applaud and congratulate the Government and people of Viet Nam for.

However, the review of the 20-year implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action has revealed disparities when we take a closer look at the disaggregated data. For example, the maternal mortality rate was four times higher for ethnic minority mothers in comparison to that of Kinh mothers.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Rural women are not a homogenous group. One may be a rural woman who works from daybreak until sundown and often beyond. Another one may run a small business or cultivate a field or both to support her family. Another may tend livestock. Many spend long hours collecting water and fuel, and preparing food. Most have the primary responsibility of raising children. Rural women workers include migrants within and across national borders, trafficked workers, those in situations of forced labour and debt bondage.

Without rural women and girls, rural communities would not function.

Yet women and girls are amongst the people most likely to be poor or vulnerable, to lack access to assets, education, health care and other essential services, and to be hit hardest by climate change and other man-made, and I stress MAN-MADE (not women-made) disasters!

Member states, including Viet Nam, have committed to upholding the rights of all women and girls. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development laid a solid foundation for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls and sustainable development. Fulfilling this commitment is particularly urgent in rural areas.

Around the world, including in Viet Nam, rural women and girls still face multiple burdens, intersecting inequalities and forms of discrimination, especially young women and girls, older women, heads of households, indigenous women, women affected by HIV and AIDS, women with disabilities, migrant women, refugees and internally-displaced women and girls. It is also acknowledged that different groups of rural women and girls have particular needs and priorities, requiring tailored policies and institutional responses.

If we look at Viet Nam, it is undeniable that the country has achieved remarkable economic growth in the past 30 years with a significant contribution from the agricultural sector which remains the employer of about half of the labour force and is by far the main source of livelihood for the ethnic minority population. Women constitute a critical workforce in agricultural production, especially in rural areas where 63.4% of working women are in agriculture compared to 57.5% of working men. It is clear that rural women are contributing significantly to both Viet Nam's agricultural and overall economic growth.

However, we also have evidence that the country's economic growth is not necessarily translating into greater gender equality for all, particularly for rural women and girls. I would like to share some examples of the major challenges faced in rural areas to give you a sense of the gender inequalities that still remain, despite Viet Nam's enormous progress. The issues I raise below are in abbreviated form because of the limitations of time, and will be elaborated in more detail in later presentations I am told:

First, traditionally, women are more involved in agriculture because of their double burden of unpaid care work and because of their generally lower educational and technical qualifications compared with men. More rural women than men are in vulnerable employment due to a larger share of women working as unpaid family workers, such as on family farms or in family business, with no independent access to income.

Second, while access to productive resources such as land, modern inputs, technology and financial services are all critical determinants of agricultural productivity, women's access to these resources remains limited. Women are also more likely to own and operate smaller farms and cultivate subsistence crops, often requiring them to rely on multiple jobs for survival.

Third, women's unequal access to land rights has major ramifications for their access to credit, as land use rights certificates are generally required by banks as collateral. This is compounded by their limited access to formal credit sources, while preferential credit policies have little impact on the income levels and poverty reduction of women and girls. As female farmers face difficulty accessing formal credit, they are disproportionately, compared to rural men, dependent on informal credit networks in rural areas.

Fourth, most rural women and men work in the informal sector, because the Labour Code of Viet Nam only applies to workers in the formal sector. Therefore, rural women's universal access to social protection programmes, including social assistance, social insurance and labour market programmes that provide paid maternity leave, care for illness and disability, and the right to work in a safe and healthy workplace are not guaranteed.

Fifth, for many rural women, limited economic opportunities push them to migrate in search of better work and lives in cities and urban areas. Although migrant women have a diverse array of skills and experience, continuing demand for domestic and care work in many cities means these women often fill such jobs, without basic social protection.

Sixth, rural women are also disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change because disasters can increase their time spent to collect water, food and fuel, which are primarily women's responsibilities. Nevertheless, existing gender stereotypes limit women from taking part in planning and decision making on disaster risk preparedness and climate change adaptation.

The social and economic injustices rural women continue to experience should not be viewed as inevitable; they are the result of global and local policymaking intersecting with entrenched historical and patriarchal practices.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Sustainable Development Goals seek to leave no one behind, and that means no woman or girl should be left behind.

Transforming rural women's lives will require both the elimination of structural barriers and discriminatory laws and the transformation of social norms in a direction which creates equal opportunities and outcomes. Let me now offer a few recommendations in conclusion.

First, both targeted gender action and mainstreaming gender perspectives into all efforts will continue to be required in national planning, decision making, policy formulation and implementation, budgeting processes and institutional structures to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.

Secondly, we need an enabling environment for rural women and girls and their organizations and other support structures to fully and actively participate in the decisions, policies and institutions that affect their livelihoods, well-being and resilience. This includes supporting the effective participation, decision-making and leadership of rural women in enterprises, farmers' organizations, producer cooperatives and other civil society organizations.

Thirdly, resilience to climate change and environmental degradation, such as deforestation, desertification and loss of agricultural biodiversity can be strengthened by supporting rural women's access to financing, natural resources, sustainable energy, technologies, information and social protection.

Last but certainly not the least, the government of Viet Nam must increase the capacity of national statistical offices and other relevant institutions to collect, analyze and disseminate sex- and age-disaggregated data and produce up-to-date gender statistics to support policies and action for rural women and girls which also enable the monitoring and the tracking of progress towards Agenda 2030 and SDG achievement.

I hope today's dialogue will mark an important milestone in our collective journey – one where we both pause to reflect on and celebrate the significant progress that has been made in Viet Nam but also recognize how much more Viet Nam needs to do. We cannot become complacent and more than celebrating the progress, we need to use this opportunity today to make the necessary commitments and investment to bring about lasting change and transformation for gender equality in Viet Nam.

The United Nations, as usual, stands ready to support the Government and people of Viet Nam in this important continuing journey.

Xin Cảm Ơn!