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Speech by Ms Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Country Representative in Viet Nam, at the Youth Dialogue “Stand Up to Gender Stereotypes Around us in Everyday Life!”

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Date:       Sunday, May 9th 2014
Event:     Youth Dialogue “Stand Up to Gender Stereotypes Around us in Everyday Life!”
Venue:    Museum of Ethnology, Ha Noi

Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,
Welcome to the dialogue “Stand up to gender stereotypes around you in everyday life!”
Today, one day after International Women’s Day, we are here to challenge gender stereotypes, because this is key to achieve equality between men and women.

What are gender stereotypes? And why it is important to challenge them?
Gender stereotypes are a set of characteristics that society assigns to women and men. They constrain women and men in determined roles, limiting their freedom of choice and expression and their opportunities to fulfill their aspirations and potential. They are all around us, in our home, in our relations, at school and university, at the office.
Gender stereotypes are among the factors that perpetuate inequality between women and men, which is a problem common to all countries in the world.

For this reason, the United Nations is committed to work with Member States and support them to achieve greater equality. As an example, tomorrow, at the UN Headquarters in New York, representatives of Member States and UN will meet in an important conference (the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women) to discuss the impact of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. As you may know, the Millennium Development Goals are 8 time-bound targets set internationally to achieve development objectives all over the world by 2015.

Viet Nam has made remarkable progress and achieved some of the MDGs. But have women and men equally benefited from this progress?
Indeed, progress has not benefited the Vietnamese population equally. In particular, women continue to be disadvantaged and to face challenges in many fields.

For example, even if poverty has been reduced by half in Viet Nam, women are overrepresented among the poorest. Education access greatly improved for both boys and girls, but gender disparities in field of study persist, with girls being more represented in humanities studies than technical studies such as engineering. Women are underrepresented in politics and in decision-making bodies, both in public and private sector. As for employment, women are overrepresented in vulnerable jobs and the gender pay gap (the difference between men and women’s wages) has increased in the past years. Due to long-standing social norms, women are mostly responsible for unpaid work in the house and community, which constrain their capacity to participate in public life.
Violence against women and girls is an issue of serious concern in Viet Nam, where more than half of the women that have been married in their life have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. Patriarchal norms have created a society in which violence against women is considered acceptable and a private family issue which is often hidden. As a result, women tend to bear violence, rather than seeking support and justice.
Son preference is strong in Viet Nam, where families value boys more than girls and increasingly practice sex-selective abortion. This explains why more boys than girls are born in Viet Nam.

These examples clearly show that despite progress, gender equality is far from being achieved in Viet Nam and it is important to understand that the structural causes of gender inequality lie in long existing systems of discrimination.

You, the young generation, can play a crucial role. You can be agents of change in your society and lead the way towards a better future where equality between boys and girls, men and women is a lived reality. Gender equality means not only equality of rights but also equality of opportunities and equal freedom to make your own choices regardless of social pressure, in every field of life, being it your university studies, your professional career, your gender identity or your sexual orientation.
Boys and men’s engagement is crucial in this process, as gender equality is not women’s problem. It is an issue that concerns society as a whole.  

We are here today to talk about gender stereotypes because identify them and understand the consequences they have on our individual life and on society is the first step towards change. However, this is not enough to bring about change. Gender stereotypes are so deeply rooted in our society and in our thinking and behavior that breaking them is not easy. For that we need commitment. We all need to question our beliefs, the stereotypes they store, and destroy them. You have to crush them, to allow you to see that as a young women or man, you can do anything and gender equality gives you that freedom. Don’t limit yourself, or your friends or your family members by following predetermined roles and behaviors. Start today to take concrete actions to challenge stereotypes in everyday life!

We have a programme full of interesting and exciting activities ahead of us, so let’s start!
Happy Women’s Day! Xin Cam On!