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Speech of Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Country Representative at the Meeting of the National Assembly of Vietnam with Vietnamese female leaders, Ambassadors and Chief Representatives of international organizations in Hanoi on the occasion of the Internationa

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Date: 14 March 2015

Venue: National Assembly Office, no2 Doc Lap Str. Ba Dinh, Ha Noi

  • His Excellency, Mr. Nguyen Sinh Hung, President of the National Assembly
  • Her Excellency, Ms. Tong Thi Phong, Vice President of the National Assembly
  • Her Excellency, Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Vice President of the National Assembly
  • Distinguished leaders and colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank the National Assembly Social Affairs Committee for inviting me to speak at this meeting celebrating International Women's Day.

International Women's Day this year has been particularly significant because this year we celebrate 20 years since more than 40,000 people gathered in Beijing, China, from all around the world for the Fourth World Conference on Women.

They were old and young, spoke different languages, but they had a single purpose: to realize the dream of gender equality and women's empowerment.

It took two weeks of intense political debate for delegates representing 189 countries to come up with the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. It is a visionary roadmap for advancing women's rights and gender equality worldwide, and it imagined a world where women and girls could exercise full and equal rights, freedoms and choices in their everyday life.

It included concrete steps and recommendations to make this vision a reality.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In the past two decades, a lot of progress has been made globally and also in Viet Nam. Today, thanks to the strong efforts of women leaders like you, less women are dying from child birth, more girls are staying longer in school, more women are working, becoming Ministers, managers and CEOs, and athletes competing in the Olympics.

Many barriers have been removed, but much more needs to be done, including in Viet Nam. The simple truth is that no country has realized the vision of gender equality in all dimensions of life.

I'd like to focus particularly on how the younger people, particularly young women who have perhaps never heard about this conference in Beijing 20 year ago are doing, because if inequality stubbornly remains among young people, then gender inequality will remain with us still for a long time to come.

In Viet Nam, many young women are joining the workforce in an unequal environment. According to a 2014 ILO study, 50% of Vietnamese youth complete secondary school as their highest form of education attainment and girls tend to complete secondary school slightly more than boys. Yet, young women are 25% less likely to be employed than young men. Young men are also more likely to be in regular employment than young women, and employment of higher wages. On average, young men employees earn 17% more than young women employees, and young men who are self-employed earn 19% more than young women who are self-employed.

Why is this the case?

It is because of the persisting gender norms and practices and unfounded beliefs about women's capacities, skills and dispositions. Assumptions that all women have mothering responsibilities and widespread adherence to the ideology of the male breadwinner on the part of employers, state officials and trade unions, regardless of the reality on the ground. These all serve to assigning women to less well paid jobs or paying them less than men.

The evidence shows that inequality does not just hold back young women and girls. It holds back communities and cripples nations.

The good news is that we know the benefits of equality. We know the benefits of investing in education, and we know that empowering young women and girls has immense benefits for families and communities.

We need to continue to challenge prevalent gender stereotypes in the country, particularly those that reduce the aspirations of girls in rural communities, where traditions are firmest and patriarchal systems remain strong.

We need to make sure we are investing time and energy to developing future generations of women for leadership.

In addition to the traditional subjects of education, we need more progammes and opportunities to provide young women the chance to learn leadership skills, build self-confidence and learn about their rights.

We need to start early to make sure girls know they are capable of reaching great heights. It starts in the youngest years of their schooling with words of encouragement and aspiration.

Equally important is ensuring that boys and young men absorb these messages both openly and through example, and that is why UN Women launched the HeForShe Campaign in Viet Nam just a week ago. HeForShe is a campaign to mobilize male champions to support gender equality and be role models for young men and boys about how to respect women's right and support women as equals.

Creating an environment where women can succeed is vital. Public policy that encourages women to be successful, workplaces that reward those encouraging and advancing women, and education systems that educate women to the highest standards are just some of the things that are needed to help create an environment in which women are prepared and encouraged to rise to leadership.

We must all play a part in helping young women succeed, because every young woman has a right to pursue her dream. The country's, economy, and future also depend on their success. Let us together work for a better future for young women.

Thank you.