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Speech of Ms. Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Country Representative in Viet Nam at the Forum to review the progress of gender equality and women’s empowerment for the past 10 years

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Date:  Tuesday, 19 April 2016, from 8.55 am

Venue: Melia Hotel, 44B Ly Thuong Kiet, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi

  • Mr. Nguyen Trong Dam, Vice Minister of MOLISA
  • H.E. Mr. David Devine, Ambassador of Canada to Viet Nam
  • Distinguished guests and colleagues,

I am very pleased to welcome all of you today to this meeting that reviews implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment in Viet Nam over the past 10 years. We are looking back ten years, because this meeting also marks completion of the ten years plus programmatic partnership that we have enjoyed with the Government of Canada that has been providing dedicated support to implementation of CEDAW in Southeast Asia through UN Women’s 8-country Regional Programme which Viet Nam has been part of.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In September last year, UN Member States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, where the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment is prioritized at the highest level. We have a strong stand-alone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, which calls on Member States to ensure that women and girls are safe and live free from violence; that they have equal voice and representation in decision-making, from Parliaments to village councils to corporations; and that are able to earn an income and control economic resources on par with men. The first target of Goal 5 is to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere.

Gender equality is also mainstreamed throughout the other Sustainable Development Goals. Never before have we seen such strong global consensus at the highest level that gender equality is both an enabler and a precondition for sustainable development. An acknowledgement that women’s rights must be placed at the centre of the process to achieve fair and sustainable development. This provides us with an unprecedented opportunity for advancing this agenda using the CEDAW Convention. With 189 States parties, the CEDAW Convention enjoys almost universal ratification, and is the only human rights instrument that provides comprehensive protection of human rights of women.

There is no denying that Viet Nam has been making strong efforts to secure equal rights for women and men. It was one of the first countries to ratify the CEDAW Convention in 1982 and commit to non-discrimination on the basis of gender, and substantive equality that promises equality beyond equal opportunities and letters in the law to equality of results where women actually experience equality in their lives. If we look back 10 years, there was no Gender Equality Law so nothing that explicitly spelled out what constituted discrimination and how discrimination will be regulated and sanctioned, and equality will be promoted. There was also strong denial of domestic violence being a public policy issue so tremendous efforts were put into creation of the DV law that was eventually adopted in 2007. The kinds of campaigns to end violence against women organized by the government with the thousands of stakeholders participating would have been unimaginable at that time. Therefore, the progressive stand that the government has taken in recent years to extend maternity leave for women, recognize domestic work as work, introduce preferential tax policies for companies that hire a large number of women are all highly commendable.

However, as we set our target on a 50:50 gender equal society by 2030, it is important that we closely monitor the effects of these policies and keep on striving to improve them.

Just a month ago, the Parliamentary Committee on Social Affairs released a report assessing the implementation of the National Strategy on Gender Equality during the period of 2011-2015. In turns out that only 4 out of 22 targets were met, and most significantly, half of the targets were unable to measure progress as data were not collected or inadequate. Without reliable data, we cannot plan for the most effective interventions and use our limited resources strategically.

UN Women’s Regional Programme “Improving Women’s Human Rights in Southeast Asia” supported two review cycles of the CEDAW Committee in 2007 and 2015. It is interesting to see how the Concluding Observations of the Committee from last year is much more in detail, covering a broad set of issues compared to that of 2007. This does not necessarily mean that the situation for women’s rights worsened, but rather demonstrating how Viet Nam deepened its understanding on gender equality and improved capacity to present a gender and rights based assessment of the country situation to the committee.

On the other hand, some recommendations made in 2007 are still valid till date. For example, Viet Nam continues to struggle with persistent patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes, lacks sufficient information and data on all forms of violence against women, and lacks understanding on temporary special measures.

The CEDAW convention, calls for the use of temporary special measures to tackle structural and historical inequalities by introducing affirmative actions. Setting temporary special measures is not only about the promotion of women’s political participation through election quotas, it is about enabling equal participation between women and men in all spheres of life through various measures such as scholarships or special programmes for women. At a global level, the Gender Parity Report of the World Economic for 2014 stated that it could take 81 years for women to reach gender equality in economic engagement unless there was a change in the current trajectory. It is important for us to look back and assess how gender equality has progressed not only in terms of legal frameworks but the changes made to women and girls’ everyday lives over the past 10 years. If we keep the same pace of progress, how many more years will it take to achieve substantive equality?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last year, the CEDAW Committee selected women’s participation in political and public life as well as violence against women as two areas that Viet Nam should immediately follow-up as priority, and report back on steps undertaken to implement the recommendations by next year. In this regard, the election of the National Assembly deputies in May will be of critical importance to respond to the CEDAW recommendation and also to meet the target under the National Strategy on Gender Equality that aims at electing over 35% of female deputies for the National Assembly term in 2016-2020.

Commitment across the government and partnership of different stakeholders will be key to move the agenda forward. When Ms. Pramila Patten, CEDAW Committee member, visited Viet Nam recently to support development of the Government Action plan to implement the CEDAW Concluding Observations, she emphasized that no recommendation could be addressed by a single agency – it requires concerted efforts by multiple stakeholders, engaging gender experts, National Assembly deputies, line ministries, mass organizations, civil society, development partners, media and others. This is precisely why the programme has worked a range of partners from MOLISA, Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Training Institute, National Assembly Committee for Social Affairs, Viet Nam Women’s Union, Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs, and a number of civil society groups.

We have been particularly encouraged by the enthusiasm of the civil society groups. We need to open up more space for civil society to be part of advising and providing feedback on whether the policies and laws are working. They are essential in giving women a voice, in channeling collective action and advocacy, and in demanding gender-responsive action.  To this extent, I strongly support the action of the network of civil society groups that recently sent an Open Letter to the National Assembly chair condemning the multiple recent incidents of violence against women and girls, offering recommendations and support to the National Assembly in carrying out its oversight duties.

Today we will hear from different leaders, experts and colleagues who are striving for gender equality in their respective fields and capacities. I would like to invite all of you to think critically, listen with an open mind and actively participate in the dialogue. It is only when we unite that we can make a change, and make gender equality a reality.

I would like to close my remarks by thanking the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs for its support in organizing this forum with us.

I would also like to extend my sincere thanks to the Government of Canada, and particularly Your Excellency Ambassador David Devine who has been a passionate supporter for women’s rights and gender equality in Viet Nam. Without Canada’s generous support, UN Women was unable to sustain a comprehensive regional programme to support CEDAW implementation for the past 10 years.

Thank you for your attention.