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Speech of Elisa Fernandez, Head of Office, UN Women in Vietnam at Green Economy Forum

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Date: Monday, 24th 2019

Event: Green Economy Forum, The role of women in the green economy

  • Ms. Do Thi Thu Thao, Vice President of Viet Nam Women's Union
  • Mr. Tran Van Tung, Vice Minister of Ministry of Science and Technology
  • Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

Welcome to the Forum "Women and the Future of the Green Economy".

It is my honor to be here today to co-open this Forum.

"The future we want" is an outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development published in 2012, that articulates the importance of gender equality and women's empowerment across the three pillars of sustainable development – the economic, the social and the environmental, and calls to promote women's full participation in sustainable development policies, programmes and decision-making at all levels.

Yet, women remain to be the majority of the population to be adversely affected by climate change and environmental degradation. Women constitute approximately 70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people living on less than US$1 a day, and they tend to be more dependent on common resources such as water, food or wood, and more vulnerable to the impacts of natural resource degradation.

Growing international debate now highlights the need to move economies and societies onto more sustainable paths, to the "green economies."

Green economies are being vigorously discussed by governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations alike. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities; it is low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive (UNEP, 2011). Green economies will seek to address economic, social and environmental concerns in accordance to sustainable development principles.

A green economy...Is a time of opportunity!

A green economy leads to the expansion of green jobs which do not only minimize negative environmental impacts, but naturally lead to decent jobs since they comply with the ILO standards of decent work.

For example, in South Africa, a programme to expand public works that included training people to remove invasive alien plants in order to enhance water access, successfully recruited women, youth and people with disabilities to take part in the project.

A green economy, is also a time to challenge gender stereotypes and gender discrimination in the labor market.

In Bangladesh, as part of a larger project to extend electricity to rural areas by installing solar home systems, women were trained to install and repair solar panels and electrical outlets, serving as "rural electricians."

In the United States of America, a number of programmes aimed to encourage women into green jobs through skill development and networking, including a programme which gives grants to community-based organizations that provide openings for women into non-traditional occupations, such as technical and engineering jobs, which are the most high-paying occupations in the United States.

And, more importantly, a green economy is a time for empowerment!

This is evident in movements and collectives led by women, to build food and resource independence and sustainable communities and cities.

An example of this is a network of grass-roots women leaders in South Asia, who scale up capacity to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to climate change in their communities and build a culture of resilience by strengthening the role and voice of women leaders in rural organizations, including in policy dialogue.

However, above all, let's not assume that sustainability or a green economy will automatically lead to greater gender equality.

Gender equality can have a catalytic effect on achieving economic, social and environmental sustainability, but the opposite does not always hold true.

In many cases, women are targeted as critical agents for community adaptation to climate change and used as a form of "sustainability saviours" in their role as the backbone of sustainable food production. Policies and programmes that view women as sustainability saviours carry dangers for women's own health and well-being, and do not take account of their financial needs or the competing demands on their time. Such approaches are based on the assumption that women's time is an unlimited free resource.

Other policies are based on stereotypical assumptions regarding women's caring role in the family, community and the environment. These policies treat women as homogeneous category without decent consideration about women's different needs, interests, knowledge, values, opportunities and capabilities. They intensify women's workloads to benefit the community and the environment, but can exacerbate gender inequalities.

Hence, ladies and gentlemen, it is also a time of challenges.

We all know that sectors that are targeted for a green economy such as energy, construction and basic industry, are very male dominated. Among green jobs that already exist, women tend to have low representation and occupy the lower value-added levels. Hence, there is a great risk that green industry will not only by pass women, but can actually, potentially marginalize them.

So, what can we do in this critical time of challenges but also of opportunities?

A gender-responsive green economy that enhances women's employment prospects and the quality of their work along the lines of the decent work agenda is an answer!

It is now increasingly recognized that a sustainable climate is an important public good. What is not sufficiently recognized is that a sustainable care system is also an important public good.

Presently, much of this care is provided on an unpaid basis. Once care work is decently paid and protected, it can meet the interests of both care workers and users of services. It can also reduce the burden that is placed on women and girls in their role as unpaid carers.

Aligning with international frameworks, UN Women Viet Nam country office commits to sustainable development with different programmes on climate change adaptation and green initiatives. For example, green investment in agriculture is potentially very promising given the fact that it is the largest sector in terms of employment in rural areas, where the majority of the world's poor and extremely poor live and work. More importantly, it is where feminization is happening in many countries including Viet Nam.

Under the programmme "Strengthening women's livelihoods and participation for greater resilience to disasters and climate change in Viet Nam," UN Women is now implementing several livelihood models that follow the safe and environmental friendly approach which, on one hand, can reduce negative impacts on the environment, and on the other hand, strives for improved livelihoods and resilience for vulnerable female farmers who are affected by climate change and disaster risks.

Lessons learnt from these livelihood models will contribute to advocate for gender responsive agriculture and rural development policies and strategies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While these efforts are instructive and promising, it is important to keep in mind that moving from commitment to action requires political commitment but more importantly, it requires intentional and deliberate efforts, to develop the policies and programmes that allow women to fully engage, participate and benefit from the green economy on equal grounds. Today's forum is one step in the right direction. I look forward to our fruitful discussion and wish you all good health with our greener future.