Speaking with One Voice on gender issues

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how up_normalReaching out and engaging the Vietnamese public is essential to challenge gender stereotypes, promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The nature of Viet Nam’s often conservative and patriarchal society often stifles open discussion of such issues and the breaking down of barriers.

In response, UN agencies in 2015 joined hands to take further steps to turn the public spotlight onto these often hidden issues by jointly advocating for change through different high profile campaigns.

To underline the effectiveness of this joint UN approach and innovative ways of engaging different layers of society, the campaigns attracted direct participation from more than 29,150 people, reached millions of people on social media and gained national media coverage across more than 400 channels.

One of the year’s flagship events, following the UN Secretary General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women (16 days of activism), was a joint UN-government advocacy effort encompassing 22 UN, government and civil society agencies. UN-led coordination resulted in 30 events nationwide at central and provincial levels, from November 25 to December 10, grab the public’s attention and highlight the need to end sexual violence against women and girls. Each event targeted a specific audience, such as high-level male government leaders, justice sectors and police, students and public, with participation of 20,000 people. The events were covered by 230 radio and TV channels and 600 print and web articles, with a number of celebrity champions generating headlines. Almost one million Google key word searches for “sexual violence against women and girls” in Vietnamese were recorded during this period, demonstrating success in raising awareness and sparking conversations about sexual violence against women and girls in Viet Nam.

Another campaign to bring a sensitive issue to the public’s attention was the UNFPA-supported “STOP gender discrimination, STOP Gender-biased sex selection” campaign. This initiative, in conjunction with the Ministry of Heath in October, was in response to an alarming sex ratio at birth imbalance trend, which had risen from 106 boys per 100 girls in 2000 to 112 boys per 100 girls in 2014. To raise awareness on gender-biased sex selection at birth and call for action to eliminate gender discrimination, the campaign engaged policy-makers, civil society and media to create an enabling environment for action and behaviour change. Media coverage reached more than 80 channels and generated 220 articles, with campaign messages reaching millions of people via media and 7,000 people directly participating in campaign events. Impressively, more than 18 million young people from 50 provinces/cities accessed messages on the equal value of girls and boys and negative consequences of gender-biased sex selection through participation in a photo competition "Proud to have the Girl Child."

The year also saw the UN exploit the potential of men and youth as agents of change to achieve improved gender equality and women’s rights in Viet Nam.

UN Women’s HeForShe campaign encouraged men and boys to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls. To underline the UN’s ability to reach the highest levels of government, Viet Nam’s President Truong Tan Sang agreed to become a HeForShe Champion and made a high level commitment at the Global Leaders Meeting on gender equality in New York to devote resources to bridge the gender gap throughout society. (http://beijing20.unwomen.org/en/step-it-up/commitments#sthash.kMTVoJCG.dpuf). His pledge was accompanied by more than 2,000 men in Viet Nam signing up to HeForShe, including celebrities, students, 12 ambassadors and heads of development agencies and more than 160 MPs. Messages pointing to Vietnamese society’s collective shared responsibility to achieve gender equality reached more than 700,000 people through social media.  

The UN in 2015 also reached out to inspired Viet Nam’s youth with campaigns to break-down gender stereotypes and promote gender equality through art and social media. In recognizing gender stereotypes and patriarchal social norms as underlying obstacles for achievement of gender equality, UNDP with support from UNFPA launched #HowAbnormal campaign in December. Primarily targeting Vietnamese students, short videos showcasing ‘abnormal’ societies with ‘flipped’ gender stereotypes quickly spread among youth. Within a month of the launch, #HowAbnormal videos on social media site received more than 30,000 views, 1,000 likes and shares, and sparked conversations. In addition, UN Women trained youth ‘Change-Makers’ to become peer-educators on gender equality and to end violence against women and girls. Five groups formed out from training used their newly gained knowledge to launch their own creative campaigns. Video clips with celebrities challenged gender stereotypes in the country (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6JHkNbUrNI   and    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_k2syL2qjq0), an art contest at a university championed non-violent relationships (https://www.facebook.com/whatdomendo/), peer-to-peer training focused on the deaf community with production of a sign language UNiTE video on violence against women (https://www.facebook.com/doibantaynoi/) issues such as sexual harassment on public transport were highlighted (https://www.facebook.com/dungimlang2015/) as was dating violence (https://www.facebook.com/Y%C3%AAu-T%E1%BB%AD-T%E1%BA%BF-848140191965697/). In just three months, the five Change-Maker-launched social media campaign sites received 8,000 likes and reached out to more than 300,000 people.

Never before had such innovative campaigns reached and engaged a broad audience on issues often considered taboo in Viet Nam.

These UN campaigns also contributed to a strengthened understanding and commitment by national and sub-national institutions in partnership with communities to actively address gender inequalities in all settings. Their commitments were reflected in many ways, such development of the National Thematic Project on Gender Based Violence 2016-2020, adaptation of the National Action Programme on Gender Equality 2016-2020, high level political leaders’ commitments to reduce gender gaps in all sectors by 2020 and development of Guiding Document on Gender Mainstreaming in a textbook and curriculum and enhanced capacity of educators as part of UNESCO’s Gender Equality and Girls' Education initiative.