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Speech by the UN Resident Coordinator on International Women’s Day 2010

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Date: Friday, 7 March, 2010
International Women’s Day 2010 celebrations hosted by the Viet Nam Women’s Union
Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator

Leaders of the Party
Leaders of the National Assembly
The Hero Mothers of Viet Nam
Your Excellency Vice President
Your Excellency Madame President of the Viet Nam Women’s Union
Excellencies Ambassadors
My Fellow UN Colleagues
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Happy International Women’s Day!   I am really very honoured to be invited to share in this celebration and to be here among so many impressive and outstanding women. And not just the women leaders who are addressing us today and who are in the audience this morning, but also through television the many extraordinary women in Viet Nam who contribute so much to their families, so much to their communities and so much Vietnamese society as a whole. 

There is no doubt that 2010 is a milestone year for women’s rights internationally.  It is 100 years since the establishment of International Women’s Day, just over 30 years since the adoption of the international Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and 15 years since the United Nations Beijing Platform of Action, when the international community committed to take action to advance women’s rights and promote gender equality worldwide.

There is indeed a great deal to celebrate, in terms of progress on gender equality around the world, as well as here in Viet Nam.  Access to education has increased for girls at all levels; governments in many countries are acting to protect women and girls from violence, including by adopting new laws; and many countries have put in place legislation to promote women’s rights and access to land.  

Viet Nam also shares in all these achievements.  Viet Nam is an acknowledged leader in the region in promoting gender equality. Viet Nam ratified CEDAW in 1982, and has established laws and policies that reflect CEDAW - especially the two landmark laws: the Law on Gender Equality and Law on Domestic Violence.  Women represent almost half of the economically active population, female and male participation rates in primary and secondary schools are on par, and 25 percent of members of the National Assembly are women – the highest participation rate among ASEAN countries.       

In driving this forward, the Viet Nam Women’s Union has been a champion of women’s advancement since it was established in 1930.  Today the tremendous reach of the Women’s Union to 13 million women members at all levels of Vietnamese society offers a unique opportunity to carry the message of gender equality to the women of Viet Nam and their families.     

However, there is still a long road ahead of us to achieve the goals set out in the Beijing Platform for Action, CEDAW, and the gender-equality targets in the MDGs.  At the global level, we need much greater commitment and action to tackle the problem of violence against women.  In addition, increasing the participation of women in decision-making in all areas of life is critical both as a means to improve decision-making outcomes, and to promote gender equality.  Finally, the unequal distribution of unpaid work between men and women constrains women’s economic and political participation, and is a major obstacle to gender equality.  

We also have our work cut out for us to truly empower women and to bring about gender equality between men and women here in Viet Nam.  Some of the major challenges which we need to address include:
  • Stopping Violence Against Women, in all its forms, from physical and sexual abuse, to trafficking of girls and women.  
  • Valuing Girls Equally, including by ending the practice of sex-selection when parents find that they are expecting a girl, and investing equally in girls’ and boys’ health and education.  
  • Supporting Women’s Economic Contribution, by providing services such as childcare and old age care; protecting the rights of women and men at work, including women migrant workers; and extending social protection for women in all sectors; and finally
  • Making Women and Men Equal Partners in Decision-Making, whether it is in the household, in community level forums, or in elected positions.  
The UN in Viet Nam strongly supports Government efforts to address these issues. Our work includes the Joint Programme on Gender Equality funded by the Spanish MDG Fund, under which we are supporting the Government to implement the Gender Equality Law and Domestic Violence Law. In 2010, the UN will also help support the development of a National Strategy for Gender Equality and a National Targeted Programme, together with a National Action Plan for Domestic Violence.  

Indeed 2010 is a milestone year for the overall policy reform agenda in Viet Nam, with the development of the next Socio-Economic Development Strategy and Socio-Economic Plan underway in the lead up to the next Party Congress, which will set the vision going forward for the country.  

Today we are here to acknowledge and honour the struggle and achievements of Vietnamese women.   While there have been advances on many fronts since International Women’s Day was established 100 years ago, there are still many obstacles to overcome.  Women work longer hours than men do, but earn less; study as hard as men do, but access less senior and well qualified positions; still assume the responsibility for domestic work and childcare; and yet have less say in decision-making.  

As President Ho Chi Minh said in 1966 on the occasion of the 36th anniversary of the establishment of the Vietnam Women’s Union (and I quote): “The women of Vietnam from ancient times until now, from South to North, from young to old, are truly heroes ..."

Finally, as men, we have a very important role to play in promoting women’s advancement.  Women cannot make this change alone; gender equality is a partnership which requires all our efforts.  In the Year 2010, it is time for men to take a more active role in promoting gender equality and supporting women in their lives.  In particular, I would like to encourage the men of Viet Nam to speak out against violence against women in all its forms; do more around the house to care for children and the family; and share decision-making equally with the women in their lives at work and at home.  

This would truly give us all, women and men, something to celebrate for International Women’s Day in 2010!   

On behalf of the UN and many members of the international community here this morning, I would like to wish all of you a very Happy International Women’s Day and to assure you that we stand with you as your partners in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Viet Nam.

Thank You!