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Speech by Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative at National Assembly Celebration of International Women’s Day and IPU132

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Date: 14 March 2015
Event: National Assembly Celebration of International Women’s Day and IPU132
Venue: Thang Long Room, 1st floor, Ba Dinh Meeting Hall, No. 1 Doc lap street, Hanoi

Honorable Mr. Sinh Hung, President of the Vietnam National Assembly;
Excellency Madam Tong Thi Phong, Vice President of the Vietnam National Assembly;
Excellency Madam Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Vice President of the Vietnam National Assembly;
Honorable Ms. Truong Thi Mai, Chairwoman of Committee on Social Affairs, President of Vietnamese women parliamentarian group;
National Assembly delegates;
Distinguished guests;

Thank you for inviting me. I would like to wish you all a very happy International Women’s Day.  International Women’s Day and the 132nd IPU Meeting provide an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the many achievements on gender equality.  These are also occasions to focus on the remaining challenges and to rejuvenate collective commitments.

20 years ago in Beijing, the world leaders recognized that women’s rights are human rights and are critical to making development progress. In addition to adopting the Beijing Platform for Action, leaders also adopted MDG 3 on gender equality in 2000.  The leaders pledged to a world where women and men were equal, where women were not abused or violated, where they received equal pay and equal opportunities. This week, the Secretary General’s report on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action shows that some progress has been made globally, particularly in areas of education and health care.
Life expectancy of women has increased from 67 to 73 years in the last 20 years and maternal deaths have decreased by 45 % since 1990.

But the report also highlights the slow progress, particularly for the most marginalized and rural women.
There is little progress and, in fact, a regression in areas of sexual and gender based violence, skewed sex ratio at birth and underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in the public and private sector.

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon strongly underscored that this is due to the “collective failure of leadership on progress for women”

In Viet Nam, the situation for most women has improved considerably in areas of maternal health, access to education and health care and has made tremendous progress on MDG 3. Yet large challenges remain.

32 percent of ever-married women in Viet Nam have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Male child preference is the most important factor in the skewed sex ratio at birth. Currently 113.8 boys are born for every 100 girls born. At this rate, by 2035, adult men will be over 10 per cent more than the female population.

Women retire earlier than men. Women have less access to social insurance than men largely because less women work in sectors covered by compulsory social insurance system.

So what comes in the way of women’s equality?
Two of the most significant barriers are attitudes and gender stereotypes.
We are born as females and males, but society shapes our masculine and feminine attributes, our gender identity, attitudes and behaviors through stereotyped socialization at home, school and society. It is through socialization that boys learn what they can do when they grow up as men and girls learn what they will have to tolerate as women.

As I said, women’s rights are human rights which are universal and should not be influenced irrespectively by culture or religion.  We need to break these stereotypes and liberate women and men so they can grow to their full potential as a human being who are able to make their own choices.

We all have a part to play and can make a difference; as a delegate of the National Assembly, an official in government, a member of civil society, or simply as an individual. Moreover, there is recognition globally that gender equality cannot be achieved and attitudes cannot be changed without full participation of men and boys.

Because of these stereotypes, we don’t have enough empowered women leaders in the society, in the state legislature and in the private sector. At the same time, we don’t have enough men to champion and support gender equality.

Bringing about transformation change demands a new type of leadership and many women in leadership positions at all levels.

How do we promote women leadership? We need to empower women and create an enabling environment free from barriers, so women can participate freely, express their voice, and shape decisions whether at work place, in the community, family and business.

UNDP’s experience of supporting women’s leadership in Viet Nam shows there are several barriers. For example, the discriminatory retirement age, limited engagement of men in household chores and child-care, biases in recruitment and promotion, male dominated values and masculine institutions where working conditions do not take into account women’s needs. All this can and should be corrected.

Empowering women and strengthening their participation in decision-making in public, private and civil society is also at the heart of the post 2015 global Sustainable Development Goals which are currently being negotiated by the UN member states and will be adopted in September 2015.

In the past, Viet Nam outperformed other countries in women’s leadership.But now, despite economic growth and human development gains, Viet Nam’s record on women leadership has gone down at the national level and has remained stagnant at the sub-national level.

Although today we are a room full of women, we all know that this is often not the case. I have been in meetings here where I am the only woman and I am sure many of you have faced the same situation. That should no longer be acceptable.  

Global research now shows that more women in decision-making positions results in greater profits in businesses and more inclusive national development.

As legislators and government officials, you can do a lot. You can enable increase of women in Ministerial, Vice Minister, provincial leaders and other leadership positions.

Viet Nam has a unique opportunity to integrate principles of equality and inclusion in the revised Election law so that the national gender strategy target of a minimum of 35 percent elected women representatives can be met.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to make three concrete recommendations based on a recent study done by the UN.

First, positive measures, such as setting quotas in the law on elections. Over 100 countries use gender quotas as a means towards equity of outcome not just equality of opportunity. Only 12 percent of the centrally nominated candidates were women in the elections to the 12th and 13th term. This must increase if Vietnam wants to regain its global position.

Second, consideration is needed to ensure that women hold leadership positions in the National Assembly, especially as Chairs of the Committees.

Finally, it is recommended that all agencies that screen electoral candidates or make decisions on candidates should have equal representation of women and men.

Currently Viet Nam is globally ranked 51st in women representation in parliament. Through affirmative action and capacity development, Viet Nam could rocket forward and reclaim its former position in the world.

The meeting of women parliamentarians during IPU offers a unique opportunity for the NA to showcase the steps Viet Nam will take to increase women in elected office and to once again commit to prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment in the new post 2015 global agenda on sustainable development and allocate adequate financial and human resources.

The theme of the 132th IPU General Assembly hosted by Vietnam is about putting words into action. Let us commit ourselves to action every day of the year towards ensuring gender equality and balanced representation of both women and men in leadership. The UN stands ready to support the National Assembly, government partners and CSOs to move from commitment to action.

I wish you all the best of health, success and a very Happy International Women’s Day!