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Opening Remarks of Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator at the International Forum “Women, Peace and Development

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Date: October 6, 2015

Location: Centre for Women and Development, 20 Thuy Khue, Ha Noi

Event: International Forum "Women, Peace and Development"

  • H.E Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa, National Assembly member and President of the Women's Union
  • H. E Nguyen Thien Nhan - the Chair of the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front.
  • Excellencies, Ambassadors
  • Distinguished participants from government, research institutes and civil society
  • Colleagues from the UN
  • Ladies and Gentlemen

I am deeply honoured to speak at this very important International Forum on

Women, Peace and Development and to join all of you to celebrate 85 years since the creation of the Viet Nam Women's Union and its tremendous achievements and indispensable role in national development and women's participation.

2015 also marks 70 years since the creation of the United Nations and we are deeply honoured to collaborate with Women's Union today to also celebrate global progress made on gender equality and women's rights. In 1979 UN General Assembly adopted CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This is referred to as the "Women's Bill of Rights" as it is the most comprehensive international instrument to protect the human rights of women. It defines the meaning of discrimination against women and establishes legal obligations for countries that are parties to it to end such discrimination. I would like to congratulate Viet Nam as one of the first countries to sign the CEDAW Convention. As you know, 20 years ago in 1995 the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted with a progressive blueprint for advancing women's rights and fifteen years ago the UN Security Council passed the historic Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The resolution recognizes the critical role of women in creating sustainable peace and calls on all UN member states to take measures to increase participation of women in peace-building processes and to protect women from gender-based violence.

We are also celebrating the tremendous contribution the MDGs have made to development and especially gender equality. I would like to share with you a few of the striking statistics quoted in the 2015 MDG Report of Viet Nam. Foremost, since 1993 over 45 percent of Viet Nam's population have exited from poverty. 100 percent of children are enrolled in primary schools and the attendance ratios for boys and girls have largely been equalized. The maternal mortality ratio has been reduced by three quarters since 1990, and as a result, literally thousands of mothers are alive today. All of these outcomes are due to national actions informed by the MDG framework.

These results demonstrate the incredible journey - both globally and here in Viet Nam - since the early 2000s when the MDGs were first agreed. But this journey is not yet over.

As you may know, the UN Assembly has formally adopted a new framework, entitled "Transforming Our World, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". It is composed of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, together with a set of 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality, tackle climate change, and promote peaceful and inclusive societies over the next 15 years. Gender equality has been integrated into all the goals and is an exclusive goal in itself – number 5. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated, the goals are "a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world" to ensure no one is left behind.

The Women's Union was founded in 1930 and has the gender, peace and development agenda at the core of its mandate. With over 15 milion members, there are few women's organizations like it in the world. It is the backbone of the women's movement and has fought for the rights of women in all sectors of society. Through wide reaching initiatives including the provision of loans for women entrepreneurs, health and nutrition classes, vocational training, literacy programmes, the Union has played a key role in women's economic empowerment, poverty reduction and involvement in environmental protection.

The Union has contributed greatly to mainstreaming gender equality in legislation. From the 1960 Marriage and Family Law, which banned forced marriage, child marriage, and wife beating, to the more recent law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control, Women's Union has upheld women's rights.

The gender, peace and development agenda has been well enshrined in Women's Union objectives and is uniquely placed for transformational change. With this in mind, I would like to suggest three proposals to take forward. These proposals draw upon the recent recommendations from the Committee for CEDAW.

The first calls for transforming the attitudes that perpetuate the culture of male superiority and the stereotypes that diminish women. These negative stereotypes have reduced the impact of good laws, held back women from their full potential and created an imbalance of power. Worldwide, large numbers of married women have experienced some form of violence by their partner. Violations of women's sexual and reproductive health and rights also remain widespread. Social preference for a son has led to skewed sex ratios there is now on average 113 boys born to every 100 girls and in some communities it is 120 boys for every 100 girls in Viet Nam. Without strategically changing social norms and attitudes, we will observe limited improvement in equality and inclusion in all communities and the achievement of the SDGs. With such a strong network at the grassroots level, Women's Union is in a unique position to remove these stereotypes that inhibit and restrict women, men and communities.

The second is to improve women's access to important services such as women's shelters and legal aid. In the case of domestic violence, research shows that 77 per cent of domestic violence cases were not brought to the attention of legal aid providers and, of those that did go through the judicial system, only one percent of reported cases have led to conviction. This is an alarming finding and requires urgent actions. Recently Viet Nam's President Truong Tan Sang has recently stated at the UN Global Leaders' Meeting that Viet Nam is "committed to sparing no efforts to gradually eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, and has set a target that at least 50 per cent of all the reported victims of domestic violence [are] provided with health care and counseling services." The Women's Union is in a key position to demand better government services and financial resources that fit the enormity of the problem. Moreover, with their large membership that spans the country, Women's Union is able to raise awareness among men and women about women's rights to live free from violence.

Finally, all efforts are needed to remove barriers faced by women to obtain equal political participation and representation in leadership positions. The unequal retirement age in the labour code, a hiring and promotion system that favours men, lack of men's responsibility for unpaid care work are some factors that limit the advancement of women but also restricts the development of the country. The Women's Union will play a crucial role in the upcoming election to ensure women can have full political participation. Women's Union is well placed to nominate highly qualified women and to negotiate in the Election Councils to ensure there are at least 35 percent women on the final ballot. The decline in women's political representation must be reversed and the upcoming 2016 elections cannot be a lost opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are at a historic moment in making the world an equal place. This cannot be done without involvement of men. Men have to champion for gender equality and we are so honoured that recently President Sang at the UN meeting in New York pledged to be a HeforShe champion. We need more men to pledge to be the "He" who champions for the "She".

As the Women's Union celebrates its 85th anniversary, it is an opportune time to recognize the tremendous efforts made by Women's Union leaders and members in the development of their country and community and we wish Women's Union even more success in their efforts and a glorious and equal future for women and men in Viet Nam.

I wish all of you good health, happiness and success.

Xin cam on!