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Opening Remarks by Mr Kamal Malhotra, United Nations Resident Coordinator at Policy Event on International Women’s Day 2019: Enhancing Social Protection and Public Services to Promote Women’s Participation in the Labour Market

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Event: Policy Event on International Women's Day 2019: Enhancing Social Protection and Public Services to Promote Women's Participation in the Labour Market

Date: March 7, 2019

Venue: Fortuna Ha Noi Hotel, 6B Lang Ha, Ba Dinh, Ha Noi, Viet Nam

  • Madame Nguyen Thi Ha, Vice Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), Vice Chair of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Vietnam;
  • Excellencies Ambassadors;
  • Ladies and gentlemen,

A warm welcome to the experts and colleagues from line ministries, research institutions, civil society and the UN system. We are heartened to once again see such a high level of interest and participation to commemorate International Women's Day. Gender equality is critical to all three key pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, development and human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to open this International Women's Day policy event. This year, the global theme for IWD is: "Think equal, build smart, innovate for change". The theme invites us to focus on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.

The reflections and recommendations drawn from today's policy event will inform Viet Nam's position at this year's Commission on the Status of Women, which will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March 2019. I will, therefore, focus my intervention on the three areas just mentioned.

Social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure are critical for accelerating both the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG 5 explicitly acknowledges the importance of 'public services, infrastructure and social protection policies' under Target 5.4 on unpaid care and domestic work. SDG 1 underlines the urgency of building social protection systems and measures for all. SDG 9 commits to the development of quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all. And, SDG 10 calls for fiscal, wage and social protection policies to progressively achieve greater equality.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development affirms the crucial importance of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls as both a goal in its own right and a key ingredient of success across the Agenda as a whole. But we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. According to the 2017 World Economic Forum, it will take 170 years to close just the economic gender gap if we do not take strong and urgent action now.

The connections among the three areas are particularly important because they are critical elements for achieving gender equality, especially if we consider the kinds of constraints that women face as a result of their unpaid care responsibilities.

Viet Nam has made a great deal of progress in strengthening legal frameworks and delivering on its social protection commitments. However, women still face challenges in accessing social protection. For example, while women face some of the same risks as men that make them vulnerable to poverty—such as illness, unemployment and frailty due to old age, they also face a number of gender-specific risks - such as childbearing, unpaid family responsibilities, and lack of property co-ownership legal title deeds, which can hamper their efforts to have an income of their own.

While social protection coverage has increased during the last decade, the world is still a long way from achieving comprehensive coverage for all; and where sex-disaggregated data is available, it often shows that women are overrepresented among those who remain excluded from social protection. This is also true of Viet Nam, where the majority of women in the labour force work in the informal sector, which excludes them from accessing social protection.

Public services and investments in sustainable infrastructure are essential for reducing and redistributing unpaid care work, and for supporting livelihoods including by facilitating women's access to income through labour markets. A study done by Action Aid in Viet Nam in 2015 involving nearly 8,000 participants showed that a woman in Ha Giang province can save 54 working days per year (nearly two months) if clean water is provided to her household. In Ho Chi Minh City, a study conducted by UN Women in 2016 discovered that the public transportation service is not well adapted to the safety needs of women and girls. This results in restricted mobility, which then impacts women's access to jobs and other socioeconomic activities.

Yesterday, I attended the ceremony to launch the 2019 priority of the Viet Nam Women's Union: Safety for Women and Girls together with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The safety of women and girls cannot be separated from issues we are discussing here today. It requires attention to gender responsive investment in infrastructure, which is critical for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe and sustainable. Public spaces and transportation systems, however, are rarely planned with women's mobility and safety in mind.

The availability of childcare services as well as safe sanitation facilities are also critical for women in order for them to be able to take advantage of key social protection initiatives, such as public works programmes, on an equal basis with men.

Extending electricity, transport, water and sanitation to rural and marginalized urban areas, in turn, is indispensable to free time up that many women and girls currently spend on collecting and purifying water or processing fuel and firewood, which they could instead use to pursue educational and employment opportunities.

When we look at key areas of social protection, public services and infrastructure, we need more women decision-makers at the highest policy levels in all these three areas. And we also need to ensure stronger policy coordination and synergies across sectors for better results for women and girls. For example:

  • Education is widely considered a public service, yet it cannot function without adequate physical infrastructure, including school buildings with safe sanitation facilities for girls.
  • Effective access to universal health coverage will remain elusive, when health centres are far away from people's homes and adequate transport is not available, or when women fear being exposed to violence by service providers. Moreover, services for victims of gender-based violence that do not include clear screening protocols and referral mechanisms or the adequate training of service providers, tend to fail in their effectiveness and even risk victimizing or stigmatizing survivors.
  • Electricity, water and sanitation systems are infrastructure-heavy sectors; but they also operate as public services and often require social protection measures, such as connection fee waivers or subsidies, in order to be affordable to all.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure are integral elements of the 2030 Agenda and critical to the achievement of gender equality across all the 17 sustainable development goals. In order to achieve these goals, the UN would like to suggest five key priorities for Viet Nam:

  • First, promotion of the full and equal participation and leadership of women and women's organizations in policy dialogues and decision making related to social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure.
  • Second, Investment in social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure to support the increased productivity and economic viability of women's work in the informal economy.
  • Third, strengthened data collection, disaggregated by sex, age, income and location, on time use and on violence against women, and the use of such data to inform gender-responsive social protection, public services and infrastructure policies.
  • Fourth, creation of new or the strengthening of existing gender-responsive accountability mechanisms, such as gender audits, and the inclusion of beneficiaries and users in the evaluation of social protection systems, public services and infrastructure projects.
  • Fifth, evaluation of the costs and benefits of private sector participation in social protection systems, public service delivery and infrastructure development; as well as holding private providers accountable for promoting gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

We must not accept another year in which progress towards gender equality remains at a standstill, or worse still, slides back even if only in some areas. And we certainly cannot wait another 170 years for closing only the economic gender gap! Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said "Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all."

The United Nations stands ready to support the people of Viet Nam in this important journey.

I wish you all a very fruitful discussion.

Xin Cam on!