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Speech at Awards Ceremony for Scholarship and Research Grants, Cambridge-Vietnam Women’s Leadership Programme by Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director

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Date: Thursday 20 August 2009
Event: Awards Ceremony for Scholarship and Research Grants, Cambridge-Vietnam Women’s Leadership Programme
Venue: Movenpic Hotel , Hanoi
Speaker: Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director

Your Excellency Vice Minister Dao Viet TrungYour Excellency British Ambassador Mark Kent Ms. Pham Nguyen Cuong, Vice Director, Department for Gender Equality, MOLISA Ms. Nguyen Nguyet Nga, Director General, Department of Multilateral Economic Cooperation, MOFA,
Ladies and gentlemen,

When I look out in the audience, I am inspired because among you I see future leaders of Viet Nam.  I congratulate the ten scholarship and research grants winners here today under the project, “Empowering Women in the Public Sector”.  I am pleased that UNDP can support women with such great potential.

We know from research and experience that empowering women is critical to advancing development and reducing poverty and that there are very tangible benefits for society as a whole from supporting women. Today almost half of all Vietnamese working women are employed in the public sector, and so it is our hope that by supporting these women the gains to the country will be far reaching.  

Although much progress has been made to empower women in Viet Nam, we clearly need to do more to make sure women can break through the glass ceiling and take on more leadership positions.

If we look around the world, it is clear that the opportunities for women to pursue higher education and become leaders in both the public and private sectors vary greatly.  Norway, for example, is well known as a leader in supporting women. In terms of UNDP Human Development Index, it always ranks at the top or near top. For many years the Government and Norway's Parliament have pursued an equal rights policy, and since the 1980s Norway's government has always been around 50 per cent women.  Norway has a variety of social policies that support women pursuing careers in the society, including a strong gender equality law, equal pay, parental leave, full coverage of kindergartens, and maternal health care. I understand that Norway was successful in institutionalizing the spirit of the laws into action within the society.

However, I can tell you from experience that it is not the same in Japan.  The equal employment opportunity law was introduced in late 1980s and more women joined the work force as professionals. Unfortunately working women in my country often hesitate to marry, leading to fewer children and accelerating aging population which creates enormous burdens for younger generations to support the older generations. This is partly because there is a shortage of social and institutional support for working mothers including day-care centers and other forms of child-care support for working women. Once women become financially autonomous, they often opt not to marry as they perceive that achieving balance between career development of women and family life is difficult.  In addition, the number of women participating in decision-making bodies such as the National Diet and the Government is still very small. Their voices are less reflected in the society. So in Japan while the legislative framework was established, there is still room to support the law with policies and internalize the law within the society.  Well, the part of the reasons why I pursued my career outside of Japan was this limitation of prospects for pursing potential within the Japanese society.

Viet Nam is doing relatively well. It stands out for its success in closing the gender gap in the last 20 years among East Asia countries, and you have a solid legal framework supporting gender equality.  At that same time, like in Japan, there are still traditional attitudes and social expectations that impede many women from reaching their full leadership potential, and enforcement of gender equality legislation is not always complete.

Which brings us to the women we are honouring here today. Our vision is that through this project you be equipped with the knowledge, skills and experience required to assume leadership roles in various fields.  At the same time, I would like you, women in the public sector to help the country follow the Norwegian footsteps to implement the law and institutionalize gender equality with necessary public support and services, with your vantage positions in the public sector.

[Two of you will be studying for Cambridge master degrees - in the fields of development studies and education -  and eight of you will receive grants to pursue research on salient issues for Viet Nam ranging from insurance policy and helping ethnic minority children in language education to exploring the situation of Vietnamese returned brides and analyzing the lessons learnt for Viet Nam from trade disputes.  These are very exciting opportunities and I encourage you to take full advantage of them.]

Indeed, it is my hope that you will all become positive role models for the next generation of Vietnamese women and that you will share your experiences widely. Returning to your organizations, you will be prepared to inspire your colleagues, act with confidence, and lead with lasting impact in creating framework for the followers. Indeed, I hope you feel a sense of responsibility to strengthen and expand Government and social systems in Viet Nam that support women.

In closing, let me emphasize that the partnership with the University of Cambridge, and the generous contribution from the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and Cambridge Overseas Trust (COT) have been fundamental in making this initiative possible.  It is interesting to note that the beginnings  of  reform of women’s education is closely linked to Cambridge University, starting Ms. Emily Davies’ campaign to allow women to attend Cambridge University in 1860s.

Let me especially thank His Excellency Vice Minister Dao Viet Trung, His Excellency British Ambassador Mark Kent, Mr. Michael O’Sullivan, Director of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and Cambridge Overseas Trust (COT), Ms. Nguyen Nguyet Nga, Director General of MoFA, and the many other colleagues in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here today, as well as the Government Aid Coordination Agencies, for their support and their contribution to the implementation of this project.

I look forward to continuing our collective efforts to create opportunities for Vietnamese women so that they will thrive in both the private and public sectors.

Thank you.
Xin cam on!