Remarks at the Opening Session of the Consultative Forum of the National Assembly of Viet Nam with the Donor Community on the Draft Law on Gender Equality

Sep 15, 2006

Speaker: Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date:       Ha Noi, 15 September 2006
Event:     Remarks at the Opening Session of the Consultative Forum of the National Assembly of  Viet Nam  with the Donor Community on the Draft Law on Gender Equality
Mrs. Ninh - Vice-Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Mrs. Chanh - Vice-Chair of the Committee on Social Affairs
Dr. Si Dzung - Vice-Chairman of the Office of National Assembly
Excellencies Ambassadors;
Heads of Aid Agencies and my fellow UN colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen

 This has been an important week in Viet Nam’s efforts to achieve gender equality. As United Nations Resident Coordinator, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the National Assembly and the Secretariat for their efforts to ensure maximum consultation on the Draft Law on Gender Equality ahead of the submission of the law to the full Assembly at the next Parliamentary session in October.
 The United Nations is proud to be a partner in supporting you in these efforts through the Programme on “Strengthening of the Capacity of People’s Elected Bodies in Viet Nam. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend our sincere thanks to colleagues from Switzerland, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom for their participation in, and active support to this important intervention.
 The week started with a consultative seminar in Hue where the Committee for Social Affairs of the National Assembly had the opportunity to hear the views of Vietnamese specialists and non-governmental organizations.  
 These consultations were enriched by contributions from the Secretary General of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, Mrs. Wijesekera, the UNIFEM  Regional Director for Asia-Pacific Mrs Jean D’Cunha and the UNDP Regional Coordinator for Gender Mainstreaming in Asia-Pacific Mrs Cecilia Valdivieso. On behalf of the UN, I would like to thank our honoured guests for their participation in the consultations and for joining us here today.
 To my understanding, the Hue seminar represents the first formal Parliamentary consultation of draft legislation with the Vietnamese NGO community. Expanding the democratic process to encompass more actors and voices in consultation and participation is a core role of the National Assembly and other legislative bodies in Viet Nam. I would like to here acknowledge the role of Switzerland and Finland in also providing support for this key exercise.  
 This week’s very positive experience should certainly encourage Deputies of the National Assembly to provide more opportunities for non-governmental organizations and the public more generally to participate in the law making process. The submission of the Law on Domestic Violence to the National Assembly will provide another opportunity to widen the scope of consultation on an issue of vital importance to gender equity, freedom and security.
 According to UNIFEM, Viet Nam will be the thirty-second country in the world to enact a specific law on gender equality. It will also be the fifth in Asia. We share with Viet Nam your great sense of pride in once again taking the lead on the issue of gender equality, and showing the way forward for the region and the broader developing world.  
 The Law on Gender Equality, which we will be discussing today will provide a comprehensive national legislative framework for gender equality and women’s rights as well as a legal framework specific to conditions in Viet Nam. This law guarantees the rights of men and women in Viet Nam, particularly in the family and in the workplace. The law also codifies the approach that the Government of Viet Nam will adopt when monitoring and implementing its gender equality commitments.
 The Government is well aware that gender disparities persist in Vietnamese society as in most societies. Women are still under-represented in elected bodies and in the higher ranks of the Government and Party. They are more likely to be poor, jobless, without land use rights, discriminated against in the labor market and suffer from violence. Women bear the double burden of work outside the home and domestic work. A gender division of labour, which is replicated in training and education, presents an obstacle to women seeking better, higher-paying jobs. The absence of affordable child care also imposes huge costs for women.
 As you know, equality and equity between the sexes is imperative for the sound development of any country.  As the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said (and I quote):
 “… There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or reduce infant and maternal mortality – including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation...”
 The Millennium Declaration resolves to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women including women’s basic human rights. As Mrs. Chanh highlighted, the MDG3 in particular, challenges discrimination against women, and seeks to ensure that girls as well as boys have equal opportunities to go to school. The goal includes measures to combat illiteracy amongst women, give women more voice and representation in public policy and decision making, and improve job prospects for women.  
 It is also important to remember that gender equality is not limited to a single development goal but applies to all. Without progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women, none of the MDGs or any development goal can be achieved. For example, inequality and discrimination against women are social contributors to women’s particular vulnerability to HIV infection; addressing the underlying causes of this vulnerability must be an essential part of any strategy for meeting MDG targets in relation to HIV.
 The Constitution of Viet Nam strives to uphold the rights of all men AND women. Viet Nam has signed and is implementing the provisions of important UN Conventions and Treaties, such as CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. However, until the development of the law on gender equality there has been no comprehensive national legislative framework for upholding gender equality and women’s rights in Viet Nam.  
 From the perspective of the United Nations, while there are many positive elements, there is also still considerable scope to improve the draft law. We will have an opportunity to discuss these aspects of the draft today. For now, however, I would like to cite three or four key points:
  First, It would be useful if the law were to include explicit provisions about the right of Vietnamese women to information concerning their rights and the obligation of the Government to protect these rights.  
  Secondly, the provisions relating to the implementation mechanisms of the law could be spelled out more clearly. Which Agencies will oversee the implementation of the law? Are there provisions to ensure that these Agencies have adequate financial and technical resources? Does the law establish clear benchmarks against which implementation can be gauged?  
  Thirdly, the definition of “non-discrimination” could be improved. It will be important to consider direct although unintended consequences of public policies on the well-being of women and men. Gender analysis of legislation and government decisions should be promoted. Gender budgeting practices should be encouraged.
  Fourthly, we would also like to highlight the need for a transparent and reasonable system of sanctions for those who will violate the law. Particular attention should be given to sanctions against state employees so as to promote the concept that government institutions should be gender sensitive in structures and activities. This should be complemented by incentives and rewards.
 There are some of the many other important issues to discuss, and I hope that our consultations today will make a real contribution to the final text of the law.
I also hope that today’s meeting can consider follow up activities in support of the implementation of the law and more broadly in the sphere of gender equality. The National Assembly will continue to have a central role in the promotion of gender equality. I would like to reiterate the commitment of the the United Nations to assisting you in this important work. I know I speak for all of Viet Nam’s development partners when I say that the international community places a high priority on cooperation with the National Assembly and People’s Councils and building the capacity of Viet Nam’s democratic institutions.
 Before closing, I would lastly finally like to draw your attention to two publications prepared by the Secretariat of the National Assembly with support from UNDP and other partners:
  Engaging Parliaments in the MDGs: A key part of national MDG Strategy

Gender Mainstreaming in Parliaments- International Good Practices.   
 There two publications provide Deputies with an overview of the activities of legislative bodies in other countries relating to the promotion of gender equality and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. The publications are available in Vietnamese and we hope that you will find them useful. During the Hue seminar we also presented a film produced by the United Nations in Viet Nam on the current situation with regards to violence against women and gender inequality. We have brought some copies of this film for distribution today, and we hope that you also will find it useful and will share the film with your colleagues.
 In closing, I would like to once again thank the National Assembly for organizing today’s consultation, and to re-emphasize the commitment of the United Nations to supporting you in your important work of creating the legal framework for gender equality, human rights, freedom and security in Viet Nam.  
Thank you.

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