Opening remarks at the media Q&A by the UN Resident Coordinator at the launch of regional Human Development Report on gender

Mar 9, 2010

Speaker: Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date:       9 March 2010
Event:      Launch of regional Human Development Report on gender

Ladies and gentlemen, let me once again welcome you on behalf of the UN Country Team to the launch of the regional Human Development Report on Gender.   Firstly I would like to introduce the panel of UN colleagues who are here with me this morning.

Ms Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director, you have already met.  We also have with us today Mr Bruce Campbell, UNFPA Representative, Ms Rie Vejs-Kjelgaard ILO Director, and Ms Suzette Mitchell, UNIFEM Country Representative.

In a moment we will open the floor for questions and answers to our presenters and to the panel.  But just to begin, I would like to make some brief introductory observations to set the key issues raised in this regional report in the context of Viet Nam.  

I want to touch on four key issues.

The first relates to basic capabilities.  Viet Nam has made great strides in terms of economic performance and lifting people out of poverty. But at the same time, there are signs of rising economic inequality and disparity in Viet Nam.  When this interacts with existing gender inequalities, we have a situation where some women and girls are being left even further behind. 
For example, even though overall education participation rates are almost equal with girls accounting for 47% of primary and secondary students, the girls in the poorest 20% of households and those in isolated ethnic minority communities are still less likely to get an education than boys.  16% of ethnic minority girls do not attend primary school.

We also see that gender inequality strikes even before children are born. More families are practicing sex selection: the sex ratio at birth is currently 112 boys to 100 girls nationally, up from 110 to 100 in 2006.  And the rate is much higher in some regions, up to 120 boys per 100 girls in the Northeast of Viet Nam. 

Secondly, in terms of economic power, women in Viet Nam have very high rates of economic participation, making up 46.6% of the workforce.  Their work in the formal sector, as well as their unpaid contribution to the household, benefits their families and Vietnamese society as a whole. 

However, most employment in Viet Nam is in the vulnerable, informal sector, and is not covered by social protection.  Women predominate in vulnerable employment: 78% of women in the labour force fall into this category.

Women work longer hours, but still receive around 87% of average male wages. Their contribution to the family is not matched by an equal say in household decision-making or equal ownership and control over assets such as land, businesses or large assets.

Thirdly, Viet Nam is performing well in the area of political voice, at the national level, especially in comparison to other ASEAN countries: women represent 25.8% of National Assembly members. 
However women are not well represented in senior decision-making in the Party or the administration: only one Minister, and five of 82 Vice-Ministers are women. 

And while women’s representation in local decision-making has improved; they are rarely in top leadership positions, and are often not well represented in local planning processes. 

Finally, Viet Nam has an impressive track record in terms of formal recognition and protection of women’s legal rights, and promotion of gender equality. 

However, in Viet Nam, as throughout the region, violence against women remains a major issue.  According to a 2006 GSO and UNICEF survey on women and children, 64% of Vietnamese women see violent treatment as normal and acceptable in marriage. The silence and stigma that surround violence against women is so strong that many women are afraid to speak out, or leave a violent relationship.  Some forms of violence, such as rape in marriage and sexual harassment, are still not openly discussed.  

While legislative and policy frameworks are in place in Viet Nam to protect women’s rights, in practice it is often difficult for women to exercise these rights.  For example, despite the provisions of the Land Law, around two thirds of Land Tenure Certificates are in the names of men.   And women continue to face specific barriers to accessing the justice system in Viet Nam due to fear of corruption and discrimination and lack of knowledge of their legal rights.

I see many, many positive signs of change in this country.  Government commitment to gender equality and the advancement of women is strong and growing.  There are strong women leaders in the National Assembly and in business.  And civil society is increasingly engaged in public policy debates on these issues.   

However, much more needs to be done to ensure women have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives, equal access to and control over economic resources, and equal access to legal rights and protections.  

I would like to close here, as I know my colleagues on the panel will have more to say about the specific challenges we face, as well as the interventions and solutions that are required.

Thank you.