Speech at the legal policy dialogue on gender equality in the justice sector

22 Sep 2011

Speaker: Mr. Eamonn Murphy, Resident Coordinator a.i. of the United Nations in Viet Nam
Date:      Thursday, 22 September 2011
Event:     Legal policy dialogue: Gender equality in the justice sector
Venue:    Sheraton Hotel, Hanoi

Madame Nguyen Thuy Hien, Deputy Minister of Justice and Chairwoman of the Committee for the Advancement of Women;
Ms Setsuko Yamazaki;
Government representatives;
Fellow UN colleagues;

I would like to welcome you all to this quarterly legal policy dialogue, the fourth to be held so far. As with our previous policy dialogues, we have another very important and timely theme for today’s discussion – gender equality in the justice sector and the protection of women’s rights.

I would like to pay tribute to the momentum generated by the Ministry of Justice in organizing these policy dialogues on a quarterly basis. Building on the Legal Partnership Forum, which used to be organized every year, it is very encouraging to see that this new forum has managed to establish itself as a key opportunity for the international community to discuss key challenges in the justice sector with our Vietnamese counterparts.

I am very pleased to see that on the Vietnamese side, the National Assembly, the Government, the judicial branch and civil society are all represented here today. On the international side, a number of different UN agencies are also represented in the programme. This enables us to present a fuller picture of the engagement of different agencies towards achievement of core universal values and standards which Viet Nam seeks to achieve. And today’s session is just the kind of inclusive policy dialogue which the UN in Viet Nam is keen to support.

Gender equality is a cross-cutting issue. Indeed, gender equality is a pre-requisite to reaching all of the MDGs which Viet Nam has already made great strides towards and is working to achieve. I would like to take this opportunity to underline three key messages in relation to gender equality and the justice sector which the UN believes it is essential to address.

1.   The first key issue is that we need to make more room at the top for women in the justice sector.

Women are often poorly represented in important decision-making positions that are central to translating laws and policies into practice. In Viet Nam, less than a third of all judges are women – 28 percent – but the more serious problem lies at the top. Only four of the 63 provincial court presidents are women – that’s just six percent.

Within the executive branch the situation is even more worrying. Half (48 percent) of justice branch staff are women – yet only five of the 63 directors of provincial Departments of Justice are women. That’s just eight percent.

As a first step to redress this imbalance the discriminatory difference in retirement age between men and women needs to change. The current system limits women’s chances for promotion, access to training and development, and forces women to end their careers just when their male counterparts are reaching the peak of theirs.

2.   My second key point is that we need to do more to help victims of domestic violence.

Recent UN research shows that one third of women experience domestic violence, but that only one third of reported cases lead to any kind of sanction against the perpetrator. And less than one in a hundred result in a criminal conviction. The most common response to domestic violence is to send the couple to reconciliation. However, that doesn’t work and the violence all too often continues.

Later this morning we will have the opportunity to hear more about research on domestic violence and to discuss together what Viet Nam can do to address the issue more effectively.

3.   My final message is that we need to move from equal rights to equal protection of rights.

Women enjoy formal equality under the law in Viet Nam, but the situation on the ground is very different. For example, eight years after the 2003 Land Law allowed joint land titles in the name of both husband and wife, implementation has been so slow that three out of five (62 percent) of land titles are still held in the name of men only. The situation is particularly bad for women aged 31-45, only a quarter of whom have their names on their land title, according to the 2008 Viet Nam Household Living Standards Survey.

Women in Viet Nam have equal rights in principle. Now it’s time for Viet Nam to empower women to claim their rights in practice – including their land rights!  I hope we can discuss today how we can work together to make progress on this important issue.

I very much look forward to the outcomes of today’s policy dialogue – to hearing from the presenters and to discussing how we can ensure that women are represented at the top of the justice sector, how we can address domestic violence and help those who suffer from it, and how we can support women to claim their rights, for instance around joint land titles.

The outcomes of our discussions will be very useful in helping to inform the support of the UN under the next One Plan. In closing, let me assure you that the UN will continue to support the important work on gender equality in the justice sector.

I wish you fruitful and stimulating discussions this morning.

Thank you!