International Workshop: Women’s parliamentary groups and national strategies on gender equality

27 Jul 2012

Speaker: Ms. Pratibha Mehta, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date:       Friday, 27 July, 2012 at 8.30 am
Event:     International Workshop: Women’s parliamentary groups and national strategies on gender equality, Thursday 26-Saturday 28 July 2012
Venue:    Novotel Hotel, Nha Trang

Honourable Ms. Tòng Thị Phóng, Vice-Chair of the National Assembly of Viet Nam,
Honourable Mrs. GKR Hemas, Vice-Chair of the Indonesian House of Regional Representatives,
Honourable Ms. Truong Thi Mai, Chair of the National Assembly of Viet Nam Committee on Social Affairs,
Honourable Members of Parliament from Viet Nam and overseas,
Distinguished national and international guests,

I am very pleased to be with you this morning at this important international conference on women parliamentary groups and national strategies on gender equality.

One of the greatest positive changes in the 20th century has been the increased participation of women in politics, both as voters and as members of parliament. Today, gender equality is a recognized development priority, significant progress has been achieved, and many parliaments are working towards achieving gender parity.

By 2011, the world average of women in parliament stood at 19.3 percent - in 1995, it was 11.3 percent. Only 37 countries have reached the 30 percent mark, recognized as the critical mass for change in parliament, while nine still have no women members at all.

Historically, parliamentary representation has been highest in the Nordic countries where women have represented over 40 percent of their legislatures for several decades. But since 2003 the record for women’s representation has been held by Rwanda, where women hold a majority of 56.3 percent. In Asia women account for 18 percent of MPs. Women’s representation exceeds 25 percent in only four countries: Nepal, Timor-Leste, Afghanistan and Lao PDR

Globally, parliaments continue to face challenges in undertaking gender mainstreaming and promoting gender equality in parliaments. These include lower numbers of women MPs, insufficient institutional commitment to gender mainstreaming in oversight and legislative activities, lack of gender disaggregated data and analysis, difficulties in balancing parliamentary work and family responsibilities, and a lack of consensus and consistency among MPs in promoting equality regardless of their gender.

A 2008 global study of women in parliament by the IPU revealed that while women are the main drivers of progress towards achieving gender equality in parliaments, parliaments as institutions must be structured to become a more effective vehicle for gender mainstreaming, which depends on parliament’s gender sensitivity and awareness, its policies and infrastructure and mechanisms which can promote gender equality throughout all law-making, oversight and administrative work. And to achieve this, both women and men MPs have to work together.

At the national level, gender equality laws and strategies form the basic legal framework for promoting gender equality, and a number of countries have developed such strategies. Viet Nam is one of them and the National Strategy on Gender Equality and National Programme on Gender Equality demonstrate the government’s commitment to achieving greater gender equality in Viet Nam and promoting women’s participation and leadership at all levels. The role of the National Assembly in overseeing their proper implementation is critical.

The UN has been supporting gender equality and parliamentary development at both the national and global level. In Viet Nam, examples include the UN’s support to the Women Parliamentary Group and Committee for Social Affairs of the National Assembly project. As such gender empowerment is a cross-cutting area of support under our One UN Plan for 2012-2016.

Since 2008 the Women Parliamentary Group of the National Assembly of Viet Nam regularly organizes national dialogues as well as workshops specifically to discuss international experiences on a wide range of gender issues. In 2010, for example the attention was on domestic violence and how women members of parliament and women’s caucuses can influence domestic violence policy, legislation and programmes. UN agencies including UNDP and UNIFEM (now UN Women) supported the Vietnam Women’s Parliamentary Group to share experiences with their peers in neighboring ASEAN countries and in other parliaments around the world.

The UN will continue to support the National Assembly to monitor implementation of the 2006 Law on Gender Equality and the 2007 Law on Domestic Violence as well as to mainstream gender in the legislative process. This year, the Women Parliamentary Group and the Committee for Social Affairs are encouraging dialogue on the very important issue of enhancing the role of parliamentary bodies in gender mainstreaming in policy formulation and oversight.

Global experiences show that political will and creating appropriate parliamentary mechanisms such as permanent gender quality and empowerment committees with mandate, authority and budget goes a long way to ensure gender equality and effective mainstreaming.

Today and tomorrow, we will hear from active members of parliament and experts from the Asia Pacific region and beyond. Here, I would particularly like to welcome the Honourable Mrs GKR Hemas, Vice-Chair of the Indonesian House of Regional Representatives, together with other distinguished women MPs from Cambodia, Canada, China, Laos, Malaysia, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Looking forward, I see two priorities: firstly, further raising the profile and importance of gender equality in parliamentary work and making parliaments more gender sensitive. Secondly, promoting networking opportunities between women leaders from different parliaments and finding practical ways to ensure gender equality in politics and policy formulation to promote all forms of equality as well as inclusive, equitable and sustainable human development.

In closing I would like to underline the importance of partnership between parliamentarians and their constituencies in promoting gender equality and need-based policies. I very much look forward to hearing the outcomes and plan of action from this workshop, and to supporting Viet Nam’s priorities for change in this area.

I wish you a fruitful and enjoyable day.