Speech at the conference on empowerment of women in the public sector

14 Dec 2012

Speaker: UNDP Country Director, Ms. Louise Chamberlain
Date:       Friday, December 14th, 8:30am   
Event:      Conference - Empowerment of Women in the Public Sector
Venue:     Pullman Hotel, 40 Cat Linh street, Ha Noi

Honourable Nguyễn Thanh Hòa, Vice Minister of MOLISA

Honourable Nguyễn Phương Nga, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs,

Dr. Tạ Ngọc Tấn, Director of The Ho Chi Minh National Academy

Dr. Astrid Tuminez, Regional Director of Microsoft,

UN Colleagues and Representatives from International Organizations,

Distinguished Participants from across Viet Nam:

I would like to warmly welcome participants to this conference on the Empowerment of Women in the Public Sector. I would like to start by recognizing and commending the Government of Viet Nam, and in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its efforts in supporting women in leadership positions in the public sector.  UNDP has worked with MOFA since 2008 on this initiative and it has been recognized as a good example of empowering women in the public sector. This cooperation is also a particularly good model of an initiative that supports partnerships across ministries and agencies and between central and provincial governments.

Why is women’s leadership one of the key development issues today?  Women’s representation in the public sector is not a matter of justice alone. It is a matter of ensuring all perspectives are brought forward.  Women and men have different experiences and it is important that both women and men are in positions of influence in order to bring these experiences and perspectives into the decision making process.  Equal representation of women and men in government administration makes the Government a better employer by enabling diversity to improve its work.  Empowering women and strengthening women’s participation in decision-making is at the heart of socio-economic development. Research has shown that the empowerment of women is a potential for accelerating economic growth and making development results more sustainable. The empowerment of women is not a luxury, it is an untapped potential in the further acceleration of Viet Nam’s economic growth and social development.

A national research study conducted this year by the Empowerment of Women in the Public Sector project provides new data on the status of women’s representation in decision-making at all levels. It shows that historically Viet Nam has led the region in the area of women’s political participation. Yet over the last 10 years, there has been a steady decline in women’s representation. At the legislative level, women hold currently only 24 percent of the National Assembly and 27 percent of People’s Councils seats while we see only one woman in the politburo and 9 percent of ministers are women.  These achievements are below the targets set by government.

We have to ask what are the reasons for this. The two reports that will be presented during the panel discussion both emphasize how cultural, tradition and social norms impact on whether women become leaders. Both studies highlight patriarchy as a significant impediment to women’s leadership in the workforce and in parliament.  This creates social pressure in both the home and in the workforce.  In the home, there is cultural pressure for women to be the main caregiver and care taker of a home.  In the work domain, it is the cultural norm for a woman to play a subordinate role, for her not to have career ambitions and for her career to be relegated behind that of men.

For example, according to the study on women in the National Assembly in Viet Nam, some women parliamentarians shared that they cannot discuss their role as a member of parliament with their husbands as their husbands are uncomfortable with them having a senior leadership position.  In the report Rising to the Top, it mentions that in a survey of 50 women leaders throughout Asia, the three greatest challenges to women’s rise in leadership in Asia are quoted as ‘Constraints of Family Life’, ‘Organizational Policies and Practices that Favor Men over Women’, and ‘Cultural Barriers’.

If we are to make significant headway in the area of women and leadership, the social and cultural norms that hinder women’s advancement need to be better understood and addressed.  Perhaps as champions for women’s empowerment, we need to reach beyond our normal constituents and engage those currently not involved in such discussions.  I look forward to hearing Dr. Tan, the President of the Ho Chi Minh Academy, speak to us today on how his academy is planning to gender mainstream in leadership training for senior decision makers. This is one example of a new and unconventional approach to breaking gender barriers.

With this in mind, I would like to take the opportunity to make two concrete recommendations.

The first is to address the social inequalities that hinder women’s advancement and to leverage more engagement from a broad spectrum of stakeholders – in particular male leaders - in changing the situation for women. We hope to see Vietnamese male leaders address the issue of women’s empowerment as a priority development issue for the country.

Secondly, to ensure that Viet Nam meets its target of a minimum of 35% representation in parliament, it is imperative that many more women are allowed and encouraged to be candidates in the 2016 election.  Although 2016 can seem a long way off, we have learned that it is important to prepare now.  We need to go beyond training women candidates to addressing some of the structures in the electoral system that inhibit women’s advancement.

In closing, I would like to encourage that the partners present today explore the barriers to enhanced women’s leadership – in particular the patriarchal values that bind women and men to stereotypical roles.  In this context, it is particularly important to engage both women and men on the issue of social and cultural norms and to encourage a shared participation in creating a more equitable and just environment in the home, office and community.

Today, I hope that this conference will contribute to build our understanding of strategic ways forward to ensure women can participate in shaping the policies and programmes that will bring about economic growth, social development and greater gender equality in Viet Nam. The UNDP is committed to continue working with all of you to provide opportunities for reforms on women’s empowerment and gender equality to be implemented effectively.

I wish you a fruitful and enjoyable day.