Speech at the workshop ensuring equality in the retirement age of women, a step towards sustainable development and international integration

27 Feb 2013

Speaker: UNDP Country Director, Ms. Louise Chamberlain
Date:       Wednesday, February 27th, 8:30am   
Event:      Workshop - Ensuring Equality in the Retirement Age of Women - a step towards Sustainable Development and International Integration
Venue:     Melia Hotel, Ha Noi

Mr. Nguyễn Ngọc Sơn, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ms. Đặng Thị Ngọc Thịnh, Member of the Central Party, Secretary of Party of Vĩnh Long province
Ms. Nguyễn Thúy Anh, Deputy Chairwomen of the Social Affairs Committee of the National Assembly
Ms. Nguyễn Nguyệt Nga, Director General of Multilateral Economic Cooperation Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr. Dương Quốc Trọng, Director of Population Planning and Family Committee, Ministry of Health
Ms. Suzette Mitchell, Country Representative of UN Women
Colleagues and Representatives from UN and International Organizations,

Distinguished Leaders and Officials from across Viet Nam

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honored to be with you this morning at this important workshop. Empowering women and strengthening women’s participation in decision-making is at the heart of sustainable socio-economic development. If Viet Nam is to continue its impressive development progress it is essential to mobilize the full potential of its workforce, both men and women.

At present, women are under-represented in decision-making at all levels. For example, only 9 to 12 percent of Director General positions are held by women.  At the legislative level, women hold currently only 24 percent of the National Assembly and 25 percent of People’s Councils seats.  Greater efforts are needed to meet the target set by government of a minimum of 35 percent representation by 2016.

Why is women’s leadership one of the key development issues today?  Women’s representation in the public sector is not a matter of fairness. 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 because diversity can improve its work. The empowerment of women is not a luxury, it is a necessity and an untapped potential in the further acceleration of Viet Nam’s economic growth and social development.

One of the major barriers for women to be leaders in Viet Nam is the discriminatory retirement age.    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.

Moreover, the unequal retirement age is not in line with the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Viet Nam ratified in 1982.  It states in article 11 of CEDAW that State Parties “shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights.”  The issues around retirement age are inextricably linked to the country’s social insurance and pension system and have implication for state finances, the labour market, poverty, health and well-being of the elderly population as well as gender equality.  These are complex policy issues that will need to be addressed.  However, from the perspective of CEDAW and from international experience, it is clear that the differential retirement age constitutes direct discrimination against women and falls short of CEDAW norms.  The differential retirement age infringes upon women’s equal right to work, to the same employment opportunities, to training, to promotion and to job security – and therefore violates the standard of substantive equality set out in CEDAW.

In the past, laws obliging women to retire earlier than men were designed in many countries to protect women and to acknowledge their contribution to unpaid household and family care. As Viet Nam is a middle-income country, this measure needs to be rethought in light of the negative impact this policy has on professional women and on the inclusiveness in government.  Globally and regionally, the trend is to equalize retirement ages between women and men and to increase retirement ages.  By 2035, all but one OECD countries  will have uniform retirement age and in East and Southeast Asia, most countries except for Cambodia, Vietnam and China, have equal retirement ages.  In China, women in professional positions have the same retirement age as men. The trend to increase retirement ages is a result of increased life expectancy and fiscal pressures, but it also supports gender equality in the labour force.

Today, the discussion will be on the decree to implement article 187 – age of retirement.  With the development of this decree, there is an opportunity for the government to take a step to remove the discrimination in retirement age between women and men.  By gradually increasing the retirement age for women over a period of time, to be equal with that of men, the government will show a clear commitment to gender equality, women’s rights and adherence to CEDAW.  With implementation of this decree, many more women that have a life-long experience, strong expertise in their area and steadfast commitment will be able to contribute to their fuller potential in Vietnamese society and political life.

On behalf of the UN Country Team, I would like to reconfirm our commitment to support the Government to end all kinds of discrimination against women, in line with CEDAW’s principles. The United Nations in Viet Nam welcomes the Government’s leadership in this area. We will continue to work, in close partnership with the Government and CSOs, to advance the status of women and promote gender equality. 

Thank you for your attention. I wish you all good health and happiness, and of course a fruitful and enjoyable day.