Remarks at the luncheon on the occasion of International Women's Day

Mar 7, 2013

Speaker:  UNDP Country Director, Ms. Louise Chamberlain
Date:        Thursday, 7 March 2013, 10:40-13:00
Venue:      The Guesthouse of the Government
Host:         Vice President Mme. Nguyễn Thị Doan
Event:       Luncheon on the Occasion of International Women’s Day

Your Excellency, Vice President Madame Doan,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors
Ministers, Vice Ministers and Distinguished Female Leaders present here today;

We greatly appreciate your initiative Madame Vice President for hosting today’s important event. Women’s networking is a key opportunity for building coalitions and fostering ideas on the advancement of women’s common interests, and I am honored to say a few words at this gathering of top national and international female leaders in Viet Nam.

As you know, UNDP has supported a project on Women’s Empowerment the Public Sector implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 2008. The project has trained 1,500 women in leadership skills and offered a number of events on gender equality benefitting also men. The resounding positive response we have received from beneficiaries of the project’s activities suggests there is a need for more support of this kind.

To date, the Government of Viet Nam has achieved a very impressive set of laws, policies and targets to increase women’s representation. These policies seem to be yielding results by broadening the number of women who are able to advance a career in the public service. Female members of the National Assembly, although lower in numbers than a decade ago, perhaps increasingly have a stronger voice and positions of influence. At ministerial senior levels, the number of women has increased.

One might however note that, following the progressive policies that are in place, the growth in the cadre of women’s leaders could be making more rapid progress. The role of today’s leaders – both women and men – in making this happen is critical. It requires initiative, interest and commitment to actively seek out, and promote, qualified women, and to implement existing policies. There may be a need for clearer institutional monitoring and accountability mechanisms to make this happen.

But lessons from research in the UNDP/MOFA project also showed that cultural factors and inherent systemic bias counter the strong policies Vietnam has in place, and that we need to do more to foster positive attitudes towards female leadership. Through the new Center for Women in Politics and Public Administration, we will support initiatives to increase the number of women candidates and elected women MPs in the 2016 election and to mainstream gender in human resource guidelines and practices of government agencies.

Excellencies, Ladies, last week I also had the opportunity to speak on the issue of women’s retirement age. In the United Nations, we fully believe that the retirement age – and any opportunity for either earlier or later retirement – should be fully equalized between women and men, to ensure that women have just the same chances of advancing their career at different stages, and that men also have the same opportunity to invest in their  family roles.

In order to break through barriers to women’s leadership, the socio-cultural norms that hinder women’s advancement need to be understood and addressed.  Some ideas for consideration include addressing stereotypes and breaking taboos around sexual and workplace harassment; promoting the role of men in family policy, affirmative action in recruitment policies; a critical review of how media portrays women and women leaders; and monitoring measures for public offices to meet the set targets.

Excellencies, distinguished lunch participants, I believe you all have creative and constructive ideas on how we can together advance female leadership, and I hope that many of these will emerge in today’s discussion.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day I salute you all, and I wish you all good health, resounding success, and much happiness.

Thank you for your attention.