Speech at National Assembly policy discussion - Five-year Implementation of the Gender Equality Law

Jun 5, 2013

Speaker: Ms. Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator
Time:    17:00 dinner, Photo Session 18:00, Speeches 18:15
Date:    June 5, 2013
Event:   National Assembly policy discussion - Five-year Implementation of the Gender Equality Law
Venue:   Pullman Hotel, Ha Noi
Mme. Tong Thi Phong, Member of the Politburo, Vice Chair of the National Assembly

Mme Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, Member of the Politburo, Vice Chair of the National Assembly

Ms. Trương Thị Mai, Central Party Member, Member of the NA Standing Committee, Chairwoman of the NA Committee for Social Affairs, Chairwoman of the Women’s Caucus.

Ms. Pham Thi Hai Chuyen, Minister of MOLISA

Mr. Pham Quang Vinh, Vice Minister of MOFA

Ms. Nguyen Thi thanh Hoa, President of Vietnam Women’s Union

Honourable Members of Parliament

Distinguished Government Officials,

UN colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the United Nations Country Team, I would like to express my pleasure to participate in this important policy discussion this evening. Let me thank the Parliamentary Committee for Social Affairs for organizing this event to share information on the Implementation of the Gender Equality Law.

First of all, I would like to congratulate Viet Nam for the significant progress made over the past five years in implementing the gender equality law. Since the law was enacted in 2006, several important milestones have been achieved. For instance, the  National Strategy on Gender Equality and the National Program on Gender Equality was developed with 955 billion VND committed to its implementation from 2011 to 2015.  The Domestic Violence Law was also developed and the General Statistics Office has developed a Gender Statistical Indicator System and is collecting data that can help inform better policies and programming.  

These are all significant steps in developing a solid policy framework to address inequalities.  We see that the Gender Equality Law has influenced the development of other policies and gender equality has been mainstreamed in some laws – for example, in the Law on preventing and combating the harmful effects of tobacco (2012) which specifically highlights the harmful effects of tobacco on pregnant women, and the obligation of smokers to avoid smoking near pregnant women and children.

Despite these achievements there are hurdles that remain. There are limited numbers of full time staff available to work on gender issues, especially at the provincial level where currently only 9 provinces have Gender Equality Divisions, and the national budget to implement the targets of the national programme is limited.

Moving forward I would like to highlight some priority issues related to gender equality facing Viet Nam that could be addressed between now and the next elections in 2016.

First of all, work needs to continue in creating an equal playing field for women in government and legislative positions.  Available data shows that women fall behind men in terms of representation in senior positions.  At provincial and lower levels, women are even more invisible: only one in five members of people’s councils are women, and women are under-represented in local planning and consultation processes.  At the national level, Vietnam has experienced a decrease in representation in the National Assembly over the last 4 terms.  To reach the target of a minimum of 35 percent in the National Assembly in 2016, all stakeholders need to ensure that a minimum of 50 percent of the ballot is made up of qualified women.
Secondly, as we know from a domestic violence study conducted by the General Statistics Office, more than half (58%) of women living in Viet Nam reported to have experienced at least one form of violence – physical, sexual or emotional in their lifetime.  Despite the development of the domestic violence law in 2007, evidence shows that there is limited enforcement of domestic violence or gender based violence related policies and laws.

Furthermore, a recent study on sexual harassment in the workplace found that women who experience harassment feel they have nowhere to turn and no one to support them.  Creating a safe mechanism for complaints by governments, employers and trade unions is one of the most powerful things that can be done.  Although sexual harassment is included in the revised labour code, there is not a clear definition of sexual harassment which will inhibit the effectiveness of this new component.  

Finally, persistent discrimination against girls is evidenced by the increased imbalance in the sex ratio at birth and preferential treatment for boys in the family.  Sex ratio at birth rose from 106.2 boys per 100 girls in 2000 to 112.3 boys per 100 girls in 2012.  Without concentrated effort to reverse this trend, it is forecasted to cross the mark of 115 in a few years. Immediate action is needed and the UN calls on the government to implement strong social sector policies including health, education, employment and social protection measures that are pro-girl, pro-women and gender equal.  International experience shows that this is the only sustainable response to SRB imbalance.

One of the strengths of the Gender Equality Law is that it mandates the Committee on Social Affairs to gender mainstream all laws. The upcoming laws on population and family present an opportunity to comprehensively address many of the gender-based violence issues Viet Nam is facing.
At the most recent Commission on the Status Women the Government of Viet Nam committed itself to strengthen its response to gender based violence and discriminative behaviors against women. The UN stands ready to support the government to adopt a comprehensive approach that addresses violence of all forms in the public and private sphere and to share international experience and best practices of other countries facing similar issues as Viet Nam.

In conclusion, I would like to make a concrete suggestion on how Viet Nam could influence debates about gender equality in the upcoming time. Next year Viet Nam will be hosting the Interparliamentary Union Conference in Ha Noi. This conference could present an excellent platform to discuss equality and inclusion issues. This is an opportunity to showcase Viet Nam’s approach to addressing inequalities. In particular, the conference could make specific contributions to the debate on how to build gender aware parliaments.

I look forward to interesting presentations, candid and fruitful discussions, and concrete conclusions and recommendations from this dialogue.  I wish all of you good health, happiness and success.