Photo by Silver Ringvee on Unsplash

(links to the Op-Ed on Viet Nam Times in English and Vietnamese languages)  

This week, streets in the capital city of Ha Noi and other cities and provinces throughout Viet Nam are decorated with national flags, banners, and posters to celebrate the upcoming general elections. Local authorities are working hard to ensure safety of the elections amid the COVID-19 4th wave. The increasing interest in the National Assembly (NA) and its relevance to people’s lives are reflected in the high level of participation in the lead up to national elections.  More than 69 million voters will go to polling stations across the country to elect deputies to the 15th NA and all-level People’s Councils for 2021-2026 this Sunday.

The general elections will be an important opportunity for people to implement their right to choose their representatives. Political participation is clearly rooted in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which highlights  the right of every person to equal participation in public affairs, the right to vote and to be elected.

In the first general election back in 1946, President Ho Chi Minh also clearly stated: “General elections constitute an opportunity for the entire population to freely elect people with talents and good virtues to shoulder the national affairs. In the elections, anyone who cares for national affairs can stand for the elections and every citizen is entitled to go to the polls. All citizens, regardless of their gender, economic situation, religions, races, social classes, political parties, have these two rights”. Seventy-five years later, these principles are still as important and relevant as ever.

Women, men, persons who identify themselves of non-binary gender, persons with disabilities, bring their unique experiences and perspectives into the decision-making process. No one else can understand and raise issues that impact  them better than themselves.

UNDP Viet Nam’s  latest study has provided empirical evidence of the important roles and significant contributions of women elected representatives in the country’s development. The study, “Roles, Performance and Contributions of Vietnamese Women Representatives During the 2016-2021 Period”, shows that while their areas of focus may differ, both women and men elected representatives noted that it is the interest of voters from their constituencies that is the most important factor influencing their views on a specific issue.

Women delegates more frequently engage with voters via social networking applications than men delegates, the study finds. In their action plans, women delegates pay more attention to the fields of education- training and health than men delegates. Likewise, women delegates were more responsive to petitions and proposals from voters during this term.

However, the PAPI survey 2020 revealed that voters prefer men over women candidates, particularly for village head positions. In addition, while voters prefer men candidates with families, women candidates are less likely to win support if they have families.

Turning to persons with disabilities (PWD),  the UNDP rapid assessment released earlier this year showed a keen interest  of persons with disabilities to have their representatives run for elections and represent them in legislation bodies. Up to 92% of the respondents hope to have representatives with disabilities in the National Assembly and People's Councils, while 63% of respondents are willing to become self-nominated candidates of the elections.

However, the rapid assessment showed that the top 3 challenges persons with disabilities may face in elections include: 28% do not feel confident in their  own capacity to  be successful;  14% do not know how to self-nominate and call for the support of voters; and 9% do not believe that the community will vote for persons with disabilities. This helps to shed light on why a “political gap” still exists between persons with and without disabilities, that will only be closed  when we are all engaged in promoting equality and empowerment for persons with disabilities in political platforms.

Achieving equality implies obtaining equitable and fair development outcomes throughout the lifetime of human beings —spanning from quality education and life-long learning opportunities, to equal access to quality employment, natural resources, social protection, and inclusive decision-making.  Such development outcomes are hard to achieve when women,  and persons with disabilities, are underrepresented in legislation bodies, regardless of how hard Government, communities, and organizations work to promote equality.

It is our hope that the data from our research and studies  can help provide further evidence and grounds for  society and voters to gain stronger confidence in women candidates as well as those with disabilities in the  upcoming elections. It is important that voters select competent and qualified candidates, regardless of their gender.

As we work to expand people’s choices for a fairer, sustainable future, UNDP  looks forward to deepening our  work with our  partners to build the leadership capacity of  women and persons with disabilities to assume elected positions, and also to  support them to perform well once elected./.

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