Breaking gender stereotypes: how to make the ‘abnormal’ normal

As published in Students Newspaper on 1 April 2016

Over the past few days I have met with several very talented young people - film makers, script writers and researchers - who are helping to challenge the way we think about women and men. Many spoke about how the UN’s #Howabnormal film competition had forced them to question gender stereotypes, and absurdities they see around them every day.

Today the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the first since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals. Last September in New York, world leaders agreed an ambitious new global agenda to end poverty, combat inequalities, promote prosperity, and protect the environment by 2030.

Not only has this established a new standalone global goal for gender equality, but gender equality and women’s empowerment lies at the core of the new Agenda. Gender related targets have also been set for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Sustainable Development Agenda can only be achieved by achieving equality for women and girls.

I was asked a very important question the other day: how do the SDGs differ from the MDGs?

There are a number of differences, but I believe three points are key:

First – unlike the MDGs, they are designed to get us to zero.

For example by setting a target to halve the number of people living in poverty, the MDGs encouraged countries to tackle the easiest parts first. Getting to zero calls us to focus on empowering the poorest, the most marginalized, and hardest to reach.

The SDG’s call on us not only to promote gender equality, but to eliminate gender discrimination and inequality for once and for all.

Second – the SDGs apply to all countries.

The MDGs were developed in the context of “rich donors aiding poorer countries.” Since then the world has changed, and for countries like Viet Nam, inequality is now much more of an issue than national-level poverty.

Third– they are rights based, visionary and inclusive.

The SDGs go further in seeking to tackle underlying patterns of discrimination and deprivation, making sure that even the most excluded and vulnerable can fulfil their human rights.

The SDGs seek to leave no one - and that means no women or girls - behind.

So with gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of the 2030 Agenda – what does this mean?
Over the past twenty years, Viet Nam has made important progress in gender equality policies and legislation. However, this is not fully implemented, and programme investments have often fallen short.

By committing to the SDGs we urgently need to find ways to overcome existing challenges and obstacles.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that if we are to end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls we will need to go beyond the law and tackle the patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted gender stereotypes that too often prevail. They shackle both women and men in traditionally defined roles.

That is why the UN has been promoting gender equality campaigns like “HeForShe” and “#HowAbnormal – breaking gender stereotypes” that urge us all to think and act differently.

In spite of improving legislation, unless government officials, members of mass organizations, the general public, and the media are fully on board, discrimination will remain.

For example, violence against women is still far too common in our homes, work places and public spaces. As many as three out of five women in Viet Nam have experienced at least one form of violence by their intimate partners at some point in their lives. But only one in ten has sought help from the authorities. Look around you and consider what that means.

Unpaid care and domestic work in the home also needs to be fully valued and recognized, as well as reduced and shared.. This is because the burden on women limits their opportunities for education, work and income.

We also need to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and for elimination of all harmful practices, including child marriage.

Of course gender equality is a political issue, one that requires political commitment and action at the highest levels. International Women’s Day is in fact not a day to profess our love and appreciation to women but rather a day to remember the political struggles of women for equality and recommit to actions that will move us forward beyond the rhetoric.

On 27 September last year, as Heads of States gathered in New York to adopt the SDGs, President Sang highlighted the common thread of gender running through the Sustainable Development Goals. He committed to do everything necessary to bridge the gender gap in Viet Nam.

I hope this will lead to greater allocation of resources and doubling of efforts to implement the National Strategy on Gender Equality. I hope this will also shape the SDG Action Plan that will be adopted by the National Assembly later this year.

As the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon has said in his message for today, ‘Confucius taught that to put the world in order, we must begin in our own circles.”

There is much that we ourselves can do to bring about gender equality, and transform the future potential of Viet Nam. It’s great to see young people leading the way.

Let’s work to make the abnormal normal. The UN stands ready to work with you every step of the way.

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