Forum “Promoting the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals from a Gender Perspective”

Opening Remarks by Mr. Kamal Malhotra, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam

Excellency Ms. Hà Thị Nga, President of Viet Nam Women’s Union  

Excellency Ms. Nguyễn Phương Nga, Chair of Viet Nam Union of Friendship Organizations

Mr. Lương Minh Triết, Standing Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee and Chairman of the People's Council of Đà Nẵng city

Mr. Nguyễn Văn Trung, Vice Minister of Planning and Investment

Ambassador Nguyễn Nguyệt Nga, Honorary President of the ASEAN Community Women's Circle in Hanoi (AWCH)

My Co-Chair of the Informal Ambassadors and Heads of Agencies Gender Policy Coordination Group, H.E. Ms. Sara Valdes Bolaño, Ambassador of Mexico  

Excellencies Ambassadors,  

Ladies and gentlemen, 

It is a pleasure for me to be here with all of you at this important Forum “Promoting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals from a gender perspective”. Let me start by commending the government of Viet Nam, and especially the Vietnam Women’s Union, for its commitment to review and strengthen implementation so as to achieve the gender equality and women’s empowerment goal and its targets as an essential dimension of the sustainable development of Viet Nam, especially in the recovery and post-COVID-19 period.

Today, we are together commemorating the 111th Anniversary of International Women’s Day with this year’s theme being: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”, to recognize the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future both during the pandemic and now as recovery phase begins.  

The International Women’s Day theme is also aligned with the priority of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which calls for “Women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.

COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts require an acceleration in progress in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since the pandemic has resulted in a significant backslide in many important goals and indicators. Recovery efforts also provide an opportunity to build forward better. Recognizing the importance of gender equality as a goal in itself, and at the same time, as a cross cutting component necessary for the achievement of all other SDGs, requires us to understand the different needs and impacts on women and girls, and on men and boys, for all socio-economic and environmental development interventions. Addressing gender differences and existing gender gaps, will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the post-covid socio-economic recovery policies and get countries on track towards achieving the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development, ensuring that No One is Left Behind.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to now highlight an overreaching issue become more effective. Women remain significantly underrepresented in all aspects of decision-making, threatening overall sustainable development. Women’s perspectives and solutions remain severely underrepresented, for example, only 3.5% of the COVID-19 task forces in 87 countries had gender parity!!! Good governance represented by SDG Goal 16 requires inclusive and effective participation as well as equal opportunities for leadership of women at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. The current pace of progress in this area is too slow and failure to increase women’s role in strategic decisions will make it impossible to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Gender balance would also be achieved more quickly if more leaders show the political will to set and meet parity targets for all executive, legislative, and judiciary positions at all levels. When women are not consulted or included in decision-making on issues that have a direct impact on their lives - such as education, health, economic development and conflict resolution, policy outcomes risk being ineffective, harmful or could even lead to the violation of women’s rights.

The recognition of these deficiencies by the 25-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action has ignited a global movement that will take expression in a Generation Equality Forum taking place in Mexico and France, in March and June, respectively, this year. During the Forum, 6 global Action Coalitions will be launched in an effort to accelerate funding and action by multiple stakeholders, especially youth, spearheading: greater women’s right to decision-making in all areas of life; equal pay; equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work; ending all forms of violence against women and girls; and sexual and reproductive health-care services that respond to women’s needs. Viet Nam can join these efforts and be a key player in the collective action to transform institutions, systems and practices.

Distinguished Guests,

Existing gender inequalities have been exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. COVID-19 has made evident the need for a gender-sensitive response, informed by sex-disaggregated data, research, and analysis. According to UN Women’s global study on gender, COVID-19 and SDGs, we have seen four significant negative global gender impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women: 

  • First, the rise in gender-based and domestic violence during lockdowns. For many women and girls, their home is not a safe space, and emerging data suggests that it has become less safe since the outbreak of COVID-19. Restrictions on movements and limited privacy due to isolation measures during the pandemic have meant that many women are unable to phone for help or receive support from their social networks, exponentially increasing the risk of gender-based violence, converting the COVID-19 pandemic into what the UN Secretary General and other experts have referred to as the “shadow pandemic".

  • Second, the risk of reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty. Women typically earn less and hold less secure jobs than men. With economic activity having literally come to a standstill in much of the world during the pandemic, women working in the informal sector have seen a dramatic decline in their capacity to earn a living. The same UN Women study estimated that during the first months of the crisis informal workers globally lost an average of 60 per cent of their income. The drop was 22 per cent in Asia and the Pacific. 

  • Third, there has been an increase in the burden of unpaid care and domestic work on women. Before the pandemic, women globally already did nearly three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men. During COVID-19 in 2020 working women did 15 hours more a week of unpaid care and domestic work compared to men.

  • And fourth, there has been an increase in the gender divide in access to technology and information. While digital technologies facilitated business continuity in some sectors and connected people through social media, almost half of the world’s population — 3.6 billion people — remains offline, mostly poorer countries. Data from several countries – including Bangladesh and Pakistan, point to an expansion in the gender divide in access to technology and information during COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Here in Viet Nam, we – the United Nations in Viet Nam - have worked closely with the government, private sector and civil society organizations to conduct rapid assessments to collect and analyze data on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality and the empowerment of women. Allow me to highlight some of our findings: 

  • We collected evidence to show that GBV has increased for women and children due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. UN Women, UNFPA, and UNICEF worked closely with the government and the Vietnamese Women’s Union’ Center for Women’s Development (CWD) to address this issue. During the period of strict physical distancing in April 2020, calls to the Peace House hotline and the number of women reaching out to services and shelters doubled compared with the same period in the prior year (2019) and continued to increase cumulatively to equal seven times during the year (compared to 2019 data).

  • According to a new policy analysis on Gender and the Labour Market in Viet Nam by ILO based on the General Statistics Office’s data, the COVID-19 crisis has generated a gap in unemployment which disadvantages women, which was not there before the pandemic. More specifically, Viet Nam’s workers faced a severe reduction in working hours during the second quarter of this year, especially women.  In the third quarter of 2020, with economic activity starting up again and schools reopening, women and men increased their working hours, possibly to make up for lost income. Women on average added more hours than men, which was positive but it also exacerbated their double burden.

  • A CARE’s rapid gender analysis in Viet Nam from 2020 showed that the impact of the pandemic has caused many people to slip back into poverty. Especially in rural areas and ethnic minority communities, people struggle with unemployment, underemployment and loss of income. Women who operate micro, small and informal enterprises are also amongst the hardest hit. 

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on women’s unpaid work in ways that could undermine progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. COVID-19 school closures and other public health prevention measures have primarily affected the domestic workload for which women are traditionally mainly responsible. According to UNEP’s Rapid Assessment (2020), women’s time for unpaid care and domestic work increased substantially with 73 per cent of female respondents spending 3 or more additional hours per day on unpaid care work compared to their usual pre-pandemic time.
  • Finally, CARE’s rapid gender analysis also showed an increased gender divide in access to technology and information during the pandemic, as women and girls in Viet Nam are less likely than men to own a cell phone, and they have less access to the Internet. Women also reported having less access to information about how to prevent being infected by COVID-19 virus.  

Ladies and gentlemen,  

We need to work jointly to generate the catalytic and multiplier effects that gender equality can have on the achievement of all the 17 SDGs and the 2030 Agenda, especially in terms of leaving no one behind. As part of the COVID-19 Socio-Economic Response Plan for UN in Viet Nam, we conducted a level mapping of gender-responsiveness of our own interventions, including specific actions to address gender inequality issues.

I am glad to share with you that together, the UN in Vietnam as a whole invested more than 30% of its COVID-19 response budget in 2020 on addressing gender inequality issues that were exacerbated the pandemic. Special Priority was given, as an essential part of our COVID-19 response, to ending violence against women and ensuring that all women and children in Viet Nam, including those most vulnerable, live a life free of violence.  

Still, there is much work left to be done to tackle the unfulfilled gender and other aspirations of the SDGs, including the urgent need to conduct a gender analysis of Viet Nam’s COVID-19 recovery package to ensure that it addresses new and exacerbated gender inequality issues that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Of the many recommendations made by the UN Secretary-General to the Commission on the Status of Women, please allow me to highlight some that I believe are most relevant to the Vietnamese context:  

  • Strengthening women’s leadership in COVID-19 response mechanisms, including in decision making taskforces for the COVID-19 recovery. 
  • Setting ambitious targets and action plans striving for gender parity (50%), including quota for women’s participation and leadership in all levels of Government.

  • Making available additional resources for women’s political participation.

  • Actively countering social norms that reinforce the societal bias against women in leadership and hinder their full and effective participation in public life.

  • Criminalizing all violence against women in public life, ensuring effectiveness of complaints and reporting mechanisms, and building capacity of law enforcement personnel. In this context, Codes of Conduct in the public and private sector should indicate zero tolerance for such violence.

  • Improving data collection and analysis that is disaggregated by sex, age, disabilities, and other gender-sensitive criteria.
  • Strengthening all women’s voices, including those of women that belong to ethnic minority groups or face other multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Leaving no one behind in public life is a collective responsibility that both men and women share. 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

All UN Member States and Governments can facilitate a more inclusive and enabling environment in which all women can participate equally in public life. More ambitious targets increased political will, sustainable financing and gender-responsive institutional arrangements are all necessary ingredients for such an approach. As Viet Nam has always professed that it is keen to advance gender equality in the Asia and the Pacific region, Viet Nam should show leadership in promoting gender equality in a post-COVID-19 world. The United Nations stands ready to continue to support the people and the government of Viet Nam in this important endeavor.  

Thank you! Xin Cam on!

 

Speech by
Author
Kamal Malhotra
UN Resident Coordinator
RCO
KM profile
UN entities involved in this initiative
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
Other entities involved in this initiative
VNWU
Viet Nam Women Union