Gender equality on UN agenda

Update: October, 20/2015 - 09:31

by  Shoko Ishikawa

Last month, world leaders came together to agree on a new set of global goals designed to create the kind of world that we would like to see. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are designed to wipe out poverty, fight inequality, tackle climate change and promote peace.

As with the Millenium Development Goals that came before them, a specific goal focuses on gender equality for women and girls. However the new goal goes further than simply "promoting" gender equality, to actually "achieving" it. We believe it is possible.

Just as importantly, gender equality and women's empowerment targets are also threaded through all of the goals and targets, signalling the very high priority of gender equality throughout the new 'Agenda 2030'.

Given the global pandemic of violence affecting one in three women worldwide; given the under-representation of women in leadership and decision-making, and the over-representation of women among the illiterate and the poor; and given a rising tide of fundamentalism which aims to push back hard-won gains for women and girls, this renewed emphasis on gender equality is a game-changer.

The goal is time-bound, with measurable targets and actions. It calls for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls everywhere. For the first time, the world will be given a timeframe, a date by which gender equality must be achieved. Discrimination, inequality, and violence against women has been given an expiration date of 2030.

By 2030 we should have made bold and far-reaching changes that touch the lives of every woman and girl around the world, no matter where or who they are.

But what does this mean for Viet Nam?

In striving to reach the SDG's predecessor, the Millenium Development Goals, Viet Nam made unprecedented progress. Since 1993, 45 per cent of Viet Nam's population has escaped from poverty. 100 per cent of children are enrolled in primary schools and the attendance ratios for boys and girls have largely been equalised. The maternal mortality ratio has been reduced by three quarters since 1990, and as a result, literally thousands of mothers are alive today. All of these outcomes are due to national actions following the MDG framework.

Through wide reaching initiatives, including the provision of loans for female entrepreneurs, health and nutrition classes, vocational training and literacy programmes, women have been empowered, poverty reduced and the environment protected. Gender equality has been mainstreamed in legislation and from the 1960 Marriage and Family Law, which banned forced marriage, child marriage and domestic violence, to the more recent law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control, women's rights have been upheld.

In spite of this, much work remains to be done.

First, we need to transform the attitudes that perpetuate the culture of male superiority and the stereotypes that diminish women. These negative stereotypes have reduced the impact of good laws, held back women from their full potential and created an imbalance of power. Worldwide, large numbers of married women have experienced some form of violence by their partners. Violations of women's sexual and reproductive health and rights also remain widespread. Social preference for a son has led to skewed sex ratios and there is now on average 113 boys born to every 100 girls, and in some communities the ratio is 120:100 in Viet Nam. Unless we challenge social norms and attitudes, we are unlikely to improve gender equality and women's empowerment and achieve the SDGs. We must tackle this from the grassroots level up and remove the stereotypes that inhibit and restrict women, men and entire communities.

Second, we must improve women's access to important services such as women's shelters and legal aid. In the case of domestic violence, research shows that 87 per cent of domestic violence cases were not brought to the attention of legal aid providers, and, of those that did go through the judicial system, only one per cent of reported cases led to convictions.

This is an alarming finding and requires urgent actions. Viet Nam's President Truong Tan Sang recently stated at the UN Global Leaders' Meeting on Gender Equality that Viet Nam was "committed to sparing no efforts to gradually eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, and has set a target that at least 50 per cent of all reported victims of domestic violence are provided with health care and counseling services."

We must demand better government services and financial resources that fit the enormity of the problem. We must also raise awareness among men and women about a woman's right to live free from violence.

Finally, we must make every effort to remove the barriers faced by women to obtain equal political participation and representation in leadership positions. The unequal retirement age in the labour code, a hiring and promotion system that favours men and a lack of men's responsibility for unpaid care work are some factors that limit the advancement of women and also restrict the development of the country. Women can and must have full political participation. We need at least 35 per cent women on the final ballot if we are to reverse the decline in women's political representation in the upcoming 2016 elections.

We have a once in a lifetime chance to make the world truly equal, but we cannot do it without men. Men must be champions for gender equality and work alongside women.

I am grateful that President Sang has recently become one of the latest HeforShe world leaders. HeforShe is a global solidarity movement for gender equality that aims to engage governments, corporations and universities as agents of change in striving for gender equality and women's empowerment.

Together let's build the future we want to see for women and girls. As Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka recently said: "It is not mission impossible. It is an imperative for our time."

We all have a part to play to make it happen.

* UN Women Country Representative in Viet Nam