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Retirement-age disparity hinders progress of women in society

Update: December, 15/2012 - 10:33

HA NOI (VNS)— Eliminating the disparity in retirement age between men and women would promote women's leadership in the public sector and bring about greater gender equality, experts said yesterday.

Speaking at the annual conference, themed "Empowerment of women in the public sector in the context of international integration," UNDP Country Director Louise Chamberlain said women made up half of the world population, so they should also have half of all decision-making positions.

Promoting women's participation in the public sector was not only a matter of justice, but also a matter of ensuring all perspectives are brought forward, she said, as men and women bring divergent experiences to the table.

Chamberlain also said that empowering women was at the core of sustainable socio-economic development. However, women currently hold only 24 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly, according to a UNDP report - making the country 44th in the world in terms of women's parliamentary representation. In 1997, in contrast, Viet Nam was among the world's top ten countries according to this criteria.

And at the end of 2011, Viet Nam stood 43rd internationally with regard to women's political representation, according to a report by the Inter-Parliament Union, continuing a steady decline from previous years.

Bakhodir Burkhanov, UNDP Country deputy director, said that the gender differential in the mandatory age of retirement, which is 55 for women and 60 for men, was the main barrier to women's participation in the political system. The disparity also limited their chances for promotion and access to training and development, he said, as taking women out of the pool for promotions earlier than men meant fewer women occupied senior positions.

Ta Ngoc Tan, director of the Ho Chi Minh National Institute of Politics and Public Administration, which is co-operating with the UNDP's Empowerment of Women in the Public Sector Project to promote the role of women in public administration, agreed with the UNDP experts.

Tan said the retirement age of men and women should be the same, except for some dangerous jobs.

The retirement age of women could even be higher than men's because the average longevity of women in Viet Nam was 75, while men on average lived to only 71.

Although the obligations of home and family often mean women cannot focus on work until they turn 40, under the current regulation, they must end their careers when they have barely reached their full potential.

Therefore, limiting the retirement age of white-collar women contradicted the advancement of females, he said. The Government should let women retire as they wished, instead of fixing the retirement age.

To significantly increase women's participation in the public sector - in particular, to meet the target stated in the National Strategy on Gender Equality of having at least 35 per cent of parliament seats occupied by women in 2016 - UNDP experts suggested the Government provide both men and women more choice in deciding when they would retire within a specified range.

Regional director of Microsoft Astrid S. Tuminez, who is also former vice dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, recommended that the country also address cultural norms and persistent prejudices against women and girls that are hindering women's advancement.

She also said the Government should create a fund for implementing gender equality policies and enhance gender education to change the perception of women and girls.

Participants also mentioned other strategies to strengthen women's rights, such as implementing a merit-based hiring system, providing training for female civil servants and promoting men's role in child-care and household work. These moves, they agreed, would improve the role of women in the country's future economic growth and social development. — VNS

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