Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
518th and 519th Meetings (AM & PM)
PROGRESS IN GENDER EQUALITY, ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN IN VIET NAM
IS REPORTED TO ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE
Process of Reviewing Compliance with Convention Continues
The implementation by Viet Nam of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women had resulted in the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women in Viet Nam, the Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention was told, as it considered that country’s reports in two meetings today.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets twice a year to receive reports from States parties to the Convention, and to develop recommendations on its implementation. Viet Nam is one of the eight countries presenting reports to the Committee during its current three-week session. (The others are: Andorra, Guinea, Singapore, Guyana, the Netherlands, Nicaragua and Sweden.)
To date, the Committee, made up of 23 experts serving in their personal capacity, has reviewed more than 260 States parties' reports submitted in compliance with the Convention.
Introducing Viet Nam’s second, third and fourth periodic reports, Dinh Thi Minh Huyen, Director of International Organizations of Viet Nam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that during the period under review, the country had turned from a food importer into an exporter of rice. There were also encouraging achievements in job creation, poverty alleviation, health care, population and family planning. The country had –- for the first time -- issued such important human rights documents as its Penal, Civil and Labour Codes and Land Law. It had also introduced special temporary measures for the promotion of women.
The principles of equality and non-discrimination were enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution, protected by its legal system and enforced through concrete policies and plans of action, she explained. Women had rights to equal participation in all aspects of life, including the right to equal remuneration for work, equal social welfare and protection of health and safety in working conditions.
Women also held management positions at all levels, she added. The country's Vice-President of State and Vice-Chairperson of the National Assembly
were women. In foreign service, women accounted for 30 per cent of the staff, and 25 per cent of those working at Vietnamese embassies and missions abroad.
The Committee's experts remarked on the political will of the Vietnamese Government to meet the goals of the Convention and its desire to advance the status of women. They also noted impressive achievements in the country's reunification and economic renewal. However, certain outdated stereotypes had persisted, and more measures for the promotion of women were needed.
Viet Nam seemed to have one of the most progressive legal systems in the world, one expert said. The declaration of rights did not necessarily lead to actual equality, however, and the country was struggling with inequality in several areas, including job distribution.
Since up to 80 per cent of the country’s women lived in the rural areas, many questions focused on their situation. It was pointed out that as far as those women were concerned, the report frankly referred to the problems of poor infrastructure and the lack of social services, and described the seasonal shortage of jobs, poor education, the burden of outdated traditions and inappropriate distribution of the workload.
Questions were also raised regarding the functioning of the national machinery for gender equality, which included the Women's Union and the National Committee for the Advancement of Women; violence against women; women's education; their position in the workplace; the issues of transmittable diseases, including HIV/AIDS, and abortions.
Viet Nam's Minister and Chairperson of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women, Ha Phi Khiet, responded to numerous comments and questions from the floor. In particular, she highlighted the country’s achievements in promoting the rights of women belonging to its 54 ethnic minority groups, saying that she belonged to such a group herself. The Government's positive actions included free education for the minorities and their preferential treatment in the labour market. Remote villages, where many minorities lived, received special treatment and investments. Actions to eliminate negative traditions and practices of early marriage and kidnapping of the brides included education campaigns and courses to promote a positive image of the people’s national identity and reinforce positive customs.
Also participating in the discussion was Nguyen Thi Hoai Duc, Director of the Center for Reproductive Health, who responded to some of the experts’ questions.
At 10 a.m. tomorrow, 12 July, the Committee will begin its consideration of Guinea's reports.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin consideration of reports from Viet Nam on that country’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. Viet Nam was the sixteenth State to sign the Convention and ratified it in 1981.
The Committee, comprising 23 experts from around the world acting in their personal capacities, monitors compliance with the 168-member Convention. Operational since 1981, the Convention requires States parties to eliminate discrimination against women in the enjoyment of all civil, political, economic and cultural rights. An Optional Protocol of December 2000 -– ratified by
22 States parties -– entitles the Committee to consider petitions from individual women or groups of women or groups of women who have exhausted national remedies. It also entitles it to conduct inquiries into grave or systematic violations of the Convention.
States parties are required to submit reports to the Committee on measures taken to implement the Convention. Viet Nam failed to submit its first follow-up report on time. The Committee is now considering that country’s second and combined third and fourth reports.
The second report is dated 15 March, 1999. It reviews the implementation of the Convention in Viet Nam in 1985-1998. According to this document, since December 1986, the country started a comprehensive renovation process, initiated by the sixth national congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam. The plan aimed to shift the country towards a market economy model, under State management; democratize the social life; and increase links with the outside world. In 1991, the Government also adopted a strategy for socio-economic stabilization and development towards the year 2000. The goal of this programme was to take the country out of the crisis and speed up its development.
The report states that besides the economic success, the plan has resulted in some encouraging social developments. Marked progress has been achieved in the implementation of the Convention. The country has made efforts to renovate and develop its political and legal systems in order to create an appropriate basis to ensure women’s enjoyment of their rights. The 1992 Constitution stipulates that men and women have equal rights in all spheres, with its Article 63 also stating that women should be provided with conditions to promote their position in society.
The Government focuses its attention on job generation and the eradication of hunger and poverty. Education is one of the primary concerns of Viet Nam’s national policies. As a result of the country’s efforts, the percentage of literate males was 91.4 in 1992-1993, and that of literate females was 82.3. Women teachers account for 76 per cent of the total, and girls make up half of all children attending kindergartens, almost 48 per cent of all primary school children and over 46 per cent of all senior school students.
The State has also increased its budget allocations for health care, and now over 90 per cent of the population have access to community health centers. Population and family planning are among the priorities of the national programme. Together with socio-economic organizations, the Government has also taken actions to increase public awareness of women’s issues.
While proud of its accomplishments, the country is fully aware that many challenges remain in bringing the Convention into reality, including overcoming “the feudal ideology of respecting men and looking down on women”, social prejudices and economic difficulties.
Also according to the report, the Government has made reservations on paragraph 1, article 29 of the Convention regarding the settlement of disputes between States Parties, maintaining that “all disputes related to the interpretation and application of the Convention should be solved on the basis of cooperation and respect for the fundamental principles of international law”.
According to Viet Nam’s combined third and fourth reports, while the Government continues to make that reservation, it will consider its withdrawal “at an appropriate time”. It is also considering signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention.
Covering the period from 1998 to 2000, Viet Nam’s latest reports indicate that during the period under review, the country had to cope with major challenges “stemming from the inherent weaknesses in the economy, adverse impacts of the regional financial crisis and natural calamities”. While dealing with economic problems, the Government has also been focusing on the social and cultural issues. The laws on foreign investment have been amended to encourage production and job generation. The Government has also established a national fund for generating jobs, which provides preferential loans to the self-employed. However, while
1.2 million jobs are created every year, the urban unemployment rate over the past three years has increased from 6.01 to 7.4 per cent. In 1999, the unemployment rate among women was 8 per cent.
Efforts are also being made to achieve hunger eradication and poverty reduction, the report states. Budget for this purpose increased by 42 per cent in 2000, as compared with 1999. The poverty rate was reduced from 17.7 per cent in 1997 to 13 per cent in 1999. It is estimated that in 2000, the poverty rate would be at 10-11 per cent and that no household would suffer from chronic hunger. At the same time, the country’s food production reached a record of 34.3 metric tons of rice, providing a firm foundation for achieving food security. For the first time ever, the volume of the country’s rice export reached 4.5 million tons.
Regarding education, the document notes that by July 2000, Viet Nam fulfilled the national targets of illiteracy eradication. Over 48 per cent of university students are girls, and the proportion of women teachers exceeds 70 per cent. However, the illiteracy rates remain higher in the remote mountainous and isolated areas. Vocational training has become one of the most important parts of the national education system. There are plans to make major adjustments to the curricula and contents of education, reflecting the need to incorporate such issues as gender education and family planning.
On public health, the reports state that the children’s and maternal mortality rates have gone down, as well as the malnutrition rate among children under five. By 1999, the local health care network was strengthened and extended. As a result of population control measures, on the average, the number of children per woman dropped from 2.69 in 1996 to 2.3 and was moving towards 2.1. The United Nations has recognized the country’s efforts in this respect by awarding Viet Nam the 1999 prize for population.
The report further states that the principles of equality between men and women, and non-discrimination against women in marriage and family relations, have been upheld in Viet Nam in the past three years -- based on free choice, consent, monogamy and equality between husband and wife. Important domestic matters, particularly those relating to property management and settlement, childcare and education, are now discussed and agreed to between husband and wife. However, incidences of forced marriage still occur, especially in mountainous areas and regions inhabited by ethnic groups. In 1998-1999, more than 90,000 marriage and family cases came before the courts at various levels in Viet Nam, including divorces. In some cases of divorce, the interests of women and children were not ensured.
Introduction of Reports
HA PHI KHIET, Minister, Chairperson of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women in Viet Nam, introduced the delegation and said that Viet Nam was one of the first countries to sign the Convention and was making great efforts to implement it. Representatives of various groups of population had taken part in the work of the drafting committee, which had prepared the reports before the experts today.
Ambassador DINH THI MINH HUYEN, Member of the Vietnamese delegation, said her country attached great importance to the implementation of its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. During the period from 1986 until 2000, which was being considered in the reports before the Committee, the country had seen great and profound changes. This was the result of a comprehensive renewal process initiated in 1986. In 1991, the Government also adopted a strategy for socio-economic development and stabilization, the objective of which was to double the gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2000.
As a result of those efforts, the country had recorded important achievements, which helped it to get out of the socio-economic crisis and to move forward towards stability and development, she continued. From a food importer, Viet Nam had turned into a major rice exporter. There were also encouraging achievements in job creation, poverty alleviation, health care, and family planning. People’s life, including that of women, had substantially improved. However, the economic transition had also created a number of pressing social problems that negatively affected the realization of gender equality goals. They included unemployment, polarization of rich and poor strata of the population, drugs and prostitution.
The principles of equality and non-discrimination were enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution, protected by its legal system and enforced through concrete policies and plans of action, she said. The women of the country had rights to equal participation in all aspects of life, including the right to equal remuneration for work, the right to equal social welfare and the right to protection of health and safety in working conditions. The ratio of full-time female employees had been on the increase, reaching 50 per cent in 1997. Women also represented 53 per cent of those working in the agro-forestry-fishery sector; 65 per cent of light industry workers; 73 per cent of education and training sector, and 56 per cent of those in tourism.
She said that the Decree on Grassroots Democracy, promulgated in
1998, stipulated that every citizen, man and woman, had the right to participate in the formulation of policies, to implement them and to oversee activities carried out by local authorities and State agencies. Emancipation of women constituted an important goal of the renewal process.
In 1997, a national plan of action for the advancement of women was adopted. The State set a strategic target of increasing the representation of women to
20-30 per cent in elected bodies and to 15-20 per cent at all levels of the administration and governmental agencies by the year 2000. As a result of the country’s efforts, the ratio of female members in the People’s Councils at all levels had reached 22.5 per cent at the provincial level, 20.7 per cent at the district level.
Women also kept management positions at all levels, she said. For the first time, the incumbent Vice President of State and Vice Chairperson of the National Assembly were women. In the foreign service, women accounted for 30 per cent of the staff and 25 per cent of those working at Vietnamese embassies and missions abroad. As their economic position improved, women became increasingly equal with men in making important decisions in the family.
Important achievements in education, health care and family planning had enabled women to enjoy equal rights with men, she continued. Vietnamese women had equal access to education without any forms of discrimination. Gender equality had been almost achieved in primary and secondary education. The proportion of female students in higher education had been gradually rising. Women also had equal access to health care and family planning services. Considerable progress had been recorded in population and family planning, for which the country was awarded a United Nations prize in 1999. Women’s life expectancy was higher than that of men.
Women and men had equal rights before the law on issues related to nationality, marriage and family, she continued. They were independent in finalizing and executing civil contracts, establishing and running enterprises and managing properties. They had the right to put their names on property ownership certificates together with those of their husbands. They were equal to men on the issue of the land use. The 1998 nationality law gave women equal rights in naturalization, changing or keeping the Vietnamese nationality and in making decisions on the nationality of their children. The marriage and family law provided for free and progressive marriage and monogamy at an individual’s volition. That law also specified rights and obligations of husband and wife. Common properties were, in principle, divided equally at divorce.
She went on to say that gender issues were being incorporated into socio-economic development programmes. The national target programme on poverty reduction and job creation had given women access to new jobs, credits and loans, thereby increasing their income and improving the condition of their families. In the last 10 years, the poverty rate had gone from more than 30 per cent down to 10 per cent. The lives of the disadvantaged and vulnerable, the majority of whom were women, had been substantially improved.
The country was also making efforts to incorporate the Convention into domestic legal documents and was introducing positive policies aimed at creating a solid legal basis for gender equality. Any act of discrimination against women was strictly prohibited under the country’s Constitution. For the first time, in the period under review, the country had issued numerous important human rights documents, including its Penal Code, Law on Criminal Proceedings, Civil Code, Labour Code and Land Law. Among the special temporary measures introduced in the country were the Labour Code provisions according special treatment to female workers and pregnant women.
Coming into effect in January 2001, the revised law on marriage and family contained the provisions to protect women’s interests. The death penalty could not be applied to pregnant women and women with children under 36 months of age. In 1993, the National Committee for the Advancement of Women was established in the country to replace the national commission of the women’s decade.
In conclusion, she said the ratification and implementation of the Convention by Viet Nam had contributed significantly to the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women in the country. According to reports of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Viet Nam’s human development index and gender-related development index ranked relatively high. Those achievements were of particular importance, taking into consideration the fact that Viet Nam was a poor developing country, faced with many difficulties due to the lingering vestiges of the feudal regime, the consequences of many decades of war and the low level of economic development.
While proud of its achievements, the country was fully aware of the remaining difficulties. Thanks to an intensive advocacy programme and propaganda by the National Commission and the Women’s Union of Viet Nam, public awareness of gender equality had greatly improved. More and more men shared family responsibilities with women. However, a segment of the population continued to follow gender-biased traditions and customs. Such areas as violence against women, early retirement for women and their promotion to decision-making positions still needed the Government’s attention.
Reaction of Experts
Experts congratulated the delegation of Viet Nam for being forthright in the Committee concerning what it had and had not achieved. Also commendable was its quest for guidance and recommendations from the Committee. The political will of the Vietnamese Government to meet the goals of the Convention had been made clear. The frankness and transparency of reports and oral presentation, and the clear development of implementation of the provisions of the Convention, had drawn a vivid picture of the situation of Vietnamese women.
The achievements of the past 25 years, including the country’s reunification and economic renewal, following the devastation of warfare, had been impressive, one expert said. The most significant aspect from the Committee’s perspective had been the clear consensus and political commitment of the Government to advance the status of women. Clearly, stereotypes had persisted.
She said she wished to have more information about the functioning of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women. What sort of authority and influence did it exercise and how had it carried out its work in the area of gender mainstreaming? She also sought more information about the Board on Women’s Affairs, as well as the strategies being employed towards ancestral attitudes and mentalities in the rural and more remote areas of the country.
Another expert noted that the labour code applied also to the private sector but that the private sector sometimes dismissed women, using health protection as an excuse. Were there any sanctions for that kind of behaviour? she asked. It had also been indicated that steps were being taken in the informal sector to see to it that the labour standards of the formal sector were also monitored in a kind of informal way. Was that enough, given their significant role and the fact that more and more women were joining the informal sector?
On affirmative action, the expert noted the comprehensive range of measures undertaken and asked whether those were also expected of the private sector. Also, a comprehensive account had been given of the programmes aimed at reducing disparities among ethnic minorities, but was anything being done to assess the impact of those measures? On the high dropout rate of girls in schools at the tertiary level, owing to economics, had the State devised policies to combat that?
Concerning violence against women, she noted that much impressive legislation and a number of programmes had been introduced. She asked about the policy with regard to sanctions. Also, was the Government thinking of amending the legislation on marriage and divorce, since it did not provide for divorce on grounds of cruelty? Concerning child marriages, the representatives had indicated that there were problems, including marriage by kidnapping in minority communities, forced marriages, and so forth. Had laws taken a strong stand on that, as required by the Convention?
In a related question, another expert said that it was a very positive development to punish violence outside the home, but what about domestic violence? Such acts must also be punished. In the area of health, she noted the progress made thus far, but asked whether special attention had been given to the aspect of the gender of infants. Males actually determined the gender, and it was important that such information be publicly disseminated.
In the area of employment, an expert said she had learned from reliable sources about the presence of indirect discrimination. According to the country’s employment provisions, there were different retirement ages for men and women, respectively 60 and 55. That was bound to affect their incomes as pensioners. Could the delegation shed light on that issue?
Also, the 1993 land law allocated land for men and women according to their age and periods of work. For women, it was from ages 16 to 55; for men, ages
16 to 60. That would certainly have a serious impact on all women in Viet Nam, particularly rural women. She requested more information about what happened to those women who must retire at age 55 and who needed land for their farming.
How could the increasing rate of abortion among young, unmarried women be explained, she asked. Were there any cultural barriers to contraceptive use, especially among unmarried females? Did married and unmarried women have equal rights and access to information about contraception? Much information had been provided about the reproductive health of women, but women’s health was more than that. She, therefore, sought information about cancer screening and treatment for women, particularly rural women.
She noted that HIV/AIDS was prevalent among people between ages 15 and 24. Had Vietnamese men recognized their responsibility to protect women’s sexual health? Was the coverage of contraception, particularly the use of condoms, widespread? How many men in Viet Nam actually used condoms? That was very important in light of the incidence of infection among sex workers there. On the other hand, the establishment in 1990 of a National AIDS Committee was highly commendable.
Responding, Ms. KHIET, (Viet Nam), said that she greatly appreciated the comments made in the discussion. Her country needed to address the issues raised by the experts. It was conducting relevant research and trying to learn from other countries’ experience.
She went on to describe the activities of the country’s Women’s Union, which was a mass social and political organization aimed at mobilizing women all over the country. It comprised more than 11 million members. Independent from the Government, the Union had important experience in dealing with women’s issues. The organization was providing assistance to the Government in its efforts.
The National Commission for the Advancement of Women had been created by the Prime Minister to provide coordination and ensure gender mainstreaming within the Government’s development plans. It was established as a mechanism for the promotion of women’s issues within the Government. The Chairperson of the Women’s Union had been invited to become the head of the Commission. That 15-member body cooperated with various Ministries in advancing gender equality. The Commission had branches throughout the country.
The strategy for the advancement of women in Viet Nam had been developed for the twenty-first century, she continued, in order to promote women’s participation in all spheres of life. Having reviewed the previous national plan for the advancement of women, the Government had reaffirmed its determination to further implement gender-equality measures. The new plan for 2001-2010 consisted of two five-year plans. Following its approval by the Communist Party Congress and by the Prime Minister, the plan would be forwarded to the Committee.
Regarding credit for rural women, she said that her Government attached great importance to that question. The Women’s Union had been taking an active part in the credit policies. Significant micro-credit funds were being provided to the rural women in order to improve employment and reduce poverty. Up to
55 per cent of rural women had access to such programmes.
Policies had been adopted to allow women to work on equal terms with men, she said. Gender mainstreaming was being actively implemented in the country. Annual plans, which allocated responsibilities to various local bodies, included quotas for female children going to school and other gender-related goals. Local women’s bodies provided advice and inspected the implementation of those plans and targets. Most Government agencies also had inspection and supervision functions. Concrete recommendations were made upon the conclusion of inspection to the local leaders. Based upon the reports and recommendations, local plans were adjusted and improved.
The labour code emphasized the principle of gender equality and protected the rights of women in both the public and the private sectors, she said. Special treatment was provided to some categories of women workers without differentiation between the State and the private companies. The labour laws had provisions to punish violators of the regulations. Trade unions also protected the workers’ rights and made recommendations to the employers concerning women’s rights. The women’s organizations and trade unions also carried out reconciliation functions in cases of controversy. There were also administrative tribunals, and civil courts litigated the most difficult cases.
Within the legal system, many judges were women, she said. The country’s criminal code prohibited violation of women’s safety at work and envisioned serious sanctions for those violations. Although the laws contained certain gaps, the Government intended to ensure all citizens’ equality before the law. Although in some cases in the past the Women’s Union had been unable to protect women’s rights, it intended to rectify the situation in the future.
Turning to the ethnic minority groups, she said she belonged to such a group herself, and she was touched by the experts’ concern about their needs. There was no discrimination against the ethnic minorities in the country. For the Government of Viet Nam, the question of minorities was a high priority, for there were 54 minority groups in the country, which accounted for less than 20 per cent of the population. The country’s national policies always created favourable conditions for the representatives of the ethnic minority groups, and many of them occupied prominent positions in the country. Minorities attended school free of charge and were able to take advantage of favourable employment conditions.
Of course, certain prejudices still existed in the country, she continued, and some minority women had to overcome serious difficulties, in particular, due to their remote location. The Government tried to meet their needs, setting priorities for their development. For example, if they met the needed qualifications, ethnic minority women were promoted on the priority basis. By a Government decision, more than 2000 remote villages received special treatment and preferential investments to build roads, schools and hospitals. Water and electricity facilities were also being constructed in the mountainous areas, where many minorities lived.
Regarding forced marriages, she said that although the practice was not as common as 30 years ago, it still occurred in remote and mountainous areas. Formal early weddings were not allowed. However, when the representatives of the authorities found out about such incidents and came to the family involved, they often found out that not much could be done, for the couple was living together already, and the relatives insisted that they were happy together.
In ethnic minority groups, there were not many cases of violence against women, and if there were family problems, local reconciliation groups helped to normalize the situation. The country’s penal code contained provisions regarding violence against women. It also provided for up to two years’ imprisonment for forced marriage. The Women’s Union was now conducting research to better study the situation regarding violence against women and provide recommendations in that respect.
Gender prejudices in Viet Nam were a vestige of the feudal past, she said, especially in the ethnic minority groups. Many had negative customs, which hindered the development of the rights of women, including wife-kidnapping and early marriage. The Government was promoting education of the population to overcome those practices. At the community level, all people attended special courses to promote a positive image of their national identity and reinforce and encourage the positive customs. Festivals were being organized to preserve cultural traditions.
She also said that young people were educated on their constitutional rights. Children of mixed descent had a right to choose their nationality when they reached the legal age. To promote gender equality, training courses were being organized for men in various areas of life and employment. Government officials were also trained on gender issues. Gender issues were being mainstreamed in the national policies.
She said there would be courses on gender equality at the university level. She had just worked with the Ministry of Education and Training, and it had been determined that there would also be broad programmes on gender equality in the grade schools. Young people should be made aware of this issue before it was too late. Government officials were also being trained. Hopefully, that would result in a comprehensive understanding of gender issues of all individuals.
Concerning sanctions against acts of domestic violence, she said a number of concrete measures had been taken, including educational and advocacy measures at the village level. Libraries were being built to enable more people to read about the relevant laws and regulations. The Women’s Union was not the only body involved in family reconciliation. There were others, including the farmers’ and family unions. Particular attention was being paid to reconciliation at the local level.
With respect to enforcement, the Women’s Union and other groups would raise their voices, she said. If the issue was brought before the court, those unions would ensure that the procedures were implemented speedily and efficiently, and that appropriate sanctions were taken against the perpetrators. There was a case wrongly judged, concerning a woman from a mountainous northern area. The case had to be re-evaluated. It turned out that police authorities, among others, had violated the case. Now, various government agencies and civil service organizations provided enhanced supervision of such cases.
She said certain creative steps had been taken to encourage women’s involvement, including the introduction of a cultural house at the community level. Even disputes concerning domestic violence could be resolved there. Also, dialogue among family members was also encouraged.
The courts had tried 132 cases of violence against women and children. Sixteen years after the enactment of the marriage law, some 80 cases of domestic violence had been proved. The revised penal code also contained provisions against all forms of violence and provided for various penalties ranging from life imprisonment to humiliation.
Responding to the expressed concern about the different ages for work and retirement for men and women, she said that those provisions had been instituted long before the emergence of a market economy. Specifically, retirement ages for men and women were different because life conditions had differed, as did health,
longevity, and so forth. So women had wished to retire earlier than men. It would be a long process in the National Assembly to change that
Meanwhile, she continued, surveys had been sent to women in all areas of the country, including the mountainous and rural regions. From the report, the Committee could see that the majority of women had still preferred to retire five years earlier than the men. The Government had reconsidered that policy and had reduced the required number of years for women’s contribution to the social insurance fund scheme, in light of the retirement age, from 30 to 25 years.
Ms. Khiet began the afternoon discussion by responding to a series of questions about land rights. She said her Government had wished to guarantee family land for rural women. The experts’ comments had helped the delegation understand the disadvantages faced by ageing women under the Government’s current policies. Five per cent of land was available for distribution to the people not covered by the law, or outside the prescribed age range. She thanked the experts for their recommendations on the matter, which would be taken up in the course of amending the land law.
She said she agreed that contraception for unmarried women was an issue requiring much attention, especially in the context of extra-marital relations. Some cultural gap or traditional custom might have been behind the fact that, until now, extra-marital relations had not been recognized. Certain recommendations had been made to the Government concerning the adoption of appropriate policies in the areas of public health, education and training, but how should those be integrated into school curriculums or reproductive health services? she wondered. And what about adolescents? How could the country reduce the high rate of abortion?
That was a pressing issue, she continued, since the abortion rate among adolescents was still considerably high. Women accounted for 14 per cent of the HIV/AIDS population in Viet Nam. Globally, that was a relatively low figure, but the country could not be complacent about that since an infected woman was a loss for women as a whole and for their families. In the scope of the work of the National Commission on the Advancement of Women and the Women’s Union, there were advocacy and communications plans aimed at HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Also, there were concrete and practical activities for HIV/AIDS victims and a strong emphasis on education and awareness-raising.
She noted the expressed interest of the Committee’s experts in the responsibility and attitudes of men for family planning, specifically regarding the use of condoms to protect their partners from sexually transmitted disease. That was indeed an issue of gender equality, and a way must be found to deal with that. Her country had not adequately dealt with that issue. There was not enough data, but it was known, for example, that some men were not using condoms with prostitutes. The Government had developed a national programme to fight HIV/AIDS. It was a comprehensive plan that contained a number of concrete measures, proceeding from the family.
Along with the families, she said, government agencies and enterprises should be mobilized in the fight. It had been learned that the use of condoms had risen from 6 per cent in 1997 to 31 per cent in 1999. While she could not guarantee the accuracy of those figures, those had represented a trend, with the increase of approximately 25 per cent, and that was an encouraging sign. The adoption by the Government of family planning measures had been encouraged, and contraception use had been introduced fully. Condoms were sold or distributed on a large scale, as well as birth control pills.
NGUYEN THI HOAI DUC, Director of the Viet Nam Center for Reproductive Health, answered questions about the incidence and treatment of breast cancer. The issue was a great concern for rural women, she said, as well as for the health services sector. Breast cancer had accounted for some 20 per cent of all gynaecological cancers among Vietnamese women. That was a high percentage. Some progress had been made towards its prevention and cure, but not as much as she would have liked. Viet Nam was an agricultural country, and decades of war had affected the health of population, and of women, in particular.
Only four institutions countrywide had the necessary knowledge and equipment to fully treat breast cancer, she said. Thus, difficulties were encountered at the provincial level. Effectively dealing with the problem required resources which, in many cases, were beyond the means of the provinces. Many women now tested themselves. Leaflets were distributed and nurses were trained. Overall, the prevention aspect was emphasized. The treatment of other cancers among women in Viet Nam was also a great concern and much was invested in that area. She looked forward to assistance from the international community and the United Nations in that regard.
As the experts proceeded with further comments, several speakers complimented Viet Nam on its tremendous achievements and expressed the hope that the Government would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention in the near future. Among the efforts that the experts appreciated were the existence of temporary measures for the advancement of women and a high level of women’s participation in the political life of the country.
As up to 80 per cent of the country’s women lived in the rural areas, many questions focused on their situation. Despite the Government’s efforts, rural women still seemed to be a marginalized group of the population, an expert said, but their contribution to the development of the country was important. As far as those women were concerned, the report frankly described the seasonal shortage of jobs, poor education, lack of information, the burden of outdated traditions and inappropriate distribution of the workload. The rural women also faced the problems of poor infrastructure and the lack of social services.
In that connection, questions were asked regarding Viet Nam’s poverty eradication efforts; the health policies targeting the rural women; the causes of internal migration; incidence of malaria and tuberculosis; and the Government’s housing programmes. Experts also asked for statistics, which could demonstrate the real situation regarding rural women, the victims of violence and women going into prostitution. In the rural areas, were non-members of the Women’s Union treated differently from its participants?
Were unmarried women over 30 years of age entitled to land distribution? –-one expert asked. It seemed that in land distribution, the laws of the country gave preference to families with sons over those with daughters, and she sought an explanation on that point. Did families headed by women have access to land? For non-State-owned enterprises, what was the percentage of women employees? Also, were trade unions allowed there?
Was domestic violence included in the category of social evils that the Government intended to combat? -– an expert asked. Regarding the work of family reconciliation groups, she asked if they met with husbands and wives separately, or together. While such groups could put community pressure on the perpetrators of violence, unless their work was structured properly, they could put undue pressure on the women. Were any training courses offered to those involved in the reconciliation efforts? Did the country have shelters for the victims of violence? Besides punitive measures, preventive and protective efforts were needed for the victims of violence.
Another expert wanted to know what efforts were being made to re-educate prostitutes and re-integrate them into society. Also, as few girls chose technical careers, according to the report, she felt that they should be guided to traditionally male careers.
It was pointed out that although the report provided information about the activities of the Women’s Union, it did not contain any data regarding the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Could international NGOs operate in the country? What plans did the country have to ensure inheritance of land and access to credit for women? How many women were among the country’s ambassadors and other senior officials in the foreign service?
One of the speakers said that Viet Nam seemed to have one of the most progressive legal systems in the world. The declaration of rights did not necessarily lead to actual equality, however, and Viet Nam was struggling with inequality in several areas, including job distribution.
She asked several questions regarding the application of the country’s fine laws. It was obvious from the report that as a result of the introduction of the Government’s measures, the wage gap had been significantly reduced. She inquired about the kinds of wages involved, about the age and conditions of retirement, promotion of women and incentives for employers to employ women.
How did the economic renewal process manifest itself at the family level? -– an expert asked. According to certain reports, some poor families sold their daughters to prostitution. What measures had been put in place to fight prostitution and trafficking in women? Questions were also asked about the sustainability of the national plan for the advancement of women. Had some other mechanisms been put in place to promote gender equality?
Significant progress had been achieved in the legal reforms and gender mainstreaming, a speaker said. There were also plans to regularly review the progress achieved and make recommendations on promoting the situation of women. She wanted to know how the Government was planning to build up its expertise in gender equality. Gender perspective should be incorporated into research; planners and programmers should be trained to translate the available data into action plans; and medical and legal personnel needed to be educated in order to implement relevant programmes in compliance with the Convention.
Ms. Khiet thanked the experts for sharing their responses and pointing the way forward. Their questions had clearly demonstrated a concern for Viet Nam. On the issue of rural women, which accounted for some 70 per cent of the population. She said their opportunity for development and their living and working conditions were matters for the Government. It was a question of bridging the gap between the rural and urban areas. In the rural areas, much remained to be done towards the achievement of gender equality.
She highlighted the national programme for poverty reduction, which had produced tangible results and helped reduce the percentage of poor households from 30 to 16 per cent. That had represented a tremendous effort on the part of the Vietnamese, especially the women who were the poorest of the poor. The agriculture forestry production extension programmes, and the literacy programmes, among others, had achieved significant success. Literacy courses, for example, were now attended by nearly 80 per cent of those who needed it. Primary education was now universal.
There were also major programmes in the health care sector, she said, including a national programme of health care for both men and women. With respect to water sanitation, the Government had asked the Women’s Union to become a member of the steering committee on the programme for the environment and water sanitation. Regarding the right to participate in policy-making for rural development, women heads of households had much opportunity to participate in formulating regulations on rural development concerns.
Turning to the right to housing and land, she repeated that the Government did not distinguish between men and women in that regard. Every citizen had a right to housing. After divorce, the assets accumulated during the marriage were divided evenly by the court between the husband and wife. There was no case in which a woman left the marriage empty-handed or homeless.
National priorities, such as sanitation and road-building, were designed to benefit both men and women. To a question about the allocation for single women older than 36, she said that would depend on each family. Normally, those women lived with their families because in Viet Nam, family members took care of senior unmarried women. She had not seen any such problems, but there might be rare cases in which the family distributed part of the land to that woman. If there was too little land for the family, then the village could use the 5 per cent land fund for the senior single woman.
Concerning a question about discrimination against women with respect to loans, she said that neither members nor non-members of the Women’s Union had been discriminated against. Indeed, the Union’s membership had increased by some 1.5 million in recent years. Even some men wanted to become members because they thought they could gain easier access to credit. At present, however, men were not welcome.
Currently, she said, pension fund plans for farmers were being drafted. In some rural areas, there were pilot programmes involving social insurance policies. That was a way forward. Even the Constitution encouraged more forms of social insurance. For very poor women farmers, the Women’s Union assisted in the purchase of tools and other necessary items. Regarding the Government’s social policies, a very effective campaign was under way to assist the vulnerable groups.
To another series of questions, she said it was clear under the Constitution that women could establish unions and associations. There were no other separate organizations for women apart from the Women’s Union, which was active in all areas of the lives of Vietnamese women. It was well organized, with long years of experience and branches throughout the country. At the same time, there was no prohibition against the establishment of any other associations.
With respect to the relationship between the Union and other organizations, there was close cooperation, she said. The National Front, the Youth Union, trade unions and others had coordinated their programmes to avoid duplication. There were also some 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in which women were actively involved. Those had not presented any obstacles to the Union. On the contrary, they had complemented its work and helped it to fulfil its duties. Some 10 national NGOs were actively involved in women’s empowerment, and the Government had sought to facilitate their work.
Concerning the involvement of women in international activities, she said that women comprised 25 per cent of the Foreign Ministry -– there was one woman Assistant Minister, five Directors and 10 Counsellors.
Women had been assisted in fighting malaria, she said to another question. In fact, treatment concentrated on women since they were responsible for the family and might be less able to fight the disease than men. The Women’s Union had been active in the campaigns against transmitting the disease, under the supervision of the public health department. Also, much had been done to educate both men and women about the disease.
The school dropout rate was decreasing and more and more girls were going to school, including high school and junior high school. Historically in Viet Nam, only men and boys had been respected. It was believed that girls needed to know only the Vietnamese characters, since those would stay at home and take care of family business. But since 1990, efforts to attain universal literacy and education had succeeded. Vocational training, especially for girls, had also been strengthened.
Women accounted for 50.6 per cent of college faculties and 35 per cent of university staffs, she said. While those figures were still modest, they represented a step forward. Much more should be done.
Turning to a series of questions concerning women’s recourse to the justice system, she said that a family court dealt with marriage and family issues and ensured women’s rights, especially in divorce. The right to assets, for example, was based on the principle that family work was work that must be counted. Also, assets built from the time of marriage were considered to be joint holdings.
She said that the Labour Court also protected women’s rights. Indeed, it had settled many cases concerning maternity leave and related dismissals from employment in which the employer had been required to answer to the court, take the woman back, and compensate for her losses. An Administrative court also protected women in cases where Government agencies had taken inappropriate measures, such as wrongly disciplining a female Government employee.
The criminal court especially targeted acts that violated the dignity and rights of women, including sexual harassment and domestic violence, she noted. Punishing domestic violence against women had been a consistent policy of the Government and view of the entire society. At times, however, family members insisted that was a family matter, but the Government had been resolute in that regard. In terms of the violence victims, there was just one centre, in Ho Chi Minh City. The problem was not seen as pressing in other cities, she added.
There was no set procedure for spouses’ meeting with reconciliation groups. Normally, they were first seen separately. Efforts were being made to avoid following gender prejudices in dealing with the families. Updated information regarding citizens’ and women’s rights was regularly provided to the members of the reconciliation groups.
Among the causes for internal migration were the attractions of the city life and the shortage of jobs in the rural areas, she said. A significant flow of migration was a source of concern to the Government. According to the latest statistics, up to 68 per cent of the women migrants moved for family reasons. In many cases, they joined their husbands who had found jobs in the city.
In conclusion, she thanked the members of the committee for giving her an opportunity to answer their questions and for expressing their views regarding her country. The valuable exchange of views today would be to the benefit of the women in Viet Nam.
The Committee’s Acting Chairperson, ROSARIO MANOLO of the Philippines, thanked the members of the delegation for preparing a good report and for their frankness in approaching the issues before the Committee.
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