Speech of Ms. Astrid Bant, UNFPA Representative, at the forum "Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls"

24 September 2018

Your Excellency Ms. Nguyen Thi Ha, Vice Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs;

Ms. Tran Bich Loan, Deputy Director of Department for Gender Equality, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs;

Representatives of Ho Chi Minh city's DOLISA and line ministries;

Representatives of International Organizations, CSO, fellow UN colleagues and media;

A very good morning to you all;

On behalf of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Viet Nam, I am very pleased to welcome you to this Forum. I would like to thank the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs for co-organizing this exciting event, and everyone joining us here today in Ho Chi Minh city to raise awareness and our voices about this critical issue. I also would like to thank KOICA for contributing funding to this important event.

Sexual violence occurs throughout the world and most of victims are women and the risk is higher for adolescents and young people. Although there has been little research conducted on the problem, available data suggested that in some countries nearly one in four women may experience sexual violence by an intimate partner, and up to one-third of adolescent girls report their first sexual experience as being forced. In Viet Nam, a MOLISA and Action Aid survey in 2016, which was conducted in five cities and provinces found that 51 per cent of women admitted that they had experienced sexual harassment at least once.

The topic of sexual violence is often considered too sensitive to discuss in public, among other reasons, because prejudices against victims of sexual violence may have negative consequences for the victims. Victims of sexual violence are often blamed for getting abused. In face of the probability that their story will not be believed or turned against them, women keep silent.

A  study in Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Noi in 2014 revealed that among interviewees who had experienced sexual harassment, only 1.9 per cent said that they would seek formal justice and of all bystanders who witnessed harassment of women in public spaces, 65 per cent said they would not take any action. So often people assume that sexual violence only occurs outside of family and is caused by strangers, while in fact this is not the case. Many women are unsafe in their own homes. They are raped or sexually coerced by their husband. Yet, victims are too afraid to speak out.

Viet Nam has started to recognize the need to prevent and respond to forms of sexual violence against women. The amended Labour Code (2012) contains a prohibition of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the Education Law (2009) contains honour and dignity and prohibits behaviours such as abuse, including physical abuse in educational institutions. The Youth Law has one sentence about protecting youths from sexual abuse as the responsibility of the State. However, enforcement of these provisions and monitoring efforts need to be improved.

Distinguished guests,

Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has rapidly gained traction around the world. This uprise of women sharing their personal experiences is exposing and confronting widespread sexual harassment and abuse in different industries and professional settings. Millions of people, overwhelmingly women, from across national and socio cultural boundaries have shared their stories, including on social media with the hashtag #MeToo, making it impossible  for media, academia, companies and politics to look the other way any longer.

UNFPA Global Goodwill Ambassador Actress Ashley Judd, along with other "silence-breakers", some who are famous, others not, but all very brave, were named TIME Persons of the Year 2017.

In Viet Nam, some young women in entertainment sector have recently shared their stories of sexual harassment on social media. UNFPA and the wider UN family in Viet Nam applaud the courage of women who overcome fear and prejudice by speaking up. It is important to encourage other individuals to become "silence-breakers" in Viet Nam and globally about sexual harassment and violence.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While we need to tackle the issue of sexual violence from multiple fronts, I would like to highlight some recommendations:

First, it is essential to establish quality support services including health care, psychological support, safety, legal aids, and referral systems that are available and accessible to victims of sexual violence. To ensure these services are provided effectively, a well-coordinated multi-sectoral approach is absolutely necessary. Coordination among sectors is essential to reduce the harmful impacts and prevent further injury, trauma and harm.

Second, it is critical to change mindset and attitude of people on gender-based violence, particularly sexual violence, including sexual harassment. Men need to recognize that women are equally to them, and respect women's right to be safe in any environment either at home, work place or in public. Since most of men are the decision makers in society and within the family, men can be partners and agents of change to stop gender-based violence. Positive male role models need to be identified and encouraged to advocate for social change.

Third, it is important to have comprehensive national statistics on sexual violence against women and girls in all settings. I am so content to announce that with support of DFAT, UNFPA has been working in collaboration with MOLISA and GSO to update the figures as well as to expand the scope of the national survey on GBV. The data from this national survey provide critical evidence to inform further action to end VAWG.

Last but not least, improvement in existing laws and their implementation is also important to bring sexual violence cases to justice. This is in line with the recent recommendations from the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which highlights the need to criminalize all forms of violence against women.

Distinguished guests,

UNFPA has consistently advocated that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation and to stop gender-based violence is a priority. UNFPA together with its partner agencies in the UN in Viet Nam is committed to continuing our support to the Government and social organisations, to advance the status of women and girls and promote gender equality.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development intends to leave no one behind. It will take all of us working together to ensure these rights are comprehensively implemented, so that they can be enjoyed by all.

Xin cam on!