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Speech of Ms. Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA Representative at the launch of the State of World Population Report 2020

17 July 2020

Mr. Pham Ngoc Tien, Director of Gender Equality Department, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs;

Mr. Jan Wilhelm Grythe, Chargé d’affaires a.i., Norwegian Embassy

Representatives from the Government ministries and organizations;

Representatives from embassies, international and local NGOs, UN colleagues and the media;

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Viet Nam, I am very pleased to launch in Viet Nam UNFPA’s flagship report, the State of World Population 2020, entitled "Against my will: defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality”.

Imagine a girl. She’s 12 years old. She loves school. Her teacher says she has a gift for math. Then one morning, when she wakes up, her parents tell her to put on her best clothes. In a couple of hours, she’s going to be married off to a neighbor who is at least three times her age. She’ll never be able to go back to school.

Imagine another girl. She’s 16. She wakes up one day to find out that she’s about to go through a rite of passage. A few hours later, her genitals are cut by the woman who does it to all the girls in the village.

And imagine yet another girl. She’s four years old. She overhears her parents say how cursed they are not to have a son. They complain that their daughter is nothing but a burden.

As UNFPA’s State of World Population report shows, there’s no need to imagine these scenes--because they are all real. And they play out tens of thousands of times a day. Every day. All over the world.

Our report cites at least 19 specific practices against women and girls that have been almost universally denounced as abuse and violations of human rights, but three in particular remain stubbornly widespread, and these are:

  • female genital mutilation (FGM);
  • child marriage; and
  • gender-biased sex selection.

The human cost is extraordinary:

This year around the world, more than 4 million girls will be subjected to genital mutilation.

Today, 33,000 girls will be forced to marry.

Because of decades of gender-biased sex selection and the neglect of daughters relative to sons, a shocking 140 million girls are missing today from the world’s population.

When men far outnumber women, social problems can emerge, exacerbating forms of gender-based violence, including rape, coerced sex, sexual exploitation, trafficking and child marriage.

What these diverse harmful practices all have in common is that they are rooted in gender inequality and a desire to control women’s bodies and lives.

Though they inflict a devastating array of harms on individual women and girls, the harms inflicted on the world at large, and on future generations, may be greater still.

As the health, education and human potential of women and girls are diminished, so too is all of humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before giving the floor to my colleague at UNFPA to present on the key highlights of the report and the implications in Viet Nam, I would like to sum up three words from this report:

First, respect: We must foster respect for women and girls by changing entrenched attitudes and practices that dehumanize and commoditize them. This means disrupting root causes of inequality and respecting women and girls’ autonomy.

Second, protect: We must protect women and girls by enacting and enforcing laws against practices like child marriage, FGM, and gender-biased sex selection, but also by changing socio-cultural attitudes and norms. Parents need to understand the long-term harm of these practices and take a stand against them.

And finally, fulfill. Governments must fulfill their obligations under human rights treaties that require elimination of child marriage, FGM, and gender-biased sex selection.

These three words--respect, protect and fulfill--can bring real change and real results for women and girls.

Distinguished guests,

The State of the World Population 2020 was launched globally on 30 June 2020, and today we launch it here in Viet Nam, focusing on the most relevant issue for Viet Nam, which is Gender Biased Sex Selection (GBSS). The report extensively highlights the GBSS situation in Viet Nam, together with China, India and Nepal in the region.

Gender equality in Viet Nam has improved over the past decades, and UNFPA is proud to have been part of the process.  However, gender-biased sex selection as a harmful practice for women and girls continues to remain in the country, and “son preference,” which is anything but a benign tradition, is a product of gender-biased systems which place higher social status to men and boys, and which favour male over female children.

The manifestation of gender biased sex selection can be directly measured through “sex ratio at birth (SRB),” and Viet Nam’s sex ratio at birth has been extremely skewed. The unbalanced sex ratio at birth was first identified in Viet Nam in 2004, and since 2005, it has rapidly increased and reached 111.5 male births for every 100 female births in 2019 as indicated in the 2019 Population and Housing Census, against the biologically “natural” or “normal” sex ratios between 105 and 106.

Evidence shows that this demographic imbalance is a result of pre-natal sex selection, which is the termination of a pregnancy when the fetus is determined to be female, or pre-implantation of sex determination and selection, or “sperm-sorting” for in-vitro fertilisation. Due to this, the State of the World Population Report estimates that every year, 40,800 female births are missing in Viet Nam. It means that 40,800 girls are not born every year in Viet Nam because they were found to be a girl. This has to be changed immediately, and it is the intent of the discussion here today.

I would to extend my special appreciation to the Government of Norway for joining forces with UNFPA Viet Nam to make change on socio-cultural norms of preferring boys over girls and resorting to gender-biased sex selection. It is in this context that the Embassy of Norway is represented here for solidarity and commitment to make significant change in Viet Nam on this topic.  To put simply, thank you for your participation and engagement to tackle this very challenging issue.

Let us all be united together for a gender equitable society in Viet Nam. Every one of us has a significant part to play, and it is only through such solidarity that we can overcome son preference and gender biased sex selection, as a Sustainable Development issue “leaving no one behind.” We are not leaving girls behind.

Thank you very much for your attention and participation in this event.