Speech by Executive Director at a Dialogue on “Increasing Inclusion of Women and Girls in the Social Protection System"

Speech by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at a Dialogue on “Increasing Inclusion of Women and Girls in the Social Protection System: A Development Priority”, Hanoi, 30 March 2014.


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Distinguished Guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here with you today.

I welcome the study on ‘Social Protection for Women and Girls in Viet Nam’. UN Women is proud to be a partner in this ground-breaking work.

Social Protection is fundamental to gender equality and the achievement of full rights for women and girls.

As far back as 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights called for social protection for all.

It called for adequate life standards, access to health, education, food, housing and social security.

In the past six decades, global GDP has expanded more than ten times in real terms – an increase of 260 per cent per capita. 

But despite this progress, access to adequate social protection remains a privilege, afforded to relatively few people. 

About 5.1 billion people, 75 per cent of the world population, are not covered by adequate social security:
  • 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 USD a day.
  • 2.5 billion people do not have adequate sanitation.
  • 768 million people lack safe drinking water. 
These numbers represent a vast waste of potential. 

As we battle this deprivation and exclusion, social protection is one of the most proven and effective tools at our disposal.

To effectively address poverty and inequality, social protection programmes can address multiple issues simultaneously.

This can be done through:
  • The provision of income security;
  • Cash transfers for the most vulnerable;
  • Employment schemes;
  • Labour protections including minimum wage and safe working conditions;
  • Quality education; and
  • Ensuring food security.
Social protection is vital if governments are to realize the eight Millennium Development Goals.

This includes the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

In recent decades, progress has been made in eliminating gender inequality.

However, serious gender gaps persist.

Women still have limited access to the labour market.

In the formal economy, women’s jobs, for the most part, are more likely to be poorly paid and less secure.

In the informal economy, without access to any social protection, the situation is far worse, especially for women who are pregnant and caring for children.

Women are often unable to pursue education and training, to provide for their families, and to cope with insecurity. 

This is a good example of why social protection programs cannot be gender-blind.

Gender-sensitivity is a vital for effective social protection for effective poverty and vulnerability reduction. 

I say this because gender differences in roles, responsibilities, needs and interests must be taken into account, when we design and implement social protection schemes. 

We must address gender inequality strategically and across women’s life-cycle. 

Failure to do so represents a missed opportunity.

It also threatens to undermine the very objectives of social protection investments.

Effective social policy systems must include targeted safety nets designed to ease periods of crisis or stress.

They must seek to avert deprivation through, for instance, social insurance such as pensions and maternity benefits.

They must:
  • Enhance real incomes and capabilities;
  • Provide opportunities to move out of poverty; and
  • Seek to build voice and authority in decision-making for women. 
  • To achieve inclusive, equitable sustainable development, sustainable social protection schemes must be based on strong legal and regulatory frameworks.
I am glad to note that the Government of Viet Nam affirmed the relevance of social protection as early as 2001.

By 2020, the government aims to become a modern industrial economy, by combining economic development with polices based on the principles of social advancement and justice. 

By passing Resolution 15 in 2012, Viet Nam’s leaders demonstrated their political commitment – that social development must be aligned with economic progress.

The resolution places emphasis on people’s needs and minimum living standards.  

It prioritizes timely assistance for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It shows that investing in programs and policies that benefit women and girls is the way forward.

This is especially true when it comes to the most vulnerable women – from ethnic minorities, rural areas, and women who are elderly, disabled, illiterate, and widows.

We have evidence from all regions that encouraging women’s participation in the economy will boost growth and strengthen social cohesion and well-being.

For these reasons as well as for advancing gender equality and social protection, for reviewing existing protections and designing new ones, UN Women’s partnership with the Ministry is particularly important.

Through this partnership, we conducted the first ever study on the impact of existing social protections on women and girls. 

The study identifies gaps which must be addressed in strengthening the provision of social security.

This will protect the rights of women and girls and enhance their livelihoods and economic participation.

Though conducted in Viet Nam, the study tells a familiar global story:
  • While women’s participation has increased over the years in Viet Nam, the rate of female workers is still lower than males in the labour force.
  • Women are in more unstable and vulnerable employment.
  • Woman workers still account for a high proportion of occupations that do not require technical or professional qualifications.
  • The number of female workers participating in social insurance is less than that of male workers. This is because female workers are more likely to work in sectors not included in the compulsory social insurance system. 
The study will be useful in strengthening social protection systems.

It will help to address the structural causes of poverty, deprivation and exclusion – including gender inequality.

This is timely because right now we are now in the midst of a global dialogue that will determine the makeup of the Post-2015 development agenda.

Member States, civil society organisations, and people around the world seek to shape national and international priorities for development. 

All countries will be called on to look closely at social protection as part of a comprehensive sustainable development strategy. 

I am pleased to report that there is a clear and growing consensus that gender equality and the empowerment of women must be at its heart. 

Gender inequality remains one of the most pervasive and serious forms of discrimination in the world, in every country, every culture and every society.  

And there is rising evidence that equality for women is progress for all.

Many UN Member States are advocating for a stand-alone gender equality goal, as well as for the mainstreaming of gender in all other goals of the post-2015 development agenda. 

This was most recently expressed in the agreement reached at the 58th Commission of the Status of Women (CSW58), just two weeks ago.

For this goal to be truly transformative, it should cover three core areas.

The first is freedom from violence for women and girls. 

Today one in three women worldwide is subjected to violence. We cannot allow ending violence against women and girls to be omitted again, as it was in the MDGs

The second area the goals should cover is equality in capabilities and access to opportunities and resources. 

This means recognizing, reducing and redistributing the burden of unpaid care work; ensuring equal access to assets and resources such as education, land and finance; equal pay and working conditions; and guaranteeing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

And the third area is equality in agency, voice, participation and leadership – across the full range of decision-making arenas in public and private institutions. 

This includes not just national parliaments, but the full range of public institutions, local councils, and the judiciary. 

It also includes decision-making at home and in the workplace, by having more women in higher corporate positions and in trade unions.

These elements clearly go hand-in-hand with comprehensive social protection.

They also go to the heart of the Beijing Platform for Action

The formulation of the post-2015 agenda comes as we review progress made in the 20 years since the Beijing Women’s Conference.

Together we must seize this opportunity to ensure that the post-2015 agenda reflects the needs and interests of women and girls. 

Effective social protection has the power to change the game, to build better, stronger and healthier nations not only for women and girls, but for all of us.

Today I pledge UN Women’s continuing support for Viet Nam’s efforts to advance social protection and social justice.

Thank you.