Empowering women and girls to make their own decisions
  • By Matt Jackson, UNFPA Representative in Vietnam | dtinews.vn | March 08, 2024 01:09 PM
On International Women's Day, we not only celebrate our collective strides towards gender equality and women's empowerment but also pinpoint the gaps and amplify our efforts to secure equal rights and choices for everyone.

Matt Jackson, UNFPA Representative in Vietnam.

Mai's story touched me profoundly when I met her at a UNFPA-supported One-Stop Service Centre in Vietnam. A retired teacher who survived domestic violence, Mai had suffered years of abuse and community blame. Thanks to psychosocial support, she has transformed into an independent, knowledgeable, and confident individual, keen for other women to experience the same freedom.

This year's theme, "Invest in women: Accelerate progress," underscores the critical need for investments in women and girls' health and rights, which have dramatically improved and saved numerous lives. While global maternal mortality rates have decreased by 34 percent over two decades, the persistent crisis claims one woman's life every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth. Vietnam, however, has surpassed the global trend by reducing maternal mortality by 46.5 percent, though challenges remain, particularly among ethnic minorities in remote areas.

Progress includes the global number of women using modern contraception doubling to 77 percent over thirty years. Yet, more than 250 million women desiring to avoid pregnancy lack access to family planning. In Vietnam, the use of modern contraceptives has risen to around 60 percent, but the unmet need among unmarried women is four times higher than among married women, highlighting the urgent need to extend services to adolescents and young people.

Still, significant challenges persist in eradicating gender-based violence (GBV), child marriage, and son preference. Nearly one in three women globally experiences violence in their lifetime. A 2019 study found that nearly two-thirds of Vietnamese women endure intimate partner violence, with 90 percent never seeking help. Our response includes supporting services like the national GBV hotline and One-Stop Service Centres, addressing the root causes like gender inequality, and changing the stigma surrounding violence.

The rise in online violence, especially image-based abuse against women and girls, calls for urgent action. UNFPA's global #bodyright campaign and our initiatives in Vietnam aim to safeguard women and girls online.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), we're reminded of the central role of gender equality, women's empowerment, and human rights in development. Investments in gender equality bring vast returns, improving the well-being of families, communities, and the broader economy. My advocacy in Vietnam focuses on enhancing investments in cervical cancer screening and the rollout of HPV vaccinations, simple measures that can prevent numerous women from dying of preventable diseases.

UNFPA in Vietnam commits to ensuring our projects and programmes meet the diverse needs of the people they serve. Championing women's leadership is crucial to Vietnam's socio-economic growth. From healthcare training in Can Tho to self-help clubs in Thanh Hoa and inclusive health communications, female leadership across various sectors is making a profound impact.

The argument for gender equality is compelling. By empowering women and girls to make their own decisions, we build inclusive societies where no one is left behind.

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