VNN – Shoko Ishikawa – UN Women Country Representative in Viet Nam
During the recent revision of the Penal Code, National Assembly Deputies debated whether or not the amended provision should explicitly include marital rape. Criminalisation of all forms of violence against women, including marital rape, was one of the recommendations coming from the UN committee of experts on women’s rights. No matter who the perpetrator is or where the incident takes place, rape is rape.
In Viet Nam, there is a common belief that sexual violence does not occur within the family or in locations considered to be ‘secure’ and ‘peaceful’. There is a myth that ‘real rape’ involves strangers, force and/or physical injury. However, a recent review of 462 rape and sexual assault case files tells a very different story. In 86 per cent of these cases, the suspect was known to the victim and the majority of incidents took place in a private space with no physical injuries involved. It is a sad reality that many women and girls cannot feel safe and secure in their own homes, around people they should be able to trust.
Consent to marriage does not give consent to have sex when you don’t want to. No one can own your body and emotions, even if they are your legal partner. However, in Viet Nam there is an unspoken rule that wives are obliged to meet the sexual demand of their husbands. Women are often held responsible for maintaining family happiness, and they are not ‘good’ wives if they fail to do so. But how can a family be happy when husbands do not respect or treat their wives as equals?
Too often, sexual violence is hidden by society. When a women reports that she has been raped, the question is asked if she did something to invite the sexual act on herself; perhaps she walked in the wrong place at the wrong time, or wore the wrong clothes – because after all, men’s sexual desire is only natural, and ‘good girls’ are not sexually active. The 2010 National Study on Domestic Violence revealed that 87 per cent of the survivors of domestic violence did not seek help from the authorities. It is easy to imagine why.
We urgently need to rethink. Gender is a social construction. That means that the roles of women and men are learned and understood from the society and culture around us. But it also means that they can be challenged and changed.
Viet Nam has made an international commitment to address violence against women. This means it has pledged to prevent violence, to protect women, to prosecute and punish perpetrators and provide redress and reparations to survivors. However, to do this, Viet Nam must break down social barriers; address gaps in laws; train more gender-sensitive service providers; make services, including legal aid, accessible to survivors; as well as holding the justice system to account. This also calls for a justice mechanism that is transparent and open enough for survivors to bring their cases forward.
Rape is only one form of sexual violence. Any sexual act, or even an attempted sexual act is considered to be sexual violence. This includes unwanted sexual comments or advances against a person’s sexuality by use of coercion, regardless of the relationship to the survivor. We all have a right to live free of fear.
Although the recent criminal law reform offered a vital opportunity to address the gaps in the legal framework, and to criminalise all forms of violence against women, too little attention was paid to the issue during the National Assembly debates. As a result, no provisions were included to explicitly criminalise marital rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment or stalking.
There is still a long road ahead to end violence against women. However, if we are to make progress, women must have an equal say in shaping our society, and take part in decision-making at all levels. Equal representation is a key part of transforming the justice system. It is only when women’s views are fully taken into account that we will be able to end violence against women.
We also cannot do this without men. Too many men are still brought up to believe that “being a man” means being tough and dominating. Rigid masculine norms promote and excuse aggression in a way that can damage and limit the potential of both young men and women. One of the best ways to stop violence even before it starts is to make men part of the solution. We call upon all men to question gender norms and the violent and harmful expression of masculinity.
Let us unite, and speak out to end the silence, for once and for all. — UN WOMEN
Viet Nam is a State party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since 1982. In July 2015, the CEDAW Committee reviewed Viet Nam’s progress for gender equality and women’s rights and adopted a set of recommendations. The government is asked to report back to the Committee on the implementation of the recommendations by 2019.
The full recommendations can be accessed at:
http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/ – layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno CEDAW per cent2fC per cent2fVNM per cent2fCO per cent2f7-8&Lang en