Delegates to the 26th Annual Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Hanoi pose for a photo at the opening ceremony on January 18.  (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) - The 26th Annual Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF-26) engaged discussions on different aspects of the theme “Parliamentary Partnership for Peace, Innovation and Sustainable Development”, reflected by its efforts to strive for gender equality and promote parliamentary ties for the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The meeting took place at a time when the world was witnessing substantial and drastic changes and complex security issues, which can impact peace and stability across the globe, including in Asia-Pacific. Despite that, cooperation for peace, security, sustainable development and inclusive growth remains a prevailing trend. The Asia-Pacific region, since the first Annual Meeting of the APPF in 1993, has been the most dynamic engine of the global growth and among those at the front lines of implementing the SDGs.

Vietnam, as a member of the parliamentary community engaging with the SDGs, realised the need to enhance the role of parliamentarians - the people’s elected representatives - and cement cooperation between parliaments to contribute to peace, innovation and sustainable development for almost 3 billion people living in 27 APPF member countries.

Promoting gender equality for sustainable development

Gender equality was again the main topic of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians that kicked off a series of meetings during the APPF-26 in Hanoi from January 18-21. As gender inequality has been one of the most fundamental challenges confronting the region, achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls will require vigorous efforts, including in lawmaking, to counter deeply rooted gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

Initiated by Indonesia at the APPF-23, the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians was first held during the APPF-24 in Canada in 2016 with theme “Women’s participation in public life”.

This year’s host Vietnam initiated debates on promoting gender equality for sustainable development and shared prosperity to address links between gender equality and sustainable development and reflect the determination to “turn words into actions”, inspired by the IPU Hanoi Declaration adopted at the 132nd International Parliamentary Union (IPU) General Assembly in Vietnam in 2015.

Gender equality is a consistent policy of Vietnam as the country’s Constitution and Law on Gender Equality acknowledges equal rights in all aspects for all citizens, men and women alike; and the Vietnam National Assembly has contributed to realizing gender equality goals, said NA Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan in her opening remarks.

National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan opens the APPF Meeting of Women Parliamentarians which takes place in Hanoi on January 18. (Photo: VNA)

Ngan emphasised the significance of the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians which has offered female parliamentarians from the APPF member countries a forum to network, increase their presence and influence, and discuss common concerns over gender equality and other matters for the sake of women and girls.

One of the 2030 Agenda for the SDGs is to touch upon gender equality while the other goals set targets for gender issues and address gender-based aspects of poverty, hunger, healthcare, education, employment, climate change and more, said Truong Thi Mai, Head of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee’s Commission for Mass Mobilisation at the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians.

“This strong focus on gender issues is recognition that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are key to each and every one of the goals,” Mai noted.

She added that at the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in Da Nang last year, “APEC leaders also acknowledged greater economic participation by women spurs economic growth, and encouraged governments and the private sector to implement initiatives that enhance women´s economic empowerment, improve women´s access to capital, assets and markets, increase women´s participation in high-growth and high-wage sectors and promote women´s leadership, entrepreneurship, skills and competence.”

APPF delegates agreed that gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a vital foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. They shared experience and proposed parliamentarians maximise their roles in all steps of the decision-making process, whether at the global, regional or national levels, in different areas to promote the implementation of the fifth Goal of Gender Equality out of the 17 SDGs.

“We fully support Vietnam’s incorporation of women empowerment and gender equality in this annual meeting’s agenda,” said Vice Chairwoman of the Russian State Duma Olga Epifanova.

Promoting gender equality is necessary for sustainable development and it should have happened long ago, Canadian Senator Joseph Day told the Vietnam News Agency (VNA). “It has just been up to each country host to determine whether they want to have the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians or not. Luckily, Fiji got last year and Vietnam is doing it this year.”

"I think it is a very important topic", said Stephenie Ritland, Attorney Advisor for the Federated States of Micronesia. "We currently don’t have any female parliamentarian in our congress […] I think it’s fantastic (that Vietnam has a female NA leader) as it sets a great global example. Vietnam is taking great steps moving forwards."

Ritland also lauded Japan's recommendations for the amendment to the APPF rules that are “very significant” to promoting gender equality.

This year, the Japanese delegation to the meeting proposed amending the APPF Rules of Procedure, allowing the Meeting of Women Parliamentarians to become a permanent side-event.

"Even though we come from different countries, we share common issues when it comes to trying to solve gender equality issues. Having discussions in this kind of women parliamentarians meeting will benefit each delegation in solving their own problems”, Yoshiko Kira, Member of House of Councillors at the National Diet of Japan explained.

“I think the most significant accomplishment is the process that is happening right now here, in Hanoi, at the APPF. It is to make permanent the women parliamentarian aspect of this meeting because if you include everybody, the less fortunate the people that need extra help, the young people, the older people, the indigenous people and women are. Everybody needs to be included, everybody’s voices are important,” Senator Day stated.

The amendment was unanimously adopted at the final plenary session on January 20 on the 25th anniversary of the APPF, marking a milestone in the regional progress on women’s rights.

The meeting also passed a resolution on promoting gender equality for sustainable development and shared prosperity in Asia-Pacific, calling upon APPF parliaments to continue focusing on legislative support of the expansion of women’s legal, economic and social opportunities and to update laws that promote women’s access to financial and capital markets and economic and digital education.

APPF’s role in ​fostering partnership for sustainable development

The “Hanoi Declaration on the SDGs: Turning words into action,” adopted by the 132nd IPU Assembly in Hanoi in 2015, stated that “As parliamentarians, we must support efforts to reach the new goals in ways that respect each country’s national specificities. Our responsibility is clear: to hold governments accountable for the goals they have subscribed to, and to make sure that enabling laws are passed and budgets adopted.”

The core parliamentary roles of law-making, budgeting, oversight and representation of constituent interests are all critical to the full implementation of the SDGs. To this end, the APPF-26 in Vietnam again upheld the role of the APPF in promoting partnership for sustainable development and inclusive growth in Asia-Pacific.

Regional issues required solutions at the national, regional and global level in line with a multi-tier cooperation approach, including the active participation of parliamentarians, as policy makers, and as legislators of nations, said Vietnamese NA Vice Chairwoman Tong Thi Phong.

“Parliamentary diplomacy, particularly APPF activities, plays an indispensable role in promoting cooperation, building legislative frameworks, deciding on and monitoring the implementation of governments’ international commitments,” Phong stated.

She urged the APPF parliaments to promote more effective cooperation to respond to both traditional and non-traditional challenges.

“The people that are able to make changes are parliamentarians as they are in the highest law-making body of each country,” said Senator Tan Sri Dato’ Sri SA. Vigneswaran, President of the Malaysian Senate.

“The perspectives of parliaments and parliamentarians from across the globe have indeed enriched the formulation and articulation of the SDGs. In May 2017, the IPU and the National Assembly of Vietnam for the first time gathered parliaments of the whole Asia-Pacific region in a conference in Ho Chi Minh City, to discuss their role in delivering on the SDGs and contributing to the fight against climate change,” said IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong.

IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong attends as a guest at the 26th Annual Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF-26) in Hanoi from January 18-21. (Photo: VNA)

“Parliamentarians play a crucial role in translating the SDGs into legislation and policies, and in integrating them into national development plans with country-specific goals.”

“The new development of the agenda is what I qualify as a one-in-a-life-time opportunity for parliaments to deliver on the expectation of the people because it identifies the need and challenges facing the people. And parliaments and parliamentarians who are representatives of the people should be at the forefront of giving concrete actions and taking concrete measures to implement the agenda,” he noted.

“They have to translate this commitment into national policies and legislation. They have to provide the resources for implementing these policies. They have to make sure the governments are held to contribute for the implementation of the commitment.”
 
Parliamentary partnership is even more important as it creates opportunities for free discussions based on a long-term perspective in consideration of its people, and on specific policies, according to Yasuhiro Nakasone, Honourary President of the APPF.

The Resolution on the Role of the APPF in promoting partnership for sustainable development and inclusive growth in Asia-Pacific, sponsored by Vietnam and Japan, was among 14 resolutions adopted in the APPF-26.

It called on the APPF member parliaments to encourage their governments to initiate roadmaps and propose ideas to realise commitments aimed at sustainable and inclusive growth, including the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the APEC Action Agenda on Promoting economic, financial and social inclusion.-VNA