When participation also depends on gender equality

In 2014, Action Aid published a report showing that 87 percent of interviewed women and girls had faced sexual harassment in public places. In 2018, Vietnamese police recorded 1,547 child abuse cases, but media appoint that real numbers are suspected to be much higher. UNICEF Representative in Vietnam, Rana Flowers, said that this numbers are just the “tip of the iceberg”. Quoting an Economist Intelligence Unit report, Vietnam is the 37th out of 40 countries in its response to child sex abuse. In an updated version with 60 countries, Vietnam rated the 43th place.

On October 2019, a revised Labour Code is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly. Among other changes, the increase of the retirement age is one of the worries of the workers. They stand up to work eight hours per day and raising the retirement age from 55 to 60 worries the health situation. “The policy should be flexible for different careers”, said a worker from Hà Noi. Actually, labourers who produce garments retire when they are 45 as their health is not good enough to continue their job. A second change allowing female workers a 30 minute break when they are on their periods would also affect the productivity. Still, the difference of salary between men and women workers is visible and, quoting a report of UN Vietnam, “the number of women represented in the National Assembly has been declining over the past ten years”

Despite the legal framework on gender equality, women in Vietnam continue to experience discrimination and a lack of economic and political opportunities in community. Many women do not have an equal voice in decisions about their lives and there are less and less female political leaders.

In an interview for Viêt Nam News, Deborah Greenfield, Deputy Director-General for Policy at the International Labour Organization (ILO) claimed that “it’s not simply a matter of ratifying a convention. The real challenge is to make sure that the commitments on paper are realised in practice. Is there a system of collective bargaining that works in practice? Is there a dispute resolution mechanism? How are wages set and are they set fairly? What is the nature of gender equality and non-discrimination in the country? We are working with the Government, with social partners in Việt Nam to make sure that you have all the tools necessary to implement the conventions”.

Vuong Thi Hanh, former deputy chairwoman of the Central Committee of Viet Nam Women’s Union, justifies the  inefficiency of the law by women facing double pressures. “On the one hand, Party and Government policies always encourage women to participate in economic and political activities. On the other hand, not only the Party and State, but all of society encourages women to be capable of handling their housework. This is a heavy burden for women. The concept of “capability” today is much different from that of tens of years or 100 years ago. In the past, children were born and grew up quite naturally, but now women are expected to give birth to healthy and good-looking children. They have to look for foods that help their children grow up to become smart, and look for good schools, as well as extra music, martial arts, English classes, and so on”. She also adds that “women are expected to keep themselves good-looking, smart, and well-dressed, or their husbands might make light of them and look for another woman. Women’s lives have been improved markedly, and women have many chances to dress up, make up, and go on holidays. However, behind such lives hide numerous unknown pressures. All these pressures are a result of modern society, which were not seen previously. Obviously, there are similar pressures to be wife and mother but, nowadays, such pressures have multiplied ten times. (…) It’s necessary to change the mindset at the family level, in terms of sharing the responsibility. For instance, men should be able to take maternity leave to be at home to help mothers when newborns arrive”.

The former deputy chairwoman of the Central Committee of Viet Nam Women’s Union Companies encourages to change policies related to maternity leaves. “It should be changed and at the policy level there needs to be a better environment to encourage men’s maternity leaves. Currently, such leaves are five days, but in other countries it can be extended to 90 days or hundreds of days for men to take leave. That means women’s burdens are reduced and women can come back to work earlier and build their careers”.

Still, traditional believes are spread in society as Khuat Thu Hong, Director of the Institute for Social Development Studies, refers to the media. “In many areas, higher education plays no role at all. For example, many men who have a high position in society or have only finished first grade in education think alike in believing that the position of women must remain “inside the kitchen”. It is often thought that men are born stronger and can go here and there, whilst women should stay at home taking care of children. Yet, women in Viet Nam do all the work, including going to battle fields in wartime, but they are always considered inferior and underestimated. If we do nothing to change this situation, it will remain as it is forever.(…) Upon Viet Nam’s deeper integration into the world, if inequality still exists women will bear much heavier burdens”.

Although policies in Vietnam are changing in matters of gender equality, there’s work to do in terms of changing mentalities among society. It’s not only about changing documents and laws but also working on culture structure and mentalities that have marked our society for centuries. It’s the National Assembly’s work to make a first step towards women’s equality to a wider participation in their life’s decision making.

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