Reform improves women's life but gender gap and stereotypes persist

Oct 22, 2002

Ha Noi, October 22, 2002 – The economic development and the renovation process have improved the life of Vietnamese people with men benefiting more than women, says a new UN report.

The UN Gender Briefing Kit, which offers a snapshot on gender equality, was launched today together with a Competition on Gender equality and a roundtable on the same issue, as part of the Millennium campaign to promote the understanding of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Viet Nam.

The eight MDGs, agreed upon by world leaders in September 2000 at the UN Millennium Summit, are the core of the work of the UN System in Viet Nam – whether to ensure that every child goes to school or whether to empower women.

The kit argues that 'gender' does not mean 'women'. Gender equality means that women and men experience equal conditions for realizing their full human rights and have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from national political, economic, social and cultural development.
“Promoting women's rights and increasing their access to education, jobs and resources are indispensable tasks for a nation fighting poverty and seeking to establish a just society”, comments UNDP resident representative Jordan Ryan.

The kit makes the central point: gender equality is a must if Viet Nam is to achieve its ambitious development targets. Whether it is through the 10 Year Socio-Economic Development Strategy, the Public Investment Programme, or the recently adopted Comprehensive Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy, gender issues need to be addressed squarely as a key development issue.
The kit records recent findings on progress made for both women and men in areas such as enrolment in primary education, health and poverty reduction. It says Viet Nam’s progress toward achieving gender equality is mixed.

Viet Nam performs well on many indicators of gender equality. For example, childhood health indicators do not show discrimination against female infants, and basic primary education rates are almost equal between boys and girls from the dominant ethnic group, the Kinh. There are now 138 women in the National Assembly, representing 27.4 per cent of the total parliamentary delegates, making Viet Nam‘s rate of female MPs one of the highest in Asia. The total population of Viet Nam is 80.0 million, of which 49.2 per cent are male and 50.8 per cent are female.

However, rapid economic growth and the reform process have not reduced the gap between men and women. Although what women do as part of their daily tasks has changed dramatically in recent years, gender stereotypes and values in Viet Nam have changed little from earlier decades or centuries. The younger generations of Vietnamese women are facing new stresses from multiple roles as mothers, wives, workers, and leaders.

Heavy workload is one factor constraining women from participating in collective consultations (village meetings, for example) and decision-making bodies. Women in rural Viet Nam are reported to work a typical sixteen to eighteen hour day - an average about six to eight hours longer than men per day. Many women carry double responsibilities because they not only earn a living from work, but also fulfill traditional roles of mother and wife at home.

“A change of attitude on the roles of women and men is needed to ensure equitable division of labour within the household as well as equal opportunities for men and women in the labour market” says Mr.Ryan.

The continuing inequalities in wage earnings and workload burdens are also reflected in the kit. It reveals that only 23% of economically active women are engaged in waged employment compared to 41% of men, and women’s average hourly wage is only 78% of men’s.

Another factor that plays a major role in poverty reduction and growth by increasing labour productivity and income is education. In 1999, 5.3 million people were illiterate with around 69% of the population being female. Whilst the rate of female literacy has improved over the last decade, there remains a gap of around 12% between the two sexes for people over forty years of age. Girls also tend to drop out of the education system more frequently than boys do. The kit suggests that this may be attributed towards families discriminating in favour of their sons, as the male child is perceived to have better job prospects than an equally educated daughter.

The kit further details the increased vulnerabilities of women to violence – such as domestic violence and trafficking. Whilst Viet Nam has ratified most of the international conventions related to the elimination of violence against women and taking all measures to suppress all forms of trafficking, gender based violence is widespread in the country in all regions in both rural and urban locations, within families at all income levels.

Whilst women are granted equal rights to men for all their land use and property rights, as clearly stated in the Constitution, Civil Code and Law on Marriage and Family, traditionally they are still considered to be dependent on their family or family-in-law for their access to land through their father, husband or brother. Most women in the rural areas do not have knowledge of these laws and tend to follow traditional practices.

Due to the allocation of land in accordance with labour age, women aged between 55 and 60 only receive only half of men’s land proportion for the same age, as the retirement age for women is 55 compared to 60 for men. This limited access to agricultural land implies less diversified economic activities in agriculture with important negative consequences for food security and agricultural development.

The briefing kit also provides a detailed description on international organisations with initiatives on gender equality and women’s issues in Viet Nam. It is hoped that the analyses presented throughout this kit will help users understand better the concept of gender equality and its importance in reducing poverty to achieve national development targets.
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