On the occasion of International Women's Day, Viet Nam News talks to Country Director of Oxfam in Viet Nam Andy Baker about gender equity in a country where the National Assembly is 30 per cent female.
One of the Millennium goals is to promote gender equity. How can you assess Viet Nam's efforts to reach this goal?
The government of Viet Nam has passed strong laws including the Gender Equity Law and Domestic Violence Law, but the implementation of those laws remains weak, particularly at the grassroots level.
Police, judiciary and other authorities at local levels are not pushing the laws and are still excusing illegal acts as being culturally normal and issues that should be resolved within families.
The Women's Union is an exception to this. They are working hard in many parts of the country to promote implementation of these laws. For example, in northern Quang Ninh province, the Women's Union is promoting understanding and knowledge of these two laws amongst their members.
Many people assume that Viet Nam is promoting gender equity in an inconsistent way. Programmes on this issue focus only on informing women about their rights and roles in society and fail to draw men's participation. Is this a valid assumption?
This assumption has some truth behind it. A lot of work on gender equity and on domestic violence has been targeted only at women.
Achieving gender equity is a process of changing the beliefs, attitudes and behavior of people, both women and men. We need to make gender equity an issue for the whole of society and to stop pigeonholing this as a women's issue.
There are a few examples of men becoming more actively involved in work on ending domestic violence. For example, in communes in central Nghe An Province, there are clubs working on ending domestic violence that have both men and women as active members.
Attitudes towards gender equity are deeply seated in cultural and family norms and expectations – both in Viet Nam and elsewhere in the world. Changing gender stereotypes and the way society expects women to behave is a challenge for the whole population, both women and men.
A lack of gender equity is not something that men do to women. It is something that society imposes – and society is made up of women and men.
What are the current trends and manifestations of gender inequity in the country?
There is a slow improvement, particularly in the younger generations. The ratio of girls and boys in education is now almost equal at primary levels, but girls still lose out at higher levels of education.
Migration for work has given many young women opportunity to live with fewer restrictions from their family and home community and with economic independence.
However, most of Vietnamese society still expects women to shoulder the vast majority of work in the home, particularly childcare. Employed women thus face the double burden of both employment and household responsibilities.
Based on international experience, what should Viet Nam do to promote gender equity?
Viet Nam should push the issue of gender equity much more strongly through society – with awareness-raising campaigns, with support for social movements, with specific classes in schools at all levels, with ensuring all governmental publications lack a gender bias.
There are also changes to be made in the Vietnamese legal framework. For example, the unequal retirement age can force women to retire just as they are positioned to take top leadership roles. — VNS