by Thu Anh
Florists in big cities are hoping to cash in on Thursday, March 8, as men greet their "better halves" with flowers on International Women's Day (March 8). It is not uncommon that a rose costs 10 times the usual price on this day, but that will not stop most men from buying them.
Florists are not the only business people anticipating a Women's Day bonanza. Gift shops are filled with cards and souvenirs; and perfumes, cosmetics, and jewelry are in great demand.
In the evening, women can be found heading for restaurants and entertainment centres dressed in their best clothes. Women's Day celebrations are held by many establishments and organizations, highlighting the central role women play in the family and in society as a whole.
But this is just one side of Women's Day. The other side is the day to day injustices that women suffer in a patriarchal society.
Phan Thi Th. (not her real name) runs out of her tiny house in a small village in the southern province of Bac Lieu, crying out, "Please, don't hit me!"
She is chased by her alcoholic husband – father of her three children. It is not the first time that Th. is fleeing from her house, but no amount of running seems to help her escape his violent clutches.
Th. cannot be helped much because she binds herself to traditional, outdated notions of gender roles. She told a staff member of the provincial women's union that no one can help her because it is a family problem.
Th., 28, is a good-natured farmer who works for more than 12 hours a day in the fields and continues to work at home looking after her parents, children and her husband.
She doesn't want a divorce because that would violate traditional family values. "Also, my three daughters need their father, although he is a bad man," she said.
"I have no choice."
Th. is one of thousands, if not millions of Vietnamese women who are victims of domestic violence, suffering in silence for various reasons, not the least to uphold hypocritical social values that ask women to accept suffering as their fate.
In a society dominated by Confucian traditions, for many years, a wife has been viewed as a possession with no individual rights of her own.
"We find it hard to help these women because they think their problems are private and must be kept secret," social worker Nguyen Thi Thom of the HCM City Women's Association said at a recent forum on domestic violence against women.
Changing attitudes and making a real difference isn't that simple, she said. "From my experience, in remote areas, society's opinion is that women are physically and intellectually inferior to men. Married women have to obey their husband.
"Facing these attitudes that persist until today, we find it difficult to help women learn and claim their rights," she said.
A mother of two daughters, 32-year-old Thom believes that no one can help women better than they themselves.
"Women have to know their rights and use their power to control their destiny."
This realization and change in attitude to fight for equality and one's intrinsic rights would make March 8 a real Women's Day, worth more than all the flowers and gifts in this world. — VNS