The annual International Women's Day, March 8, will be held on Sunday. As this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, a significant turning point in the global agenda for gender equality, the United Nations group simply known as UN Women has set a theme Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!
The UN says that the theme envisions a world where every woman and girl can exercise her choices, including participation in politics, getting an education, having an income and living in societies free from violence and discrimination.
In Viet Nam, the role of women in all walks of life has improved significantly in recent years, especially in management positions. The country's efforts in ensuring gender equality have been recognised by international communities who praise the increasing number of women getting involved in politics.
Many women now hold top positions, such as Viet Nam's National Assembly Deputy Chairwomen, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and Tong Thi Phong.
Then there is Vice-President Nguyen Thi Doan - and many ministers and deputy ministers. Statistic from the National Assembly (NA) show that in the nation's 63 cities and provinces, nine have NA delegations led by women.
The Ministry of Home Affairs also reports about 18 cities and provinces have more than 30 per cent female members at provincial people's councils.
However, in reality, Vietnamese women are still at a disadvantage in terms of employment opportunities - and limited income due to less emphasis on education. In higher education, there is a gap in the intellectual level of women compared with men.
On top of this, many women suffer from domestic violence from male members of their own families - usually fathers and husbands. Inequality, in fact, is definitely still here.
The reasons offered for discrimination include male chauvinism, which values men above women. But are men totally to blame on for this inequality or, as some have suggested, do some Vietnamese women contribute to it?
Many people, both men and women, accept the fact that husbands can go out and hang out with friends at bia hoi and bars after work, while wives have to hurry back home to take care of children - and cook!
They also see that it's natural to teach sons to be strong and do great things while daughters are taught how to do housework and have babies.
Such inequality obviously does not come from the differences between men and women. It comes from the preconceptions of society, which many women support.
Many Asian women have become used to a subordinate role in life and the concept that women are supposed to play a lower role.
But gender inequality prospers, some people say, because there is no State management body strong enough to cope with.
People may remember a National Assembly meeting in January at which NA Deputy Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan proposed with persistence the establishment of a Ministry for Women, whose functions would include taking charge of gender equality.
She also referred to New Zealand and South Korea, where such ministries have been introduced.
Ngan's proposal was echoed by other female officials, including NA deputy Nguyen Thi An and Chairwoman of the Viet Nam Women's Union Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa. They shared concern about the lack of a ministry to take care of women's affairs.
They also said that the current Viet Nam Women's Union could not act as a State management body. The union was presently not in a position to join in policy consulting to the Government and, at the same time. represent the democracy and equality of women, Hoa said.
While I do not think it's necessary to establish a women's ministry, I do believe that the Viet Nam Women's Union should be empowered to get more involved in gender equality issues.
It's time for women to overcome their own traditions and feelings and move ahead to a more equal society. — VNS