Fight for gender equality is not for women only

Update: January, 29/2018 - 09:00
Dương Kim Anh

Awareness of continued gender inequality in Việt Nam has grown in the last several years, though the goal of eliminating gender discrimination has not brought equality to all Vietnamese women. Dr Dương Kim Anh, deputy director of the Việt Nam Women’s Academy talks with the Hà Nội Mới (New Hà Nội) newspaper about the issue.

How has gender equality in Việt Nam changed in recent years?

In the last several years, the issue of gender equality in Việt Nam has attracted concern from all classes of society. The most noticeable change has been with regard to people’s perceptions. Public awareness about the issue has improved with gender bias no longer severe as before.

Along with socio-economic development, Vietnamese women today have escaped from the old and strict feudal social bindings.

Women now are not only family servants but very active and energetic in social activities with the full duties and responsibilities of citizenship.

The social concepts of beauty and feminine virtue has also changed to become more relevant to modern society.

Despite old prejudices about women, insisting they should just stay at home and do house work—an idea that has changed but not completely disappeared—the image of a dynamic, self-confident woman performing her responsibilities in her society and community proves that Vietnamese women are increasingly asserting their role in the nation at large.

What are the main causes of gender inequality persisting in the country?

Gender inequality appears in all areas of life and all over the world. Việt Nam is not excluded. There are several reasons for that:

First, gender inequality still exists due to the effects of gender bias that has existed for a long time and is deeply rooted in the subconscious of people. This reason can be called a type of historical discrimination.

Although gender stereotypes have changed in recent years due to social development and the evolution of people’s perceptions, discrimination between women and men, with men viewed as superior, still exists, affecting women’s development.

Second, limited community awareness of gender equality has paved the way for gender discrimination to take place.

Gender equality means that women and men should equally benefit from preferable conditions of development so that they can also fulfill their human rights and both have the chance to contribute to the development of the whole society. Thus, gender equality should be understood as valuable for all people, not a priority for women only. Many people still think that gender equality is just for women, giving priority to women only.

Third, limited participation of men in promoting gender equality is also among the reasons for continuing gender inequality. Due to a lack of awareness about gender equality among men and many people who often think gender equality is just a priority for women, men’s participation in promoting gender equality is very limited.

Men sometimes are not active in sharing household burdens with women, including the doing chores and caring for children.

Moreover, the promotion of gender equality has not really been a focus in some localities, where authorities consider it just part of the local Women’s Union task. Domestic financial imbalance is also one of the reasons for gender discrimination in families. The more women financially depend on others, particularly their husbands, the more they suffer from gender discrimination.

But why do women still face discrimination even though they have attained high education and often earn more money than men?

Vietnamese tradition says that quality of life requires ensuring essential living conditions such as food, clothes and shelter. A foreign sociologist, while doing research about women in Việt Nam beginning in 1980, stressed that a feminist movement was just empty words if it could not bring food, clothes and houses to women.

Poverty and economic dependence are the main causes of inequality, so economic empowerment is seen as a key solution to help women escape their dependency.

Many feminists have appealed that in order to solve the problem of gender inequality, women need to work and struggle.

In fact, many women who make significant contributions to their families’ economic development still suffer from gender inequality.

Some of the reasons include gender bias and husbands’ bad behaviour. Some husbands who cannot earn as much money as their wives, feel they do not have a high standing in the family. This causes heavy pressure on them resulting in some bad behaviour, even violence towards the wives and others family members.

Is it true that gender equality in Việt Nam is still hard to implement within the family, where most husbands are not aware of the need for equality in recognising their rights and obligations?

I would like to emphasise that promoting gender equality is the responsibility of both women and men, not just women.

Men need to be aware of their rights and duties in the home, for the advancement of both sexes. The participation of men is considered as an important factor in the struggle for gender equality and empowerment of women, so men need to be the pioneers of eliminating all discrimination against women and girls.

A research by ActionAid Việt Nam focussing on women’s unpaid work was released at a workshop on October 19, 2017 to discuss how to ease the burden on women within the home. The research showed that women still spend much of their time on unpaid housework such as cleaning, childcare and cooking. They spend much more time on such work than men do.

That’s why women have less time for other paid work, not to mention entertainment and relaxing. The workshop also called for men to be more willing to share housework with their wives as a way to promote gender equality in the family and society.

What do you think when some people say old norms that highlight women’s roles in their family as their “natural vocation", "virtue", "good character" and "sacrifice" have "locked" Vietnamese women into a lower status that hinders the implementation of gender equality?

As I have said above, with the development of society and progress in people’s perceptions, gender stereotypes have changed slightly. However, Vietnamese women are still bound by historical discrimination.

In addition, stereotypes such as “natural vocation”, ’virtue’, “good characters” and “sacrifice’ have created pressure on them.

Moreover, the media also pushes pressure on women to perform their roles in the family and at the same time fulfill their social obligations. I think it is necessary to scrutinise and eliminate some media messages and information containing stereotypes and bias against women in order to reduce gender discrimination and contribute to the promotion of gender equality.

Do you think many women themselves seem not to properly understand about gender equality and women’s rights? What needs to be done to improve the awareness about gender equality for all people and for the women themselves?

Not only many women, but many men do not properly understand about gender equality and feminism. Equality is the right of everyone in society. Women and men should have the same human rights.

Therefore, we should not attach gender equality to feminism to avoid a misconception that gender equality is only a priority for women or bringing favour to them. We need to change our way of approaching gender equality issues to a sustainable and human-centred perspective so that ‘no one is left behind’, as it is stated a spirit of our country’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

To effectively improve awareness on gender, heads of families and Government agencies, who are usually men, need to commit to promoting gender equality for common development. Men should be encouraged to participate in activities supporting and empowering women and other vulnerable groups. — VNS