Gender equality in the workplace: double burden still holds women back

March 18, 2022 - 09:46

Millions of women are participating in the workforce in Việt Nam and are striving to make values and create positive impacts in their professions and society despite the gender stereotypes and social barriers.

Nguyễn Minh Nguyệt, a business analyst, is among millions of women participating in the workforce in Việt Nam who, despite the gender stereotypes, are striving to create positive impacts in society. Photo courtesy of Nguyệt

Vân Nguyễn

From a distance, Nguyễn Minh Nguyệt looks like a sharp-suited businesswoman ready for a day at the office. Closer inspection reveals something a little different. 

In her arms is her one-year-old daughter. Nguyệt has mothering duties to attend to before she can think of attending a board meeting. 

The 29-year-old's home is also her office. Once her child is taken care of, she applies a light dusting of make-up before switching rooms at her home in Nam Từ Liêm District to join a meeting with her client in the US to discuss their latest software development project.

The mother of two has worked as a business analyst for six years since she graduated from the Foreign Trade University, one of the top-tier higher education institutions in Việt Nam with a distinction degree in Banking and Finance.

“Even when I have no financial burden, the desire to pursue a career is always on my to-do list,” Nguyệt said.

After graduation, she landed a job at a major Vietnamese ICT company and was transferred to the office in Dhaka, Bangladesh for two months before returning to Việt Nam. She had worked for two other companies before moving to a large European tech firm based in HCM City, a major economic hub of Việt Nam.

"Having a job not only proves my value to society but also to my family," she said.

"I enjoy my job which allows me to bring improvements and innovation into clients' business operation.”

Her main roles include working with clients, analysing the requirements, and collaborating with the engineering team to bring those requirements into fruitition.

Nguyệt is among millions of women in Việt Nam's workforce who, despite gender stereotypes and social barriers, strive to make valuable and positive impacts in both their profession and society.

Việt Nam has about 26 million women workers, equivalent to 47.3 per cent of the total employees. It is among the world’s top 15 countries with the highest rate of working female. It is estimated that eight out of 10 women in the 15-64 age group work.

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This high rate is driven largely by economic reforms and the improvement of education that highlights gender equality.

The wars in the 20th century, especially the battle against the US in 1965-1975, led to a sharp decline in the prime working aged men. This prompted women to work to support their men who had gone into battle and their families.

In 1986, the country started the economic renewal which pushed the economic growth and created an increase in labour demand, encouraging even more women to step up to the plate and work for a living. Đổi mới (Renewal) led to a significant labour market shift. It replaced the centrally planned system with the market mechanism that prompted economic diversification and development of the private sector while also opening the economy to international markets. This contributed to the expansion of manufacturing and service industries, a primary source of jobs for both men and women.

Along with Đổi mới, a major push toward improving education called Education for All was introduced, highlighting gender equality in all levels of education. This helped to increase female labour force participation in the long run.

​Việt Nam has also made achievements in improving the legal and institutional framework to promote gender equality and increase women in the workforce.  

The country signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1980 and ratified the convention two years later.

In 2010, it approved the National Strategy on Gender Equality for 2011-2020, focusing on ensuring substantive equality between men and women regarding opportunities, participation and benefits in the political, economic, cultural and social fields. This strategy also strengthened women’s participation in leadership and management to gradually close the gender gap.

The Labour Code 2019 introduced several significant reforms favourable to equality at work. These included a reduction in the retirement age gap between men and women from five to two years.

Preferential tax incentives were legislated for enterprises with a large female workforce and access to credit was prioritised for rural women to encourage them to expand agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.

Vulnerable jobs, gender pay gaps persist

Though the rate of female participation in the labour force is high in Việt Nam, this indicator alone is not enough to paint the full picture about equal access to opportunities, as well as the quality of women’s work.

According to the Country Gender Equality Profile Việt Nam 2021 conducted by the International Labour Organization, United Nations Women, Asian Development Bank and Australian Aid, this high rate does not necessarily translate into a good indicator of gender equality or equal access to job opportunities and tends to “mask” the fact that women are in more vulnerable employment.

Our analysis of data from the General Statistics Office and reports by international organisations reveal that although women do not work significantly fewer hours than men, and are not less educated, the gender pay gap persists in almost all occupations.

The quality of jobs for females remains lower than males, and often come without social benefits such as healthcare benefits.

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In Việt Nam, there are more own-account and unpaid family workers than wage employees. Own-account workers are people who are self-employed with no staff. Family workers are those who assist a household member in market-oriented establishments but do not receive regular payments. Those working in these two categories do not have a stable income and are not protected by social insurance.

Though men are more likely to be in informal employment than women, the latter are overrepresented in the category of contributing family workers which is associated with particularly high risks of intensive work hours and none or irregular remuneration.

Double burden undermines women’s career

Like women in many parts of the world, Vietnamese women earn less than their male counterparts. This pay gap is not due to women having lower qualifications or a lower level of engagement in the labour market or working significantly fewer hours.

Sticking with global trends, Vietnamese women tend to work shorter hours in their employment than men due to their significantly higher engagement in unpaid productive work at home.

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The double burden of family and work that women carry, triggers the gap in employment quality and career development, according to the gender equality report.

“It is unrealistic for women to pursue stable jobs, career opportunities or skill upgrades with any degree of continuity while they shoulder a disproportionate amount of household responsibilities,” the report said.

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Nguyệt could be seen as bucking this trend, but realistically, she too has to juggle home and work life. A typical day will see her working remotely for up to nine hours a day, but when her laptop is closed, her tasks don't stop. 

She starts early in the morning, preparing breakfast for the whole family and lunch box for her husband.

After finishing work, bath time for the children is next on her to-do-list while her husband prepares dinner for the family. She then puts her younger child to bed and then helps her oldest brush up on his studies in preparation for primary school which he starts this year.

“If any child is sick, I am the one who takes leave to take care of them," Nguyệt said.

"I chose a job with a light workload when my babies are small and work remotely now to have time for the family

“I believe that I could go much further in my career if I can switch roles with my husband.

“To be able to spend as much time as possible for the children, my choice of job is limited and so is career development.”

Finding the perfect balance to be a successful working mother is no easy task. Responsibilities aside, there also needs to be a good income generated by both the mother and father to ensure a good standard of living. 

Nguyệt added: “There is a huge imbalance in task allocation in Vietnamese families as women are spending too much time for household chores and men are spending too much time on work to afford a decent standard for the whole family.

“My husband and I are trying to balance between work and family by sharing the domestic work and the financial burden."

For the 29-year-old Đặng Thị Hoàng Ngân, her world revolves around her 16-month daughter.

The young mother quit her job as a consultant at a cosmetics company to spend more time with her family. She is now a full-time mother but does have another business interest, owning an online make-up store.

“In my new life as a mother, there is no time for myself and my plans for a career have all gone,” she said.

Ngân hoped to get back to work six months after giving birth but her plan was delayed when she struggled to find suitable childcare. 

“It is my choice to be the main caregiver of the family and I enjoy spending time with my daughter," Ngân said.

"However, I feel a bit worried that I will have certain difficulties getting back to work or finding a new job. 

“The domestic work keeps coming throughout the day, I only have time for myself when my child sleeps at night,” she said.

Women in Việt Nam on average spend twice as many hours as men for carrying out unpaid domestic and care work. They include cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and shopping, family care, childcare, among many others.

Women spend an average of 20.2 hours a week on household chores while men spend only 10.7 hours and nearly 20 per cent of men report they do not spend any time in these activities at all.

Experts say it is important to promote the equal allocation of domestic responsibilities between men and women. Photo courtesy of Nguyệt  

​Đỗ Hồng Vân, standing head of the Working Women Department under the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour said sexism leads to gender inequality.

She said: “Though it is regulated in laws that gender equality must be ensured in the workplace, sexism and gender stereotypes are important drivers of disadvantages faced by working women.

“Many employers tend to prefer men due to the gender stereotype and misconception that women have to spend time for family responsibilities and prejudice that women are not as competent as men.”

​According to the gender report, stereotypes profoundly affect women’s economic participation, including barriers to leadership and promotion based on the perceived primacy of their caregiver role which fuels prejudice about women’s capabilities and knowledge. In Việt Nam there is a pervasive notion of women being the secondary earner while men are considered the primary income earners.

The report states: “Changing social norms remains crucial to promote shared responsibilities between women, girls and men and boys at home, together with policy advocacy for reducing and redistributing unpaid care work among stakeholders in both the public and private sector.”To close the gender gap in the workplace, Vân said, it is important to increase the capacity of female workers so they can adapt to diverse demands in the work place.

She also suggests promoting gender equality in the family and equal sharing of domestic responsibilities as well as raising awareness of employers about gender equality. VNS