by Le Ha
Nguyen Thi Minh Nguyet, 38, has a Master's degree from an international university in multimedia and she is fluent in a number of languages. She is married to a doctor, with whom she has a young daughter and son. They are financially well-off as Nguyethusband earns several hundred million dong a month.
She is basically happily married, but like many women forced to balance work and family, or in some cases give up their careers altogether, feels unfufilled intellectually and professionally.
"My husband doesn't want a career-minded wife. He wants a housewife, a housekeeper for his two children," Nguyet said.
"I used to cry every night. All I can remember is the sadness of my marriage in the early days."
Nguyet is openly bitter about the fact her husband refused to acknowledge her need to do more than take care of the home and their children.
"You know, not once did he ever ask me for my opinion on something. Never, not a word. He wasn't interested in what I had to say, and still isn't," Nguyet said, breathing deeply.
Nguyet stuck to her guns and began working for a State organisation. Even so, her husband insisted she retire early at 50, which basically put paid to any chance she might have of advancing to the higher echelons of her organisation.
In Viet Nam, the retirement age for women is 55 – as opposed to 60 for men. It is widely believed that because women have to retire earlier than men – and run homes, take time off when pregnant and raise their families – few rise to the top of their professions in Viet Nam.
One of the few women to buck that trend, Pham Thi Thu Ha, deputy general director of PetroVietnam, is firmly of that opinion.
It affects income, promotion and training opportunities in the Government, civil service and other key organisations, Ha said.
Viet Nam signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1980 and ratified it in 1982. However, the human rights bill has had little effect in Viet Nam, where gender inequality is rampant, Ha said, adding that bias against women permeates all aspects of life, from home, to school, to the workplace.
Bui Thi An, a National Assembly deputy, said that forcing women to retire [five years] earlier than men is an anachronism, dating from when women were considered the weaker sex. A woman's place is no longer in the home, Ha said.
"Women's average lifespan is three years more than men's [women 74, men 71]," An said during a recent TV debate.
Furthermore men's rate of physical deline after 50 is higher than for women, and they are more prone to age-related illnesses. "The labour code must treat men and women equally, particularly when it comes to the retirement age, except when it comes to working in a toxic and or physically demanding environment."
An directly attributed the fact that the development model for women in the work place is pyriamidal, meaning that the proportion of female to male workers at kindergartens and primary schools if far higher. She said women account for 38-40 per cent of university students, yet just 20 per cent of qualified doctors are female, and a poultry 4-12 per cent of professors and associate professors are female. Meanwhile, 24 per cent of the National Assembly but only one woman has made it into the 14-member Politburo.
"It is very difficult and costly to train scientist or a technician. Our country needs talent professionals with brains. It is a great waste of our national resources if our women are forced to retire early or denied the chance to reach the very top of their profession," she added.
Ha said it was important to establish whether retirement was a right or a duty. If it is a duty, then the law must apply equally to men and women. If it is a right, then woman.
"The retirement age for men and women must be equal. It is everyone's duty, male or female, to work until they are 60. Specific regulations should be applied to professions that require a high development of expertise," Ha said.
Raising the retirement age for women has been on the policy makers' agenda for a decade, Ha said with a note of exasperation.
Ha added that the present disparity in retirement ages for men and women was a covert form of discrimanation that had to be urgently addressed.
"The current policy on retirement ages in Viet Nam dispossess women of their labour rights."
Ha added that she knew of very few women who wished to take early retirement because of the pension offered was barely enough to live on.
"Women don't want to retire," Ha said. "They want to work and they want to contribute to the country's development."
Meanwhile, a number of labour experts have argued that the retirement age of both men and women should be raised to relieve pressure on the national social security fund.
But until things change, Ha said women need to speak up and men need to change their old-fashioned views when it came to the workplace. — VNS