by Lan Anh and Ha Nguyen
Viet Nam is not like the West, where both men and women usually share the domestic chores, such as cooking, cleaning and washing. Here, women do all the household work - and then have to do extra jobs to earn money to pay for the ever increasing cost of living.
When Vietnamese men finish work, they usually enjoy a beer with their friends or go home and read newspapers or watch TV.
Nguyen Thi Xuyen from Ha Noi's Hoan Kiem District works for an insurance company. After she had her first child, she opened a flower shop to earn extra money.
"Due to economic difficulties, the company she works for had to cut costs and pay levels, forcing me to open the shop to help support my family. In addition, my husband earns only VND3 million (US$143) per month," said Xuyen.
"But I first had to spend many hours learning how to arrange flowers and the various styles in different countries so that I could satisfy customers. I also had to seek flower sellers in production areas such as Da Lat so that I buy wholesale."
After work, despite being tired, I have to look after my child and sell flowers until late at night. Fortunately, I make an extra VND4 or 5 million ($190-240) a month, so my family is now OK," said Xuyen.
She said when she was young, she supported her mother doing such things as husking peanuts to earn extra.
"I never forget. My mother and I had to work until midnight. Although we worked very hard, we only earned a few hao (small change in the 1970s). There was only enough to buy about 1kg of rice then," said Xuyen.
Another hard pressed woman, Bui Thu An, works for a newspaper in Ha Noi's Hoan Kiem District, but she has had to open an on-line shop to sell clothes.
"First I had to find sources for clothes and how to display or ship them. Now that I am on-line, I have to stay open 24 hours, answer phone calls and consult customers.
"The job needs patience to actively attract and please customers. Thanks to help from my younger sister during peak hours, I can earn the extra I need to support my family," said An.
Another woman, Tran Thi Oanh, who works with an advertising company, said despite her low monthly salary, her family had enough because she had opened a coffee shop. She said the job called for hard work and early starts to prepare for her two assistants before she went to her main job.
But Oanh said she had difficulty in recruiting an employee who was hard working and truthful. Oanh said she had to dismiss several lazy helpers. "Despite all this, my extra job now runs well and brings in more and more money," Oanh said, adding that she was happy to own a place that provided her with a second stable income.
Oanh said she was so busy that she did not have time to visit her parents and parents-in-law, or her friends. "At first, my husband helped with the home work, but later he became angry because we did not have time to go together at weekends as before," said Oanh.
Even professionals can feel the pinch. Dr Duong Minh Nguyet at Bach Mai Hospital can earn an extra living by opening a consulting room at home and write newspaper articles.
Nguyet said she had to ask her family for help.
"I tell them clearly about my work and my health. They say they are happy to share the load. My husband always says I should place importance my health first before doing these things," said Nguyet.
Social psychology worker Nguyen Trung Hoa from the Ha Noi Centre for Family Planning and Social Issues, said Vietnamese women traditionally were responsible for supporting their families.
During the war, the Government launched the "three responsibilities" movement in which Vietnamese women assumed responsibility for domestic work, economic production and fighting in the men's place when necessary.
Despite the fierce war and hardships, they fulfilled their tasks and contributed to national victory. Now many women not only support their families, but also are owners of big companies, said Hoa.
Hoa suggested men give more support to their wives to accomplish work and domestic chores. — VNS