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Official Gazette

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Gender gap remains despite strides

Updated: 10:47’ - 25/03/2010

In Vietnam, women make up 46.6% of the workforce. However, most women work in the informal sector which is not covered by social protection. Furthermore, as more than half of working women are unpaid family workers they receive no direct income. Those women who are paid still receive only around 87% of average male wages.

These figures are released in the Asia-Pacific Human Development Report on Gender launched in Hanoi early this month by the United Nations Development Program in Vietnam.

Although Vietnam has made significant strides towards achieving gender equality, gender gaps remain, says the Report, which focuses on three key areas - economic power, political decision-making and legal rights - to analyze what holds women back, and how policies and attitudes can be changed to foster a climb toward gender equality.

Vietnam is an acknowledged leader in the region in promoting gender equality but more still needs to be done to bring about gender equality between Vietnamese men and women, said UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra.

The country has seen significant improvements in the enrollment of girls in school. The rate of participation at primary and secondary levels is close to equal with girls accounting for 47% of primary and secondary students. Female literacy rates are close to that of men, at 91.3% for women compared to 95.8% for men.

However, among the poor, and in some specific regions, a gender gap remains with girls less likely to be in school in the poorest 20% of all Vietnamese households and among northern mountain ethnic communities.

Gender inequality is also seen even before children are born, said Hendra, pointing to the fact that more families are practicing sex selection. The sex ratio at birth is currently 112 boys to 100 girls nationally, up from 110 to 100 in 2006. The rate is even much higher in some regions, up to 120 boys per 100 girls in the Northeast of Vietnam. 

In terms of economic power, women in Vietnam have very high rates of economic participation, making up 46.6% of the workforce, but they are concentrated in vulnerable (or informal) employment with 78% of women being either self-employed or unpaid family workers, according to a 2009 survey by the Central Steering Committee for Population and Housing. Both self-employed and unpaid family work is vulnerable because workers typically do not receive any protection or benefits. In addition, as unpaid family workers receive no earnings for the work they perform, more than half of working women in Vietnam receive no direct income.

Women work longer hours, but still receive around 87% of average male wages. Their contribution to the family is not matched by an equal say in household decision-making or equal ownership and control over assets such as land, businesses or large assets, Hendra pointed out.

Men are seen as the head of the household, and key assets such as house, agricultural land, business, vehicles, e.g., cars and motorbikes, are more likely to be in men’s names than held jointly or by women alone, particularly in rural areas. Men typically make the decisions about larger scale purchases, while women are responsible for small purchases and day-to-day spending, the UNICEF First Nationwide Family Survey finds.

Although the 2003 Land Law provides that land use rights certificates should be in the names of both men and women, around two-thirds of existing certificates are still in men’s names only, the UNICEF survey reports.

In terms of political decision-making, one out of four National Assembly deputies is a woman - the highest participation rate among ASEAN countries. However, women are not well represented in senior decision-making in the Party or the administration: only one Minister and five of 82 Vice-Ministers are women, Hendra said, adding that while women’s representation in local decision-making has improved, they are rarely in top leadership positions and are often not well represented in local planning processes.

Violence against women remains a major issue. While national data on incidence of all forms of violence against women in Vietnam are not yet available, a recent study by the Supreme People’s Court suggests that 21% of couples experience domestic violence. Women and children are most often the victims of serious violence. Almost two-thirds of women believe it is acceptable for men to beat their wives, the General Statistics Office 2006 Survey finds.

The silence and stigma that surround violence against women is so strong that many women are afraid to speak out, or leave a violent relationship.  Some forms of violence, such as rape in marriage and sexual harassment, are still not openly discussed, Hendra said.  

Women also face specific barriers to accessing the justice system in Vietnam. Almost all domestic violence survivors report that they do not seek support from police or the court system. Usually survivors only access legal or court services when the abuse is very serious or they are seeking a divorce. Other crimes of violence, e.g., rape, also remain under-reported.

Vietnam ratified the Convention for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1982. Gender equality is enshrined in the Constitution which states (Article 63) that “Male and female citizens have equal rights in all respects, including political, economic, cultural, social and the family. All acts of discrimination against women and all acts damaging women’s dignity are prohibited. Men and women receive equal pay for equal work. Female workers are entitled to maternity benefits. Women who are state employees and wage-earners are entitled to pre-natal and post-natal paid leave during which they may receive all their wages and allowances as determined by law.”  

The country has issued a host of legal documents to promote gender equality. It passed the Law on Gender Equality in 2006 and the Law Against Domestic Violence in 2007. Equal rights for men and women including the right to work, to equal wages, property rights, inheritance and the right to choose a marriage partner or divorce are guaranteed under various laws including the Labor Code, the Land Law, and the Marriage and Family Law.

To ensure law enforcement and gender equality, the Government also promulgated three important decrees. Decree No. 70 of June 4, 2008, detailing the Law on Gender Equality, which specifies responsibilities of ministries, ministerial-level agencies and provincial-level People’s Committees in implementing the law and providing specific guidance on gender equality.

Decree No. 48 of May 19, 2009, details measures to promote gender equality and defines responsibilities of state management agencies in incorporating gender equality in the lawmaking process, while Decree No. 55 of June 10, 2009, provides sanctioning of administrative violations in gender equality.

Last December, the Government also launched a national action program on women affairs in the industrialization and modernization period up to 2020, reflecting its commitment to eliminate gender discrimination and acknowledgement of women’s contribution to the country’s socio-economic development and poverty reduction.

The program seeks to increase coordination among ministries, branches and levels in building women’s capacity, promoting women’s advancement and enhancing state management of gender equality.

It introduces activities to be carried out by ministries and branches at all levels to improve access to higher education for women and equip them with professional skills and knowledge for better access to the labor market. The program stresses the necessity to build capacity for state officials and increase their responsibilities for gender equality. It suggests pilot models on gender equality in some localities, promotes education and communication about the Law against Domestic Violence, and sets gender-sensitive indicators to evaluate gender equality in such areas as education and training. (VLLF)-

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