In the contemporary South-East Asian economies, development have accelerated significantly during the past decade but remains stifled by a single factor — the lack of progress on gender equality.
Undeniably, many of these countries have made some advancement towards gender equality but improvements to guarantee equal rights and opportunities for men and women still remain a concern.
One of the countries which lags behind some of its major Asian rivals in the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Inequality Index is Vietnam.
Its current ranking of 127 out of 186 countries is poor when compared to Philippines (114) and Thailand (103). Vietnam’s development trajectory is very much similar to that of China’s for both ideological and geopolitical reasons.
The call for wider women’s rights began at a later stage because of the growing demand for other rights such as political freedom and economic reforms.
In this global economic slowdown, Vietnam’s future success will rely on its ability to engage talent within its population — and gender equality must remain on the political agenda if the country is to become a modern and industrialized nation.
This means providing women and men equal access to education, health, and the freedom to choose opportunities to improve their lives. It means giving women equal status as men in society. It means equal and fair treatment. It means acting against discriminatory practices.
Currently Vietnam’s progress in enrolment rates in primary, secondary and tertiary education has been significant. But there remains a gap between females’ education and the opportunities they encounter in the job market.
Gender differences in terms of participation and access to resources are widening. Improvements need to be made so that women can fulfill their potential and take up jobs based on their education and skills.
The number of female legislators, senior officials and managers has increased in the past two decades. Vietnam’s affirmative action and quota system has helped in increasing the number of Parliamentary seats held by women; from 17 in 1990 to 25 in 2012.
Improving health care is also vital. The mortality rate for women is still very high, with many more female deaths each year than male, due to pregnancy related complications.
Improvements have been made, with more women receiving prenatal care and births being increasingly attended to by qualified health-care professionals, but universality is still far off.
Health issues are coupled with regional inequalities in terms of health-care access. In areas like Northeastern or Northwestern part of Vietnam, extra efforts are needed for better public service delivery because of their geographical locations.
Developing an efficient prenatal and postnatal care network can be one of the solutions to limit maternal and child deaths.
The right of women to take control of their own bodies and future is also increasing, with contraceptive use increasing from 57 per cent in 1990 to 77 percent in 2011, but large-scale coverage is still a long way off.
Considering employment, substantial gender inequalities persist in terms of income distribution, access to resources, credit opportunities and occupation. Women are more concentrated than men in informal, subsistence and vulnerable employment.
Vietnamese women are disproportionately involved in the informal economy, where they tend to be employed mostly as domestic servants. The 2011 World Bank data shows about 63 per cent of women fall in vulnerable employment.
Women in these types of informal roles are vulnerable to poverty or dangerous situations, as they do not benefit from any legal or health protections. Greater efforts still need to be made to guarantee protection for these workers.
Vietnam has enacted laws combating violence against women, but these are not necessarily implemented throughout the country, since the sources of this violence — poverty, lack of education, harmful gender stereotypes and impunity for violence against women — have not disappeared.
Ensuring that women know their legal rights, Vietnam’s vision should focus on legal enforcement of gender anti-discrimination schemes in order to guarantee effective protection. Furthermore, women are still discriminated against in a marriage code that allows for polygamy and by-laws that limit their ability to exercise their rights.
In short, to ensure greater entitlements for women, a wider engagement of the people is essential in achieving human and economic development.
For Vietnam to attain the flight of the wild geese paradigm, equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities should be given to everyone, regardless of gender. The socially determined roles of men and women needs to be changed and such changes would benefit not only women, but also society as a whole.