Give the woman her due

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 From left: Nguyen Thi Hong, vice chairwoman of Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee (2nd), Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam, head of the Propaganda and Education Department at the city Party unit (3rd), Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, vice secretary of the city Party unit (5th). Vietnam aims to raise the number of female government leaders by 2020.

Vietnam hopes to make significant headway toward achieving gender equality over the next decade with a new national plan to increase women's representation in the government, academia and top echelons of business establishments.

A decision signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week to approve the national strategic plan on gender equality cites it as an "important component" of the country's socio-economic development and one of the "basic elements" in raising the quality of life.

The plan aims to ensure equal opportunity, participation and benefits in all areas including politics, economy, culture and society.

It targets that by 2020, women account for more than 35 percent of members in the National Assembly and local legislative agencies; and that 95 percent of ministries and government agencies should have women in senior positions.

The plan also seeks to provide increased access to the labor market for poor women from rural areas and ethnic minority groups, and to have at least 40 percent of new jobs every year go to women.

The number of women in leading positions at business establishments is expected to exceed 35 percent, and at least 50 percent of rural women below 45 years old would receive vocational training in 2020.

By then, all women from poor rural areas and ethnic groups will be able to access loans at preferential interest rates.

No stereotyping

The plan aims to reduce the number of cultural and information products that contain gender stereotypes by 80 percent and to try and eliminate all gender stereotypes from school books by 2020.

All the radio and television stations will be required to broadcast programs that raise public awareness of gender equality.

The plan also mentions the goal of keeping the gender ratio at birth between boys and girls at no more than 115/100 in 2020.

It seeks to reduce the time women have to spend doing housework, provide more legal services as well as physical protection for victims of domestic violence.

The government will improve gender-related policies and laws including the Gender Equality Law, fixing aspects of current regulations that have disadvantaged women, and grant more scholarships exclusively for girls and women.

Gender equality issues will be included in the curricula at primary, secondary and high school levels, as well as in management courses for government personnel, the plan says.

It also aims to increase awareness among men about the importance of safe sex and equip them with information about of healthy pregnancies and related issues. Men will also be encouraged to participate in gender equality activities including joining "equal family clubs."

RAMPANT VIOLENCE

According to a study jointly released in late November by the United Nations and the Vietnamese government, one in three Vietnamese women reported suffering physical or sexual violence from their husbands at some point in their lives.

Many women considered the violence "normal" and something they should tolerate to maintain family harmony. A sense of shame also motivated them to stay silent about abuse.

The study covered 4,838 women between 18 and 60 years old.

But headway is being made because of concerted efforts by the government, civil society, the United Nations and other agencies to end gender-based violence.

The UN report tells the story of a 29-year-old woman called Hoa in the northern province of Phu Tho whose alcoholic husband beat her regulary. Frightened, she had her parents talk to him.

After a brief lull, the violence began again, and got worse. Once he locked her up in the house for ten days, and when she was released, she ran away.

She sought help from the Women's Union, who directed her to the district hospital where she received counseling under a pilot project funded by the UN and the Swiss Development Cooperation.

Hoa was later referred to a safe place, where she lived for six months with her daughter, received training in life skills, women's health and ways to protect herself from violence.

"I have also learned about the Law on Domestic Violence and realized that there are mechanisms to protect victims of violence." Hoa said she was not frightened anymore and that she would work to help other women in similar situations.

As part of the UN project, domestic violence prevention standing committees, consisting of staff from local People's Committees, relevant mass organizations, health centers, the police and other agencies, meet regularly and monitor cases in the community to support survivors and make sure they can enjoy a life free of violence.

They are keeping a watch on Hoa who has since returned to her hometown where she plans to reopen the cosmetics shop she used to run when she was married a shop that her husband destroyed after she divorced him.

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