Rigid traditional attitudes that confine women to the exclusive role of domestic caregivers while freeing men for everything else are the basic cause of gender inequality in Vietnam, a new study finds.
Speaking at a conference to announce the findings of the study about social factors determining gender inequality in Vietnam, the director of Hanoi-based Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) shared a telling anecdote.
When asked what tasks his wife do at home, Khuat Thu Hong recalled, a man can give a long list. When asked, “What do you do then?” the man responds, “I’m the pillar of the family."
According to the study, which surveyed about 8,500 women and men countrywide from 2013-2015, women undertake 12 out of 14 domestic tasks, ranging from cooking to caring for senior or sick family members. Men primarily do one or two -- maintaining and fixing household appliances, and representing the family in contacting local authorities.
To achieve gender inequality, the study suggests women must be freed from their endless domestic tasks without sacrificing families’ well-being.
The study has found that it is partly the prescribed caregiver role internalized by women themselves that prevents women from matching men in education and employment.
Women are more likely than men to have a lower secondary school education or lower, while less likely to have upper secondary school or higher levels of education. Young women are expected to sacrifice their formal education for the benefit of their male siblings and tend to give up their formal education to perform family caregiver roles.
More than 20 percent of the women surveyed did not work because of household chores, compared to only 2 percent of men.
Women are also less likely to get promoted or given a chance to improve their professional qualifications, and the number of women promoted to a higher position is less than half the number among men.
In property ownership, an important factor of bargaining power, it is again the men who often own the most valuable property, including production facilities and vehicles. Almost 50 percent of women do not own residential land and only one fifth of women own land or houses, while more than half of men are sole owners of land or houses.
When it comes to sexual relationships and domestic violence, married women are far less likely to initiate sexual activities and are less satisfied with their sexual activities than men. Double standards tolerating men’s freedom in sexual activities while blaming women for the same conduct are still prevalent among 50 percent of the respondents.
Women also report significantly greater levels of all forms of domestic violence than men, with almost 99 percent of domestic violence cases sinking into silence, reflecting the belief that domestic violence is a private matter and should be kept behind closed doors. Many also still believe it is natural for men to commit violence because they have the right.
Women’s care-giving role and the common assumption that men are better as leaders also limit women’s abilities to take part in social-political activities. The percentage of women who are party members is less than half that of men, and of women working in local government is only one third that of men.
In general, there is little awareness of gender-related laws such as the Law on Gender Equality, the Law on Marriage and Family, and the Law on Control and Prevention of Domestic Violence, with only up to 6 percent reporting they have a clear understanding of the laws.
With these and other findings, the study suggests women and men seek alternatives to traditional gender roles; existing laws that promote gender equality be enforced; and key social services such as childcare and elder care be improved to reduce the burden of housework on women.
Hoang Tu Anh, director of Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, has cautioned against gender-insensitive media coverage that perpetuates sexist views about women at the conference announcing the study’s findings. Photo: Thuy Linh
Hong said what is happening in Vietnam and to Vietnamese women and men is the tension between positive government policies and long-lasting patriarchal Confucian values, between ideals and practice.
Her observation is reflected for instance by one finding in which though most people surveyed hold relatively equitable gender attitudes on the value and roles of sons and daughters, in reality there are still couples who apply common scientific and medical methods to have a male child.
Hoang Tu Anh, director of Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population, particularly emphasized the media’s role in promoting gender equality.
She cautioned about the negative influence of tabloid media coverage which often portray women as commodities that can be bought, mindlessly repeat and perpetuate sexist views.
In response to another observation that women’s domestic labor should be included in GDP calculation, ISDS’s Hong said this is an issue that is being discussed a lot worldwide, but there is yet any comprehensive research about the subject.
Some efforts have been made to quantify women’s domestic labor in Vietnam, and amounts paid to professional domestic workers can be used to estimate the monetary value of women’s domestic work.
Yet, Hong said, there remain things that cannot be calculated in monetary terms, such as all the love that a woman puts into her work.
The study’s recommendations indeed include raising public awareness about existing laws, such as the 2014 Law of Marriage and Family, which regards housework done in the family by a spouse as income-generating labor.
The study also recommends conducting more research on the other side of gender issues -- men and masculinity -- to help develop a comprehensive picture, since most efforts have been oriented towards women.
We assume that men have no problems, but they do, Hong said. Most victims of traffic accidents or street violence, for instance, are men, she said.
ISDS’s study was sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Oxform Novib and the Australian Government.