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Textbooks and TV commercials in Vietnam reinforce gender stereotypes

An image from an advertisement clip for a seasoning powder featuring a woman giving tips to another on cooking. Experts say TV commercials and textbooks are hindrances to achieving gender equality in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government has explicitly stated its intention to reduce gender disparity, but it is implicitly enforced by daily life in the country.

Experts have highlighted textbooks and commercials as examples of the reinforcing of gender stereotyping that happens all the time in the country.

"Textbooks clearly display gender disparity both in texts and pictures," Tran Vu Quang of the Southern Institute for Sustainable Development (SISD) told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"I think it originates from the prejudices of textbook writers. They might not have deliberately aimed to promote gender disparity," he said.

A recent survey on the content of textbooks used in the country found convincing evidence of gender stereotypes and bias.

The survey, "Exploring the Gender Dimension in Textbooks of Vietnam's National Education System" covered 76 textbooks in six subjects. It found male characters account for 69 percent in text content and 58 percent in illustrations.

"The more students reach higher grades and move near an adult social life, the more they get a gender image of unbalanced proportions," the survey found.

The survey, conducted by SISD, was funded by the German research foundation Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Quang, who led the survey team, said evidence of gender stereotypes and bias were found even in textbooks that are supposed to be unbiased, like mathematics.

Vu Thi Thu Thanh, a survey team member, said the survey only looked into the presence of male and females in textbooks and their roles depicted.

"Considering such evidence from a different angle, like biological functions or Oriental culture, could provoke controversies," she said.

The survey found that the world of women is portrayed as being confined to the familial dimension as mothers, easily outnumbering the portrayal of men in the role of fathers.

Depictions of the role of the wife also outnumbered that of the husband, as did the role of grandmother compared to that of the grandfather, it said.

Unbiased ads

The gender disparity contained in television advertisements has attracted the attention of several National Assembly members who voiced their concerns earlier this month.

"Advertisements by themselves might not show gender disparity but their messages and images could strongly impact efforts to achieve gender equality," deputy Le Thi Nguyet of Vinh Phuc Province told the parliament session on November 14 that discussed the draft law on advertising.

She said commercials usually feature women using home products like floor cleaners, dish washing soaps, electric cookers, spices, fridges and washing machines, while men appeared in most ads involving tonic drinks, motorbikes, cars, televisions and cell phones.

"Thus, these ads somehow erroneously convey the message that women should be a housewife to serve their husband and children," she said.

Deputy Nguyen Van Minh of Ho Chi Minh City proposed that those drafting the law include a ban against advertisements that could lead to gender discrimination of any sort.

In December last year, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved a national strategic plan on gender equality that would increase women's representation in the government, academia and top echelons of business establishments.

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 to go to women.

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 by 2020.

Khuat Hai Oanh, a Hanoi-based woman rights expert, said Vietnam will have to overcome many challenges to achieve the target of gender equality.

"There are still many campaigns needed to encourage women to be "˜gioi viec nuoc, dam viec nha' (Good at both state affairs and house chores). The traditional image of women has not changed in several fields," she told Thanh Nien Weekly.

"Generally, Vietnamese women have consolidated their position in family and society. But there are many more things to do to achieve gender equality," she said.

"Several reports have found that more boys pursue higher education than girls. The education ministry and the media should also address their responsibilities for removing gender inequality."

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