Feminism is a positive yet controversial movement which is sweeping the world at great speed in these recent years, including Vietnam. In celebration of woman and womanhood, let’s take a look at how the roles of Vietnamese women and feminism in Vietnam has changed over time.
The Traditional Vietnamese Women
Being a country of feudalism for over a thousand years, Vietnam’s culture was affected considerably by Confucian patriarchal values. For that reason, Vietnamese women in the past lacked many of their legitimate rights, and their lives were limited by the rule of “Three Subordinations, Four Virtues” (Tam Tong, Tu Duc). From a young age, they were taught to follow their father, and grow up to follow their husband after marriage, and then follow their sons when they became widows (Tai gia tong phu, xuat gia tong phu, phu tu tong tu). To put it simply, they could barely decide anything for themselves, whether it was household expenses or procreation, and they have little to no rights for education. Moreover, women’s value was judged through their domestic skills, beauty, speech and moral conduct (cong, dung, ngon, hanh). If they lacked any of the above-mentioned virtues, they would be deemed as unworthy. That is to say, Vietnamese women’s role was secondary in the past society.
However, despite the persistent sexism in society, Vietnam actually had significant examples of women’s contribution, especially in wars. There were Lady Trieu (3rd century AD) – who is among the most respected national heroes, and the Trung sisters (AD 40) with their famous quote: “When the enemy is at the gate, even the woman goes out fighting.” (Giac den nha, dan ba cung danh.)
Vietnamese women were supposed to only take care of the house
Feminism in Vietnam: Now and Then
1. What is feminism?
According to Forbes, feminism is defined as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” Throughout history, Vietnamese women have experienced quite a dramatic change in their status.
Feminism definition by www.merriam-webster.com
2. Feminism in Vietnam: Then
At first, feminism in Vietnam were sparks of change led by bold, progressive women. The first change probably dated back to the late 18th century, when the works of poetess Ho Xuan Huong, which mainly spoke against the suppression of womanhood, gained great popularity despite its conflict with the ongoing Confucian patriarchal values. Continuing Ho Xuan Huong’s spirit, in 1918, Women’s Bell (Nu Gioi Chung) – the first Vietnamese women’s newspaper published its first issue, with Suong Nguyet Anh as its editor in chief. She was also the first Vietnamese woman to claim the position.
The major change came in 1986 when the renovation policy “Doi Moi” gave women a better stance in the labor force. Though there were issues regarding women’s participation in leadership positions, and the male domination in high-paid, non-manual jobs, in the late 1900s, women accounted for around 52% of the total population and workforce.
Suong Nguyet Anh – the first Vietnamese female editor in chief
3. Feminism in Vietnam: Now
Since then, feminism in Vietnam has made a great leap and the women’s status has improved significantly. They are now an integral part of the workforce, holding executive positions at a variety of sectors. In politics, during the 13th National Assembly for the 2011 – 2016 tenure, women held 24.2% (ranked 43/143 countries worldwide). In 2015, 24.8% of enterprises were women-owned, 48% had female managers. Many laws that benefited gender equality have also been issued, such as the Law on Gender Equality in 2006, the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention in 2007, the National Strategy on Gender Equality. Women have had better access to education as well with a positive literacy rate at 96% and 38% out of all Master Degree holders.
Advance in society’s consciousness on gender equality has also brought along greater freedom for women in regards to their speech and choices. Girls, and especially millennials, aren’t afraid of being single anymore but instead devote their time and effort to work, studies, and their own hobbies. Men and women share equal responsibilities in taking care of the family, which is a good sign for reducing women’s burden on household chores.
In contrast with the past, 21st-century Vietnamese men don’t view their wives as “housekeeping partners” anymore. Most have understood the idea of gender equality on different levels and male chauvinism is nearly nonexistent. Though the movement advocating for women’s equal rights has just started gaining popularity in recent years, a good part of NGOs in Vietnam and student organizations have plenty of enthusiastic male participants or organizers.
Vietnamese women are a powerful force driving the country’s economy
Indeed there are obstacles in the path to absolute equality; for example the fact that feminism is lacking among ethnic groups, insufficient women’s participation in the IT sectors, people shying away from conversations about gender… However, we have all hopes to believe that feminism in Vietnam is in the right way and with adequate efforts, we can create the ideal equality for Vietnamese women.
An organization you can follow for updates: Vietnam Organization for Gender Equality (VOGE)
Conclusion on Feminism in Vietnam
As deep-rooted as it may seem, male chauvinism has never been of much importance to the Vietnamese culture, but rather the value of family life and gender role that characterized man and woman. Nevertheless, as we move further into the 21st century, social values have evolved and given Vietnamese women more of what they deserve. That is why to fully understand feminism in Vietnam, you’ve got to understand the culture behind it.
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