Hoang Thi Thu Trang, Vietnam
Through the ages, women’s role in the family and society has changed dramatically. In fact, women in Vietnam are playing a more and more important role in both family and society even though in the past they were under-appreciated. Their ambition was to become good wives and mothers. They were happy to bring up a healthy family and see their children well placed in life. They looked after many household chores as it was considered natural. They looked the weaker sex and they were supposed to be protected by men.
Nowadays, things have changed. Women have proved that they can do everything which men can. Now women have careers, their status has improved, and we can find women in factories and offices working alongside men. Today, women take part in every field -- economics, education, defense, technology and even politics. In many areas, women are better managers since they are adept at people skills. They are also more equipped to handle difficult situations, being more patient than men. Moreover, women have also got the confidence to stand out among men.
In modern society, a homemaker is recognized as a valued member of society as much as say a stockbroker. Nowadays, we often read about successful women in newspapers. They have made achievements in sports, economics, science and technology, and even in politics: Madam Truong My Hoa – Vice State President; Madam Ha Thi Khiet – member of the Central Party Committee, President of Vietnam Women Union, and President of the National Committee for the Advancement of Women. They have joined hands to fight poverty. They are remarkable, representing the best of Vietnamese women. At home they are good wives and excellent mothers. They not only take care of their family, serve meals, wash clothes and tidy up their house but also offer moral support to their husband and children. That is an important role of woman, as they now enjoy more opportunities than before. They can earn money for their family and help others in our society.
In general, the role of women in Vietnam and all over the world has changed for the better. They have more status in society and more accomplishments; no longer are they treated unequally.
It is clear that Vietnamese women’s roles have improved but they still face a lot of challenges, specifically during the country’s international integration. Admittedly, one of the biggest challenges for women including those in leadership positions, or those who wish to become leaders in VN as well as all over the world, remains a gender bias in the society. Deep in many Vietnamese men’s mind, the right place for women is in the home, and women must be the ones to take care of their families. According to most men, women’s natural role is to serve, so that men can achieve their career ambitions. Also, some women still believe that it would be suitable and better for them to undertake just a normal job and take up as few responsibilities as possible, while the tougher tasks should be undertaken by men.
Many people still undervalue female leaders’ participation within organizations. This has restricted women’s opportunities to become leaders. Due to common prejudice, females in leadership positions have less support, especially in politics and decision-making. Women make up 52 per cent of the workforce in Vietnam. However, the percentage of women representatives in People’s Councils in 61 provinces ranges from only about 7 to 33 per cent and in People’s Committees, women’s participation constitutes only about 6 to 10 per cent. Vietnamese women continue to face barriers to gain equal access to education, employment opportunities, and aspects of production such as land, credit, wages and conditions of paid employment.
Retirement is another issue as women are compelled to retire five years earlier than men, restricting women from making use of their experience and professional skills as well as shortening their leadership period.
In addition to being an employee, a female leader is also a mother, a wife, and a housekeeper in the family. Each of these roles, if done well, is time consuming. The demand for women’s labor in domestic roles hinders women from taking part in professional activities and getting promotions. Women have to do housework and give their husband priority to further study and participate in social activities. To fulfill leadership tasks, some female leaders must forego their family role. This has sometimes created a conflict of interest as educated and competent women find it difficult to choose between their professional career and family. The most common concern of women in leadership or those who move into leadership in Vietnam is housework. They wish to be free of some of the burden by sharing household work with their husband, just as they now share the traditional male role of earning money for the family. When asked by Women’s World Magazine, the majority of young women said that the ideal man should be a good father and husband who loves, understands and actively supports his wife.
The physical aspect is also a disadvantage for women to perform well or move to leadership positions. While similar in some ways, male and female leaders are very different in many others. The leadership skills that women exhibit are often not as bold and decisive as those of their male colleagues in practical performance. Tackling big tasks, men seem to be more confident than women and therefore more successful. Furthermore, since most Vietnamese women nowadays work in full-time paid jobs outside the home, they have to sacrifice their sleep, sometimes even their health, to complete extra duties after work to fulfill their domestic tasks. This leaves them with little free time to relax or take further study, in turn making them more tired and prone to illness.
During the last 17 years of the doimoi (renovation) process in Vietnam, women have proved their capabilities and upheld the spirit of patriotism and solidarity. They have promoted creativity in study, production and work, achieved brilliant results in all socioeconomic and political fields, and succeeded in leadership positions. Therefore, it is the responsibility of individual organizations and government to raise public awareness on the challenges facing females. Society should give them more opportunities for access to education, employment, entertainment, equal treatment, and involvement as leaders in business, government and civil society.
Media is a useful tool to raise awareness about the challenges confronting women today, and to change people’s attitude. So far, in our programs, we have covered almost all aspects of the issue as well as the government’s policies. What we should further improve or include in our programs is the voice of women in specific cases. Here I mean programs should be more open so that women can directly involve or participate in them. To date, one of the most successful program models is a series of radio dramas for HIV/AIDS carriers. These programs, in fact, have attracted hundreds of people especially women exposed to the disease as they consider it a forum to share their experiences and feelings. The success of this radio program makes us realize that once a program is open for people to take part in, it will become not only useful but also appealing to the audience.
Ms Hoang Thi Thu Trang is deputy head of the English News Division of VTV4 Channel, VTV International, Vietnam