Battle for gender equality a measure of social development

Le Thi Quy, director of the Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies and a driving force behind Viet Nam’s gender equality law, spoke with Phu nu Thu do (Capital Women) newspaper about the empowerment of women in society.

Why is the battle against gender inequality urgent?

There are three kinds of inequalities in society. They are inequalities of race, class and gender. But gender inequality is especially significant in a developing society.

The two others cannot be as deep as gender; they centre mostly around economic conflicts. Gender inequality includes wider conflicts that involve society and family.

These deeper conflicts, involving feelings, rights and responsibilities between family members, cannot be solved with arms. Women must face more of a burden than men in these cases.

Everyone recognises that gender inequality hurts development. Such inequality needs to be stamped out.

But many people think the battle for gender equality will make women forget their so-called "heavenly mandate" of being a wife and mother. This will result, some claim, in an unstable society.

There are misunderstandings between the heavenly mandate and the social mandate of women. Women have the heavenly mandates of pregnancy, birth and nursing while men have the heavenly mandate of providing sperm for impregnation.

The opinion that the women should cook, do housework and care for children while men earn money and provide for the family are not heavenly mandates. (But because of these preconceptions) the labour of women, especially unpaid housework which is worth many billion dollars per year, is being forgotten.

What challenges are there in the battle for gender equality?

People always say that mothers are the first teachers. But if those teachers must work 12 to 16 hours per day, how can they find time to study and educate their children?

Some of the housework should be shared between men and women. An unequal division of household chores can lead to a substandard education for children.

The Gender Equality Law has been approved by the National Assembly. In your opinion, are there some optimistic signs of gender equality in Viet Nam?

Gender equality is a measure of social development. The law follows social tendencies. However, we are under the influence of Confucianism. (The philosophy says women must obey their fathers, their husbands and their sons). The inequality is deeply ingrained in our traditional habits and customs, controlling attitude and behaviour towards women.

We see many female (government) ministers and National Assembly members but we hardly find any women as village heads because in smaller areas, the roles of women are less prominent.

There are still preferences for male in our society. For example, some parents abort their female fetus after utra-sounds, which leads to a gender imbalance. In some offices, women are not given promotions after they turn 50, while men are given until 55, making it harder for women to climb the corporate ladder.

The law will be a tool to warn those people. However, the law can o­nly be successful if it is understood and propagated, something that needs to happen in remote areas.

UNICEF data reveals that women account for half the world’s population, two thirds of its labourers and produce more than half its food. But two thirds are also illiterate. Women make up 70 per cent of the planet’s poor and own just 10 per cent of its property.