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Gender parity still a distant goal   2010-03-13 - Thanh Nien

Vietnamese women plant rice in a field in the northern province of Bac Ninh.

Women in Vietnam and the Asia-Pacific region are suffering from the world’s lowest rates of political representation and employment; and they often don’t have much of a say in family matters, according to a report released Tuesday in Hanoi.

The 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) found discrimination and neglect are threatening women’s well-being in the region despite its economic transformation in recent decades.

“Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific” said that women in Vietnam account for 46.6 percent of the workforce.

But most work in the informal sector and don’t benefit from social protection. Men are more likely to be in paid employment at 23.6 percent compared to 21.4 percent among women. The world average for women is 53 percent.

The sex disparity in paid workforce exists in every country in the region.

Women “consistently end up with some of the worst, most poorly-paid jobs – often the ones that men don’t want to do, or that are assumed to be ‘naturally’ suited to women,” the report found.

Vietnam’s Constitution, Labor Code, and Law on Gender Equality all guarantee equal pay for equal work. But women here still receive only 87-88 percent of the money that men do for the same jobs on average, according to the report. The regional range is 54 to 90 percent.

Setsuko Yamazaki, UNDP Country Director, said that it’s time Vietnam shifted attention from ‘growth’ to ‘quality of growth’ or quality of life.

Vietnam will soon achieve middle-income country status based on the GDP per capita income threshold of US$1,000, Yamazaki said. So “it is time to have a long-term vision of quality and sustainability of growth in the national development strategy discussions.”

UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra also said that “Vietnam is an acknowledged leader in the region in promoting gender equality but more still needs to be done to bring about gender equality between Vietnamese men and women.”

Vietnam ranked 71 out of 134 countries on the 2009 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.

Neglect at home and office

The report raises concern over a growing problem of “missing girls” since girl fetuses are presumably aborted and women die from health and nutrition neglect. East Asia was reported to have the highest sex ratio imbalance at birth – 119 boys are born for every 100 girls.

In Vietnam, the ratio in 2008 was 112 to 100, up from 110 to 100 in 2006. The report forecasts that Vietnam will have a surplus male population from 2025 if the trend continues.

Hendra said that gender inequality “strikes even before children are born.”

Small-scale studies showed that parents in Vietnam are less likely to invest in healthcare for their girls. A 2008 study found that 61 percent of boys compared to 39 percent of girls under five years old were admitted to three national hospitals in 2006-2007.

Domestic violence also persists. The report cites a recent study in Vietnam which suggested that more than one fifth of couples experience domestic violence. The mindset is a problem as almost two thirds of Vietnamese women see it as “normal and acceptable” for men to beat their wives.

The report calculated that domestic violence extracts billions of dollars from national economies, partly through health burdens.

In political offices, Asia-Pacific women hold fewer legislative seats than anywhere else in the world except in the Arab region, according to the report.

Some 25.8 percent of Vietnam’s National Assembly members are women, down from 27.3 percent in the previous 2002-2007 term, and that’s already the highest rate among ASEAN countries. But Vietnamese women do not enjoy important roles in decision-making as only one minister and five of 82 vice ministers are women.

Hendra called for enforcing legal frameworks that support gender equality and women’s empowerment, and for everyone to speak out against “the silence and stigma that surround violence against women.”

The first annual Human Development Report was released in 1990.



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