Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women's Day - A few thoughts about women and equality in Vietnam

I can't say I have seen equality here amongst the poor, the less poor or the wealthy, but I have seen the beginning of it.

I have some Vietnamese friends who are university educated, speak excellent English, wear modern clothes, work with westerners, and have attended conferences in English overseas, and yet in some ways they haven't changed much.

The young seem very modern, cool and many are very well-dressed with all the mod cons. But when they marry most of them follow the traditions their parents followed; they just don't see that they do.

After marriage they usually have their first child within the first year and a half of marriage. Some put their foot down as they want to wait, but they have to bear incredible pressure from both parents and parents-in-law and will usually give in after two years.

The women work hard here and don't just support their own immediate family, but will often help support and help out their parents-in-law. Before heading off to work and leaving the children with her mother, she may well have to go to her mother-in-laws home, wash her clothes, clean her house, do the shopping and cook two meals for her. When she finishes work she might then cook another meal for her and sweep through her house. Then she will pick up the children, take them home, cook a meal for her husband and clean her house. When she has time off, or before work if she works every day, she will also have to help with the rice, peanut and vegetable growing (unless she lives in a city).

Her husband most likely will have no domestic skills. Most boys have been treated like princes and have rarely done anything to help at home. Some Vietnamese men can cook as their mothers worked and if they wanted to eat they had to cook. Sometimes it was their responsibility to cook a meal for the family as their mother wasn't home until after dinner time.

The difference with the educated Vietnamese from my experience is that most of them have good incomes and less children. Most of them have more choices and do make a much stronger stand when needed than an uneducated girl. They are generally materialistic and want western-style homes and furniture. They want what we have, not realizing we haven't got it right. Some want to leave Vietnam to get away from all the traditions and expectations, but know there is no coming back unless they come back wealthy, and then share the wealth upon their return.

Taoist and Confucius traditions die slowly here. More equality will happen, but maybe not much for another generation, or more.

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