Gender in Business

They say nothing succeeds like success. It is somewhat true for those in countries where poor communities still exist and employment opportunities are a question. Struggling to find new sources of income creates encouragement in both men and women to step into new initiatives to overcome low income difficulties and succeeded in life. This is same, also in my country Vietnam. 

Vietnam began to flourish gradually after the end of war. Vietnam has always been predominant in agricultural civilization based on rice cultivation.  But due to the past war much of the agrarian economy got destroyed. Bu this was later revitalized by the governments that took over, and Vietnam’s nominal GDP reached US$135.411 billion in 2012 (IMF). According to a forecast in 2005, it is said that the Vietnamese economy will become world’s largest by 2025, being the fastest growing economy of the world.

Today it is seen that the earlier percentage of deep poverty of the population in Vietnam being $1 per day, has notably declined. It is believed that the decline is because of the equitable economic policies that aim at improving living standards and also reducing the rise in economic inequality.

As in every country, in Vietnam too together with men, women contribute to the country’s economy. There is no doubt that an increasing number of women have been entering the workforce in the past years. Due to the unemployment of women, or the difficulty in finding suitable jobs, women have entered into business – mainly self business. But the bitter fact is that no one notices and recognizes the contribution made by women towards the economy.

In Vietnam business was always considered a male dominated industry and women had to work very hard to make their presence felt. This is the same even today. There are added complications when women work in international business and often have to fight against commonly held myths about women not wanting to travel overseas because of family commitments, about women not being considered credible because of the perception of women in foreign countries, etc. If listed out the reasons and excuses given by family members, men, and even women who still follow the early customs and traditions, in stopping women from entering into business – international or local – the list will be very long.

In post-war, post-revolution Vietnam, social relations such as gender relations is seen negative. Gender issues have become a serious topic in the country, with the fast changes taking place with globalization.

“Earlier we came forward, but now again we have gone backward. I witness this during my own lifetime” says Linh Giang, a former teacher, now running a business of her own.  She continues saying, “In business, I don’t see women outwardly discriminated, but the discrimination a woman face is not only with her business community, but it is more at home with their husbands.”

Businesswomen in Vietnam are creative, active and self – confident, even amidst gender constraints. Over the last few years, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) together with the International Labour Organization (ILO) have committed themselves to the promotion of women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship. Because of the high unemployment rate in women than men, majority of women are starting their own small businesses to find means for their family.

But yet, the dominant ideologies of men hinder the women a lot. In the business community, females have to face threats from male businessmen; they face humiliation and insult just because of the fact that she is a woman. If the woman is a widow the situation is worse.

Hang Thi Thao, a poor young mother cries “ I am a helpless and no one to support me; I felt it is  better to help myself than waiting for others to help me; but because I am single, the men who own groceries prevent customers coming to my little shop; and if someone buys at my shop, that day I will have to hear abuses from the men shop keepers nearby; I am also humiliated and falsely accuse when male buyers come to my shop, many think I am also sleeping with them in the nights and making money. I am into this business because of my child. Though I have a degree in Commerce, I gave up my job because of marriage, but my husband left me for another woman, so now I have lost all.”

Though a Gender Equality Law was passed by the National Assembly of Vietnam in 2006, that became effective in 2007, still women in traditional homes of Vietnam face issues concerning gender. The law emphasizes the need to improve public awareness on Gender Equality and change attitudes in society that discriminate women. Article 12 of the Law is in relation to women entrepreneurship and specifies that women and men are equal in establishing enterprises ……………. as well as in accessing information, capital, markets, etc. But the Article does not mention on any special measures to address the gender issues faced by female entrepreneurs in the country.

Kim-Ly, 36, holds a PhD in from a British University and is a Lecturer for International Relations in a prominent University in Vietnam. Her aim is to develop her career further as an academic. She says that her family is very supportive towards her development. But they are pushing her to be married. She feels hesitant to be married. “I want a man who will respect me and my career; I have met many Vietnamese educated men, but their education does not change their narrowed ideas. They say they want a woman to look after house, and bear children, but not an equal partner. So I decided I am not marrying” she says.

How many Vietnamese women are saying this today? If this is the case, then what is of their future? Do they say this because they do not like to be married or is it because they fear their freedom would be limited? Are they anticipating discrimination through marriage? Though this is so with most women, there are also exceptions as all men too are not the same in character and beliefs.

Thi Quang who is a Tailor and owns a tailor shop has something different to say. Because of the low income that her husband gets from his job, Quyen decided to use her knowledge to make dresses for children and women. She has a shop opposite her little home and earns a fair income. She is happy. “I would not have been able to come to this level without my husband’s support”, she smiles.  Her husband Tuan Van Quang mentions I face a challenge from the female and male members of the community for looking after the house. Many think that it is a woman’s job”. He states that it does not stop him from supporting his wife. He also says that at times he supports her with her business. “Women should have a life too, they should be able to do what they like, and to work and not just depend on their husband” he adds. “Our lives have changed a lot since I started this business” concludes his wife.

Though there are a handful of men like Thi’s husband, majority of men in Vietnam – even the educated ones are not happy to support their wives. They don’t like to see their wives equal to them. Some men do not want their wives to be housewives, and they give them the freedom to do a job, but at the same time, they do not give them the liberty to move about freely in their jobs.

Mai Thanh is an example for a woman whose life is much easier than many other women in Vietnam. 28 years old Mai, who is fluent in English with a degree from an international university says, “I am fortunate than many women I know; my husband has some regard for my work; but he does not realize that I cannot stop what I am doing half way and rush home to greet him before he arrives from work in the night at 7pm. My husband holds a high position in a big industry; but yet he is humble and wants to be the cook at home; what he wants me is not to cook, but just to be there with him while he does it. I feel, because I am a woman, he wants me to be home before a certain time.”

Much has changed for Vietnamese women of today. Women who were hidden inside homes have begun to come out and start a life for themselves even in the business world. Many things that were not possible for these women before, is possible now. This is also due to the fact that women in Vietnam are growing high in education. And this is creating threat amongst most of the men in Vietnam. Though women like Marie Bob-Kandeh from Sierra Leone, who by selling onions from a basket on her head, today leads the Market Women’s Association, protecting the rights of more than 6,000 poor and illiterate female street vendors, it is not the same with every woman around the world – and especially not in countries like Vietnam.

Kim Thi Nguyen | Vietnam