Vietnam is struggling to find a balance in its rapidly changing economic reality and its valued cultural and historical traditions. The country has made great strides in recent years but equality between men and women is still an issue in Vietnam, particularly in rural areas and more so in areas where communities have been affected by major construction and infrastructure development, such as hydropower dams (VietNam is currently 121/187 in the United Nations Gender-Related Development Index).
Whilst women’s roles are gradually changing in the city, in rural areas change is slow and these women tend to have less education than men. Often girls are taken from or leave school earlier than boys because it is seen that traditionally women’s roles are to marry, have children and look after the home. Girls may also leave school early because the school facilities are unsuitable (i.e. inadequate toilets, no doors or locks on toilets and no facilities for coping with menstruation). Also, it is seen that boys need to have a career and so have a greater need for education.
In rural areas women work much more than men – on average 18 hours a day for women and 12 hours a day for men. The women are responsible for looking after the whole family, the often work in the fields to help produce food, do all of the housework, care for the children, cook food for the family, ensure the family is kept healthy, and manage the family budget. And yet, women are often not consulted in decision-making in the home or in their village life.