Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Women in Vietnam

In this post by Mike Weston of the VN news aggregator blog Chao Vietnam (which means "Hello, Viet-Nam" fwiw), he posts an article by Tiền Phong that says Vietnam has one of the highest percentage of female legislators in Asia. It notes that "up to" 27.3 percent of "employees in legislative agencies" are females in Vietnam.

If taken at face value then there is a logical gap between the two sentences in the news article, after all "employees" are not exactly the same thing as legislators - for instance, there is a distinct difference between political staff and interns versus the elected or appointed legislator herself. Perhaps I'm reading the article too closely, so let me just assume that the article was loose with its language and indeed 27.3 percent of legislators in Vietnam are women.

27.3 percent is pretty stout and promising. In the U.S., according to information from this Rutgers link, women hold about 15% of the seats in Congress (and 14% in the Senate specifically), about 23% in state legislatures and 25% in statewide elective executive offices (attorney generals, comptrollers and the like).

So based on these raw numbers, it looks like women have similar, if not greater, poltical clout in Vietnam as compared to the U.S., a result one would not casually imagine based upon assumptions about Asian countries and societies. I guess that's the problem with casually assuming.

Within the private sector, the article notes that more than 22 percent of executives are women. The article is brief, or rather, lacking, in describing its survey methods and definitions, so it is difficult to compare it to U.S. statistics. Even so, comparing that number to the percent of women holding positions on the board of Fortune 500 companies (14.7 percent in 2005, an improvement from 9.6 percent in 1995 - according to this press release, summarizing a report conducted by Catalyst, a leading research and advisory company focusing on women in the workplace issues), shows that Vietnam is far from trailing.

Indeed, in our visit there, we met with a Vietnamese female executive that heads one of the biggest enterprises in the entire country.

So what does all this have to do with us? Well, to move there, VA will need to resign from her job and postpone her career - she loves the sector in which she currently works and is on a nice, upwardly mobile track at her organization. To give it all up is asking a lot (by me). To give it all up to move somewhere as a trailing spouse and be treated a bit like a second class citizen because she's a women would be a whole lot to take.

Maybe Vietnamese society is more egalitarian than we westerners give it credit for. The above stats help allay our concerns but our future experience will, in the end, determine how we perceive Vietnam on this metric.


Linda said...

Could it possibly be due a shortage of capable men? In no means have I researched this hypothesis, but just through personal observation it seems that hardworking and aspiring young women outnumber similarly motivated men in many Asian cities.

In the US, girls have always done better in school than boys, both in terms of test scores and behavior/conduct. They are even starting to do better than boys in subjects such as math and science. Perhaps we are looking at a role reversal in the near future?

D. said...

Women need to "catch up" before we start talking about a role reversal.

In the U.S., women out-number men in college and likely grad school. I think I remember reading that more women graduated from law school than men, and therefore the disparity in the profession may demonstrate institutional barriers for women.

Perhaps, given the socialist / communist / authoritarian culture of the government, there are fewer institutional barriers in Vietnam for women.

Linda said...

That's you think there is a disparity between the culture in the government, versus the culture of society as a whole? Wouldn't values of the government tend to reflect values in society (or do values in society emulate values in government over time)?