VietNamNet Bridge – Gender inequality remains a huge problem in the field of employment in Viet Nam, with a pay divide between men and women growing and experts warning that there is continued discrimination against women in recruitment and benefit policies.
According to the General Statistics Office's Labour Survey Report for the first nine months of 2012, female workers had a lower average monthly income than their male counterparts in all economic sectors - State, non-State and foreign-invested. The pay gap was estimated at about 13 per cent.
The International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Global Wage Report 2012-13 also shows that the gender pay gap in Viet Nam has been widening in comparison to the declining tendency of the gap reported in many countries.
Dang Quynh Dung, a former employee of a construction company in Ha Noi, said she quit her old job because she felt it was unfair that she was being paid less than her male co-workers for the same job.
"I was assigned as many responsibilities as my former male co-workers but was paid US$300 less," Dung complained.
Tim De Meyer, ILO's senior specialist on International Labour Standards and Labour Law pointed out that the gender pay gap increased when employers were given too much freedom with their staff policy, implying the need for intervention.
Meyer added that women could not enjoy the same career path as men as they were more burdened by family-related responsibilities and had more frequent breaks because of these domestic duties.
Tran Thu Phuong, head of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL)'s women workers department, said gender inequality can be seen in public job advertisements.
A reporter at Viet Nam News observed that postings on the front page of the job placement website Vietnamworks.org showed that some companies, including a construction company in HCM City, a food company in northern Bac Ninh Province and a service company in northern Ha Long City, stated an obvious preference for male applicants.
Despite these companies requesting that only men apply, there was no clear reason given why the vacant positions (accountant, chief executive officer and project manager) could not be filled by women.
Phuong argued that inequality in recruitment and salary payment are having a considerable negative effect on the working spirit and professional ambition of women.
"This means that half of the labour force may feel less motivated, contributing to decreased productivity and decreased work efficiency," she said, adding that any reduction in the financial income of individuals and the operational efficiency of enterprises would have negative consequences for the country's floundering economy.
According to Nguyen Kim Lan, ILO's national programme co-ordinator in gender and employment, inequality was caused by gender stereotypes which started among boys and girls at a very young age.
She said that due to their interaction with parents, children formed an early idea about which subjects they should choose to focus on in schools and later which kinds of professions they should pursue.
For example, boys tend to choose natural sciences as their major at college, while girls tend to pick social sciences and foreign languages.
Suzette Mitchell, country representative of UN Women in Viet Nam said the country needs to break its stereotype about suitable professions.
She argued that women are under-represented in decision-making and management positions, citing the 2/20 ratio between women and men holding ministerial positions in Viet Nam and the much lower ratio of women sitting in the National Assembly compared to men.
Nguyen Mai Huyen, a traffic policewoman in Ha Noi, gave an example of gender discrimination when responding to media questions about the mobilisation of policewomen to leave offices and control traffic circulation on the roads at the beginning of the year.
Huyen said her accquaintances and friends were initially under the impression that their new assignment was only a strategy to create a nice image for the police force, and many still believed that men were better suited for the job.
Huyen pointed out that in reality the group had proved their ability with their work performance.
"In addition to fulfilling family responsibilities, women nowadays are capable of doing the tasks that had previously been seen as being the domain of men. They may even be doing them better," declared Huyen.
Call for change
Pointing out that indirect discrimination had the biggest effects on the gender pay gap, Tim De Meyer from ILO said Viet Nam should adopt the principle of "equal pay for work of equal value" instead of the current principle of "equal pay for equal work".
De Meyer cited an example by comparing the professions of motor mechanics and nurses.
He pointed out that motor mechanics working in a male-dominant environment are paid more than nurses who are mostly women, even though nursing should score higher in terms of required skills, training, tolerance of working conditions and responsibility.
He said a comparison between the remuneration of women and men when they do different jobs can make it apparent how women earn less because the remuneration reflects the worker's gender rather than the actual contents of the job.
De Meyer added that the retirement age should not be based on gender at present as women retire five years earlier than men - an opinion that mirrored the positions of many labour experts, including senior State officials.
Nguyen Thi Thu Hong, vice president of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour, pointed out that reducing the gender gap was a process that involved the combined efforts of employers, trade unions and female workers themselves.
"Don't limit yourself," said Mitchell of the UN Women as she called for young people to fight for their ambitions and break free from professional stereotypes about women and men to create equal opportunities for all.
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