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Published by: Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal Association, 2001

Country / Region: Vietnam

Gender Equality and Women’s Issues in Vietnam: The Vietnamese Woman — Warrior and Poet

30 December 2001

The Gender Equality and Women’s Issues in Vietnam: The Vietnamese Woman-Warrior and Poet article provides a detailed analysis of “Vietnamese feminism”, and explores the concept of a positive collective identity of Vietnamese women – something with which all Vietnamese women can identify regardless of locale, generation, or ideology.

The article traces what is inherent in the Vietnamese culture on the role and aspiration of its women through the ages, and explores the developmental path for advocating gender equality in Vietnam. The article argues that there exists in the Vietnamese heritage evidence of a positive collective identity urging Vietnamese women to take the lead in society and to resist gender and social injustice.


  • The article argues that, to advocate gender equality in Vietnam, it is necessary to revitalise and capitalise on cultural identity. For Vietnamese women to make a step forward from the nostalgic past uncovered herein, the advocacy of gender equality in Vietnam must necessarily include two inseparable steps: (1) the eradication of gender inequality in all aspects of life, and (2) the improvement of the living conditions of Vietnamese women, whether or not the agenda is set in the context of gender disparity. In other words, equality cannot mean “equality in poverty” and misery.
  • Any women’s movement in Vietnam today must be cast as the revitalisation of the Vietnamese woman’s collective cultural identity, rather than as a Western imported feminist doctrine. The Vietnamese woman’s collective cultural identity is based on the history and cultural folklores of Vietnam, including expressions of feminist ideas in law and literature, and a long history of warfare and collective sufferings, wherein women have been seen as martyrs, national treasures, and labourers in war and in peace.
  • The advocacy of gender equality in Vietnam today is limited by eight “risk factors.”
    • First, Vietnam’s strong matriarchal heritage that persisted through its early history has at times led to the disingenuous proposition that Vietnam has no need for a feminist movement.
    • Second, Vietnam’s repetitive, prolonged war and poverty have together overshadowed gender issues.
    • Third, women’s movements in Vietnam have not evolved into a doctrine with a structured basis that is independent from nationalism, socialism, or literary movements.
    • Fourth, gender equality in Vietnam has become entangled in what this Article describes as the “fallacy of a trio,” in which gender equality becomes synonymous with nationalism and socialism.
    • Fifth, the rule of law in Vietnam has traditionally been considered secondary to customs derived from the oppressive values of Vietnamese Confucian society and the autonomy of the Vietnamese agricultural villages.
    • Sixth, women’s rights advocacy has been caught up in the “universality versus cultural relativism” discussion, further complicated by the question of whether there should be “Asian-styled gender rights” in Vietnam. Seventh, Vietnam, despite its age, is a new nation with a wide variety of philosophical bases, legal traditions, and paradoxical values.
    • Finally, the single-party political system of modem Vietnam renders any feminist movement susceptible to Party politics.
  • While the reassertion of cultural identity can effectively empower Vietnamese women, the feminist advocate must approach cultural identity with caution in order to avoid the semantic traps of euphemism, empty ethnocentricsm, and unhealthy preoccupation with the past that can impede progress for the future.


    • Defending the Esoteric Cultural Approach
    • Elements that Define Common Objectives and Bind the Vietnamese Advocate to the International Feminist Community
    • Developing a Vietnamese Agenda and Methodology Independent of Western Doctrines
    • The Old Country-The Vietnamese Woman and the Myths of Origin
    • Mother Vietnam- Who Are You?
    • Early Feminist Literature of Vietnam
    • Economic Transition Under the Doi Moi Policy-A New Nation, New Constitution, and New Laws-But What Has Happened to Women?
    • The Socio-Economic Status of Vietnamese Women in the 1990s
    • Legal Rights for Women in Vietnam and Gender Justice
    • Impediments to Gender Equality Under the Vietnamese System
    • First Factor: The Lack of a Gender Battle in Vietnam’s Early History
    • Second Factor: The Overshadowing Experiences of Repetitive, Prolonged
    • Third Factor: Vietnam’s Lack of a Feminist Doctrine Independent from Nationalist, Socialist, or Literary Movements
    • Fourth Factor: Nationalism, Socialism, and Gender Equality-Fallacy of the “Trio”
    • Fifth Factor: Rule of Law versus Communal Custom
    • Sixth Factor: The Entanglement of Women ‘s Rights in the Spiderweb of the “Universal Human Rights Versus Asian Values” Debate
    • Seventh Factor: An Unsettled Mixture of Ideologies, Legal Traditions, and Paradoxical Values in Vietnam
    • Eighth Factor: NPA 2000 as an Example of the Constraints of Party Politics

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