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Women In Vietnamese Society

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Ladies At WorkOne aspect of society I always keep an eye out for is the role and place of women where ever I may be traveling at the time. As I noted about Singapore, women there seem to have the best lot in all of East Asia, even Japan and South Korea. As for Vietnam, well here is what I wrote in my journal back on the 12th of November:

I wonder what the status of women is here in Vietnam? I see many working, but I haven't seen any but one running a restaurant. Normally the restaurants, or the front part of it is where the food is prepared and served. The back half is where the family lives. The women, I assume because I don't see them, are cooking while the men take the orders and the money. The women, usually young women, late teens, early twenties, serve the food and the disappear. Obviously this is a poor anecdote to generalize from so I will wait and see what it's like in Saigon before pontificating any more.

What I've seen in Saigon has done little to alter my first impressions. All the restaurants are the same. So are the hotels, except for the one I am staying in, as one young lady seems to be the manager. As a general rule, the women do menial, shit work. Sometimes I'll see an older women running a kiosk or bodega, but that's only because her husband is sitting in the shade drinking beer with his buddies.

When I visited a government office for visa reasons what I saw was pretty much the same. The women, all young, do the menial work and the men sit around, collect the money, boss them around and pretty much seem useless. There are no women police, as I've seen in South Korea and Singapore. And there are tons and tons of them that fills the bars at night, 'bar girls' is what they are called. But that's just a euphemism. (Please Adrena, don't turn the comment thread in this post into another anti-prostitution screed. Let's just keep it to the role of women in Asian society, k?) They don't have any formalized representation in what passes for Vietnam's parliament, either. The only woman I know who's managed some national respect and success is the architect of the Crazy House in Da Lat. She has an interesting story. Her name is Hang Nga and her father was president of Vietnam in the early 80s. That goes a long way towards explaining the opportunities she's had. But still, she's an accomplished architect and she's earned the respect of her countrymen. It's a start, I suppose.

All in all, I fear the lot of women here in Vietnam is not very good. Job opportunities don't seem to be particularly fulfilling, nor do they pay very well. There are tons of pregnant women here in Vietnam and loads and loads of infants and young children everywhere. In that sense it is a healthy society, but I prefer to see women in places of real influence. Singapore, in my opinion, is the model for East Asian women to aspire too. Let's hope the future is better for the women here. They certainly deserve better.

Sean Paul Kelley is currently on a round the world journey, traveling from Singapore to Austin.

originally posted on November 23, 2008