Vietnam recognised gender equality in its Constitution in 1946. Since then, the Vietnamese government has made noticeable progress to ensure equal rights and opportunities between men and women in all fields, with gender equality consistently affirmed in the country’s legal instruments, including the latest amendment to the Constitution in 2013.
The country’s first Law on Gender Equality in 2006 not only established gender equality as a fundamental principle in all aspects of society, but also clarified the role and responsibilities of organisations, families and individuals in ensuring that gender equality takes place. Under this law, a State Management Agency on Gender Equality was established to promote and oversee the implementation of gender equality legislation within government bodies; representing, for the first time, the government’s effort to effectively promote and maintain gender equality at the executive level.
Additionally, the Labour Code requires employers to implement gender equality policies in all areas of employment – recruitment, training, working hours, break time and wages. Gender discrimination against woman is considered as a serious issue in Vietnam and under the Penal Code anyone who uses violence or commit serious acts to prevent women from participating in political, economic, scientific, cultural and social activities can be subject to a penalty up to one year's imprisonment.
Despite the legislative provisions on gender equality, this in practice has little influence on gender equality with female employees experiencing considerable challenges and their rights to equal employment opportunities, equal pay and physical safety not always being recognised.
For instance, the retirement age for women has sparked a controversial debate, with employers supporting the current policy that allows women to retire at 55 years old, while employees are concerned that this early retirement age (which can be enforced by an employer) places a limit on the ability of women to advance to more senior positions. This is highlighted by the fact that, while the percentage of women participating in the workforce in Vietnam is quite high, the number of female employees who hold senior management positions is not significant.
The greatest advocate for gender equality and women's rights is often the trade unions but their power is diminishing, leaving it open to employers to determine their employment policies unchallenged.
Vietnam has the legal framework in place, but to achieve the goal of gender equality the existing legislation need to be better enforced and the traditional norms about gender roles in Vietnamese society overcome.