“Get a wife!” everyone shouts at me every time I have a problem in Vietnam. I’d make a terrible husband. I’m selfish about my private time for writing and drawing. I’m grumpy in the mornings and I’m as romantic as a brick wall. Nope, never! Hmm... famous last words?
Yet I’m surrounded by fabulous Vietnamese women. This includes my co-partner/manager for my educational projects. My most trusted and reliable friend is a glamorous wife of someone else. From my local shopkeeper to my favorite café, hardware shop and travel agent – they are all women. Lucky me!
Have you noticed how the public face of Vietnam is a beautiful woman in an ao dai? That the control of the country sits in the hands of women in offices everywhere who make deals, check details and arrange stuff. The whole country probably wouldn’t last a minute without all those women co-coordinating, reporting, checking, filing and documenting every male decision and action. Your ‘better half’ may be better than you think.
It’s not just women’s roles in raising children and running households that we acknowledge on the 20th of October, it should also be their contributions to the nation’s economy and growth.
In construction, agriculture and foreign factories, tens of thousands of women toil at the bottom end of the labor market, with many never able to afford the chance to attend schools and universities to upgrade their skills. This has to change – with too many business graduates failing to find decent jobs quickly – diversity in career choices needs to be encouraged.
A recent conference on world food security pointed out the demand for more women in the STEM sector. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics. Female access to the same physical and economic resources as men, they claimed, could raise farm output by as much as 10 to 20 percent - undeniably important with the Mekong’s uncertain future food output.
Tourism, a huge source of hard foreign currency, depends as much on female managers, supervisors and dozens of other jobs. At a time when tourism numbers are down, senior management positions are limited by Vietnam’s traditional emphasis on, and preference for, male leadership. Even members of the National Assembly have commented on the lack of female members participating in senior government.
You can’t celebrate women’s contributions on Vietnamese Women’s Day without also publicly pledging to improve women’s rights and access to health care and employment as well as protection from discrimination and domestic violence. If women are famous for giving, shouldn’t we men give as well?
One interesting development is the rise of women in self-owned, independent small businesses managing to hold their own, not only in a male-dominated economic market, but also in establishing female business networks. Whether it’s an online shop, a small café or private consultancy such as accounting – their fame in being well organized and more open to negotiation and cooperative practices is spreading; as one of my female students recently commented, “Vietnamese women haggle and bargain, the men just pay whatever is asked.”
Vietnamese women are the interface between family members, co-workers and business contacts. They are the teachers of a huge student population, influencing young minds in a massively changing world. Where would we be without them?
Certainly expat men married to local girls have often commented on social media, “My wife does all that.” Dealing with language barriers and the reluctance of local authorities to conduct business directly with foreigners when the language skills are undeveloped, or when staff expect to do business in the “Vietnamese way,” nothing happens without the wife’s or most like another female staff member’s intervention. Another example of we men not being as powerful as we think we are!
So this Vietnamese Women’s Day I’m sure men will do the flowers and romance thing, but it would be better to continue the thought all year. It can be done through improving gender equality with equal pay, more access to affordable education and acting upon women’s ideas in society and business.
So don’t just give your woman some flowers today... listen to her for a lifetime. It might change yours! And who knows... for singles like me, it might help you find a wife!