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Vietnamese women’s participation in labor force high above global average: ILO

Monday, March 08, 2021, 10:45 GMT+7
Vietnamese women’s participation in labor force high above global average: ILO
A Vietnamese woman carves wood. Photo: Ha Quan / Tuoi Tre

Despite participating in the labor market at a remarkably high rate, women in Vietnam still face multiple and persistent labor market inequalities, plus the double-pronged burden of work and family responsibilities, a new research brief by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Vietnam shows.

More than 70 percent of Vietnam’s working-age women are in the labor force, compared to the global level of 47.2 percent and the average of 43.9 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, according to the research 'Gender and the Labor Market in Vietnam: An Analysis Based on the Labor Force Survey.' 

However, the research indicated that the high labor force participation of women in Vietnam should not be interpreted as an indicator of equal opportunity.

Although recent progress on gender equality in the labor force has been seen in the country, men’s participation rate still stood at 9.5 percent higher than women’s, the study suggested.

Uneven distribution of family responsibilities in Vietnam’s society remains a huge hindrance for Vietnamese women in the workforce, as the 2018 Labor Force Survey showed nearly half of the women polled were not economically active because of “personal or family-related reasons," compared to only 18.9 percent of inactive men.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, both women and men had relatively easy access to jobs, but the quality of such jobs was on average lower among women than among men,” said Valentina Barcucci, ILO Vietnam labor economist, who is lead author of the research.

The report also found women earning less than men by 13.7 percent on monthly wages in 2019, despite comparable working hours and the progressive elimination of gender gaps in educational attainment.

Women spent an average of 20.2 hours per week cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and shopping for the family, family care and childcare, whereas men spent only 10.7 hours. Close to one-fifth of men did not spend any time on these activities at all.

Women were also underrepresented in decision-making jobs. They accounted for nearly half of the labor force, but less than one-fourth of overall management roles.

COVID-19 impacts

As a result of the pandemic, total working hours dropped significantly in the second quarter of 2020, and recovered through the second half of the year. Women faced the most severe losses.

The total weekly hours worked by women in the second quarter of 2020 were only 88.8 per cent of the total for the fourth quarter of 2019, compared to 91.2 percent for men.

However, women’s working hours recovered faster.

In the last three months of 2020, women worked 0.8 percent more hours than in the same period of 2019, whereas men worked 0.6 percent more.

“Those employed women who worked longer hours than usual in the second half of 2020 possibly wanted to make up for the income losses in the second quarter,” said Barcucci.

“Such additional hours made the double burden heavier to carry, as the time spent by women on household chores remained disproportionately high.”

The impact of COVID-19 on Vietnam’s labor market has not only widened existing inequalities, but also created new ones.

Before the pandemic, there was no difference between male and female unemployment rates, but a gap appeared from the third quarter of last year.

“Gender inequality in the labor market is traced back to the traditional roles that women are expected to play, supported by the social norms,” said ILO Vietnam director Chang-Hee Lee.

Lee commended the progressive amendments, namely the retirement age or removing the ban on female employment in certain occupations, that have been introduced in Vietnam’s 2019 Labor Code.

However, he also reminds Vietnam of its most challenging work to do to approach gender equality in the workforce, which is changing the mindsets of the Vietnamese men and women themselves.

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