Vietnamese Women’s Participation
in the Community and Society
The author is a member of
the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Welfare Association and the Victoria’s
Women Council. She currently works as a Research Manager for the
Melbourne Convention and Marketing Bureau, a destination marketing
agency that promotes Melbourne.
‘The First Generation
1. Introduction -
movement has taken place over the last 100 years in Australia. Each
generation has marked an achievement on its own. The women’s movement
has affected thoughts and actions of people and changed men’s and
women’s roles through decades. Though there are still areas for further
improvement, in my observation, Australian women can be proud of their
achievements so far.
Quite different from the
women’s progress in Australia however, Vietnamese women’s movement has
taken place since the year fourty-three after Christ, which was nearly
2,000 years ago. It was two Vietnamese women who led the glorious
victory of the Vietnamese people over the then, Chinese enemies.
Almost all Vietnamese women
dare I say, would know of this story as well as many others, of heroines
such as that of the two sisters, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi. In fact, all
Vietnamese children have been taught of these stories and
learnt them by heart in their primary school. Thus, through our family
and school systems, the status of women in Vietnam, has long been well
regarded by both males and females in the society and family.
Changing Role of Vietnamese Women in the last century
The role of Vietnamese
women however, has changed significantly as history goes on, in
particular during this century. The war brought many women forward in
certain areas as well as significantly inhibited their potential
achievements in many others.
Before I touch on the
impact of the war it would be an oversight however, if the influence of
the Chinese culture on the role of women in Vietnam is not mentioned.
It has been confirmed by research that in our ancient history, the
Vietnamese society was of a matriarchal nature. However, over 1,000
years of Chinese domination, women’s role was reversed. We learnt about
Confucius values which basically tells us that the role of women is at
home and it is their fathers, husbands, sons that have power over their
identity and well-being.
Now turning to recent
history. During our war-torn years, many Vietnamese women were known
for their ability to manage households, raise the children, take care of
their extended family while their husbands were away on the
battlefields. Thus, the status of the Vietnamese women whilst well
regarded, their importance was mainly recognised in the domestic area.
The majority of women either by force or choice, seem in general to
conform to and fulfill this role very successfully. This conformity
seems to have set a pattern for their daughters, grand-daughters and
nieces as the turbulent years extended.
The role of women as
decision-makers or part of the decision-making body in economic and
social spheres seem to have been forgotten by both women and men during
these years. As a result, there were very few cases recorded in our
contemporary history that would highlight women’s achievements in areas
other than the domestic sphere as mentioned earlier.
Since the diaspora of the
Vietnamese people in the last 21 years, migrant Vietnamese women in
general have fought hard to establish their credibility in new fields
working in the community and society, whilst upholding their strength
and established tradition as a “managing director” of the domestic
adaptation, survival and achievements of Vietnamese Migrant Women
Given the same level of
awareness and education between a man and a woman, the woman in general,
seem to be able to adapt more quickly to the new environment. She would
be able to pick the new language up more quickly and speak more
In a society such as that
in Australia, where Equal Opportunities are promoted and made into law,
a woman could achieve as much as she sets out to.
Stories to tell...
1. Middle-aged lawyer;
retrained in Australia to become a social worker
2. Young social worker;
grow up in Australia
4. Barriers to
After 21 years of
establishment however, there is still significant progress to be made
for the women in the Vietnamese community, based on my experience
working in Victoria. There is still a lack of collective
decision making in the leadership of the community, balancing and
utilising the skills and talents of both women and men. By collective
decision making, I mean the decisions would reflect the economic,
political, social and emotional needs of society and
In Victoria, there are
countless number of associations and clubs where the majority of members
are men, or to be more precise, mostly middle-aged men who had a both a
“glorious and sad” past associated with the Vietnam war. On the other
hand, there has only been one women’s association in the past 14 years.
Recently, there has been another Vietnamese women’s group established.
Of the 21 years of establishment, for the most part, the majority of the
community’s activities, thus has been majoring around the men’s
activities. Women have played again, the domestic chief role on these
In addition to their role
as domestic chiefs, Vietnamese women were taught to assume the full
responsibilities of taking care of their families, including caring for
their elder parents who live with the family.
For younger women who were
brought up and go to school in Australia they would have grown out of
these roles. For most of these younger Vietnamese-Australian women,
they have an active life. There are quite a few however, find it
encouraging to participate in working in the community. For those who
already work in the community, fewer would find it encouraging to remain
working, in the medium to long term. There are a number of reasons that
contribute to this, such as lack of support network, lack of role models
and suitable mentors.
For younger women who have
come to Australia at an older age, such as in their late teens or early
twenties, the majority would presume their domestic roles as a major
part of their daily identity.
As a result, after 21
years of establishment in a new country with plenty of opportunities for
women, women who come from Vietnam still lag behind in their
participation in the community and society. The major reason would be
because of their cultural upbringing and heritage.
I’d also like to add that
an important dimension of this cultural heritage is the notion of power
and women. The majority of Vietnamese men and women who work in the
community seem not to have been brought up and lived with this notion.
Power, mostly being illustrated through the press is associated with
men. Power is being illustrated in most of our contemporary history as
being manipulative, and therefore project a very negative image of
people who have power. Most women are brought up in the family and
society to regard themselves as beautiful creatures. For most
women, the picture of themselves having power and authority would seem
to be too “disgusting” compared to the image that they were brought up
with. As a result, it has been extremely difficult for women
themselves, to become involved in the community decision-making process.
The way ahead
Opportunities come through
education and communication. In a fast growing information society such
as that of Australia, the way ahead for women is through study,
training, retraining and intermingling.
A number of middle-aged
women who have come to Australia with some sort of qualifications tend
not to use these and get them qualified. The majority of women seem to
be more concerned about getting their husbands’ qualification recognised
and devote their new life taking care of the family. A few women are
equally concerned about getting their husbands’ qualification recognised
and devote the first couple of years of their new life taking care of
the family. After that, they go back to school and get their
qualifications recognised. There have been many success stories
associated with the latter strategy. These few women have successfully
combined and upheld their traditional role as well as recognising the
need to establish their own identity.
For women who have come to
Australia with little skills, the disadvantage that they suffer is
through lack of information. It is then the role of community
organisations and networks and government to help these migrant women to
recognise their rights and responsibilities.
Women with limited skills
can only find work in labour and manual jobs. However, even manual work
such as that in the textile and clothing industry has become
increasingly difficult to find. Many parts of Australia’s light
manufacturing sector have been contracting for the last decade due to
increased global competition. Many countries to Australia’s north have
larger economies both in terms of production and distribution. They
have assisted in shrinking our local production levels by exporting
cheaper goods to Australia.
The way ahead for women is
therefore to acquire information and knowledge to position themselves in
jobs in areas that are growing. This process requires time, persistence
to pursue end goals, discipline and a positive attitude to pass through
the tough time. I’m positive that there would be little difficulty for
Vietnamese women to achieve these outcomes, as they, for thousands of
years have been heralded with these characteristics. What Vietnamese
women need however other than their own effort, is the support from
their own peers, which I believe has grown greater through the years as
we’ve learned from hard lessons. Equally important if not more so, to
achieve, Vietnamese women also need the tremendous support and
understanding from their close ones such as their parents, partners and
Through the maturity of
the Vietnamese community itself and the evolution of the multicultural
society in Australia, I am optimistic that Vietnamese women among
migrant women in Australia will fair better each day. I have confidence
that more women will become involved in the decision making process and
men will find collective decisions would truly produce better outcomes
for the community.