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Implementing political rights of women in Vietnam nowadays

(LLCT) - Women’s rights are an issue of our age. Improving the position of women in the political field plays a particularly important role in improving the position of women in society in general. The National Strategy on Gender Equality pursues the goal of ensuring women’s rights and satisfying the demand for sustainable development and integration of the country today. The implementation of women’s political rights in Vietnam has seen many achievements but also obstacles and difficulties persist. The article presents general theoretical issues of women’s political rights and initial assessments on the implementation of Vietnamese women’s political rights at the present time.

1. Women’s political rights in international documents and Vietnam’s law

Regarding the issue of women’s rights and women’s political rights, in the world there exists a set of generalized documents as well as documents related to specific issues, among which many clearly address human political rights and women’s political rights.

Political activities are those aimed at influencing decisions of the State, the social organizations to which membership belongs. Then politics becomes the right and interest of every member and of the entire society. In other words, politics constitutes all activities and problems relating to class relations, people, nation and social groups and focus on a common and central issue, which is to obtain, maintain and use political power. However, that power needs to be limited by the constitution and laws that prevent it from violating human personal rights.

Accordingly, human political rights or human rights in politics need to be awared ass are naturally inherent to objective political needs and interests of human beings, which are recognized, guaranteed and protected in international law and national law(1).

Human political right is mentioned in international legal documents such as the 1945 UN Charter, the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), the 1952 International Convention on the Political Rights of Women and fully expressed in the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Human political rights are presented in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, they include:

- Freedom of opinion and expression and freedom to hold opinions. (Article 19)

- Freedom of association and the right not to be compelled to belong to any association. (Article 20)

- Freedom of peaceful assembly. (Article 20)

- The right to take part in political life. According to it, everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (Article 21)

These rights are re-asserted and concretized in the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)(2).

The first Constitution of the country in 1946 stated two fundamental and general rights of Vietnamese citizens, which were “all Vietnamese citizens have equal rights in all categories of politics, economics and culture” (Article 6); and “all Vietnamese citizens are equal before law” (Article 7). As such, political right is the most important right of a citizen prescribed in the 1946 Constitution as “the right to take part in the administrations and build the country according to his own capacity and morality”, (Article 7) and more importantly, the 1946 Constitution also clearly stated that the participation “was irrespective of races, gender, social classes and religions” (The Preamble of the 1946 Constitution).

The 1959 Constitution inherited the 1946 Constitution and supplemented many more concrete articles on the political rights of Vietnamese citizens. Thereby, there is the right to vote and stand for elections, the right to revoke immunity and the right to complain and denounce; there is also an emphasis on ensuring the legal aspect for political rights of Vietnamese citizens.

The 1980 Constitution and the 1992 Constitution continued affirming the principle of equality before law of every citizen as a constitutional principle of the establishment of citizens’ rights. All constitutions also prescribe additional new political rights, which are the right to partake in administrative work of the State and society; at the same time, they stipulate more specifically and clearly political rights as well as guarantee of the entire political system for implementing political rights of citizens in the most serious and equitable manner(3).

In the context of gender equality, the political right is one of the most important human rights of women protected by the Constitution and law. It establishes women’s legal capacity as being equal to men’s in participating directly or indirectly in state and social management.

Features of women’s political right:

Considering the correlation of women’s political right with other human rights and between different societies, features of women’s political right can be generalized as follows:

- Women’s political right is an element setting the equal status of women with men in political-social life. Only through this right can women be sure to be represented in decision-making closely associated with their rights and interests in all fields. This is real equality.

- Women’s political right is a legal form of demonstrating the democratic and equal nature of society. Women’s participation in all levels of decision-making ensures further gender balance for state’s policies, which also reflects social democracy.

According to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the implementation of women’s political right is guaranteed based on 3 principles of equality, non-discrimination and national responsibility. As such, the issue of national responsibility ensures social democracy in this regard.

- The implementation of women’s political right would be a condition to fully implement economic, cultural and social rights of women because human rights are an united whole comprising two groups of rights: group of civil and political rights and group of economic, cultural and social rights.

The practice also proves that only when women are able to take part in leadership and management positions in society do they have the opportunity to fully implement their own rights. Therefore, political right is the most fundamental and important right to exercise gender equality for women.

2. Implementation of women’s political right in Vietnam nowadays

Most of all nations in the world regard the implementation of political right as the most important ruler of gender equality. Women’s right in politics comprises the right to vote, stand for elections and partake in state management activities. However, there remains a distant gap between the rights prescribed in the law and the reality as well as the gap between men and women in this regard. The average proportion of women’s representation in legislative agencies of all nations is only 16%, ambassadors at the UN is 9% and in government cabinet of countries is 7%. Among over 190 countries in the world, only 7 countries have heads of government (Presidents or Prime Ministers) who are women. The proportion of women’s representation in parliaments is also a standard of women’s participation in a political system. In 2009, only 23 countries in the world reached the proportion of more than 30% of women’s representation in parliaments(4).

In Vietnam, many State’s legal documents have been promulgated in order to increase women’s status in society and implement gender equality such as the Civil Code, Labour Code, Law on Marriage and Family, Ordinance on Population, Law on Combating Domestic Violence and Law on Gender Equality.

Article 11, Chapter II of the Law on Gender Equality stipulates gender equality in political field as follows: men and women are equal in taking part in state management and social activities, building and executing village conventions and consents of the community or regulations and provisions of agencies and organizations; equal in standing for elections and being introduced to seats in the National Assembly, People’s Councils, standing for elections and being introduced to work in leadership agencies of political organizations, political-social organizations and political-social-vocational organizations.

The Law on Election of Deputies to the National Assembly and the Law on Election of Deputies to People’s Councils of all levels also stipulate that women have the right to elect and stand for elections as well as other regimes to ensure the implementation of these rights for women.

Of the total elected deputies, women accounted for 27.31% in the 11th National Assembly (2002-2007), 25.76% in the 12th National Assembly (2007-2011) and 24.40% in the 13th National Assembly (2011-2016)(5). These are considerably high proportions through National Assembly elections, which include Vietnam in the group of countries with the highest proportions of women in legislative agencies in Asia and in the world (over 25%). The National Assembly women deputies’ proportion of the country is much higher than that of China, India, Japan and many other countries on the continent. According to the Inter-Parliamental Union, Vietnam ranks 37th out of 188 countries in the world in terms of women representation in legislative agencies (updated data by January 31st 2011 based on reports of countries’ legislative agencies).

Data from the website Women Deputies of the Vietnamese National Assembly (under the National Assembly’s Committee on Social Affairs) indicates that the National Assembly women deputies’ proportion in the country is continuously increasing and is currently at a high level. From 1999, Vietnam has always had a woman as vice president. The proportion of female ministers, deputy ministers and directors is also on the rise. At a local level, the proportion of women’s representation in People’s Councils and People’s Committees is also rising and there are Chairwomen in many localities.

The Government also has specialized agencies that take care of and protect legitimate rights of women such as the Department of Gender Equality (Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs), the Department of Family (Ministry of Culture-Sports-Tourism) and the Department of Mother-Child Health (Ministry of Health). Particularly, the National Committee for the Advancement of Vietnamese Women established in 1985 with a central-to-local organization performs the function and task of assisting the Government prime minister in solving inter-branch issues relating to the emancipation of women.

Vietnamese women are not only present in state agencies including legislation, law enforcement and justice but also take part in political organizations, political-social organizations and political-social-vocational organizations. Vietnamese Women’s Union is a vast political organization working towards women’s equality and development by taking care of and protecting the legal and legitimate rights and interests of women. This organization operates nationwide from the centre to local level and at grassroots with local women’s unions.

In Party committees of all levels, the proportion of Vietnamese women working in the political system has also been through remarkable changes. In 2010, the percentage of female Party members reached 32.8%, which is a considerable increase in comparison with 20.9% in 2005. In spite of that, the proportion of female Party members is much lower than the proportion of male Party members, which shows that few women are promoted or introduced to important leadership positions.

Together with the number of female Party members, the proportion of women represented at all levels clearly reflects the situation of women’s participation in the political field. Actually, the higher the Party committees are, the fewer women there are holding important positions. The percentage of women’s representation in the Party Central Committee and provincial Party Committees stood still within the last 3 terms while there was a slight increase in this percentage at rural district and commune levels. The percentage of women holding posts like Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries or members of Standing Committees only represents about 10% at all levels. Besides, though participating in Party committees, the majority of Party committees’ women members are only in charge of administrative work and rarely trusted with strategic duties(6).

The quality of women’s participation in the political field is also increasing in terms of qualification and management capacity. Many women become leaders and managers or hold key posts in the agencies they are working in. With the distinguished characters of Vietnamese women, many of them become prominent leaders.

The National Strategy on Gender Equality in the period 2011-2020, which sets goals to pursue until 2020, basically ensures real equality between men and women in all fields through 7 concrete targets. Among these, Target 1 is to increase women’s representation in leadership and management positions in order to reduce the gender gap in the political field; to strive for women’s participation in Party committees at all levels up to 25% and above, in the National Assembly and people’s councils at all levels up to 35-40% and in agencies and units up to 30% and more with women holding key leadership positions. High-level leadership agencies of the Party, National Assembly, State and Government have women’s proportion in line with the target of gender equality.

Although Vietnam ranks among the leading countries in the world in terms of the number of National Assembly female deputies, there remains a considerably big gap between men and women, especially when it comes to occupying leadership positions. There remain obstacles related to families and society towards women’s representation in political and social work.

Despite no men and women discrimination stipulated in the law, there remains a gap in regulations for men and women with disadvantages towards women. Gender inequality in Vietnam still exists in many fields of social life and constitutes a barrier to women’s development.

Specifically, the number of young female cadres is still low and their limited conditions are limited for showing their capacity and promoting their role. The position of leadership and management does not correspond to their potential while shortcomings are not timely overcome to have proper policies in building sources of female cadres. Female cadres are often arranged to take over the work related to the cultural-social field and the implementation of policies towards female cadres currently relies on the concern of leaders in each unit.

Besides, due to the disparity of retirement age, the age for planning, appointment and promotion between men and women is uneven. Many Party committees and administrations at all levels and sectors do not fully recognize the viewpoint of female personnel work. The burden of housework and prejudices against management capacity of women hinder them in taking part in the political field. There is still inequality in women’s political participation and obstacles preventing women from promotion when stepping outside of society such as relevant agencies’ lack of planning and irrational education plans, limitations from lack of will and self-confidence, or jealousy of women themselves.

Besides that, in the recognition of gender there remains the stereotype of valueing men above women, which comes from the influence of Confucianist culture. This is an issue of much concern because it is not only the gender prejudice of society, families and men against women but also the prejudice and inferiority complex of women themselves in terms of their own leadership and management capacity or women’s belief in the leadership capacity of their same-gender leaders. This leads to a feeling of smugness and diminishes women’s will. This is also a big challenge that requires women to overcome their own barriers.

3. Some recommendations to better implement women’s political rights in Vietnam

Increasing women’s position in the political field plays a crucial and important role in increasing women’s position in society in general and in implementing gender equality in particular. International organizations and Vietnamese Women’s Union have brought forward recommendations and solutions to exercise the implementation at all levels, sectors and localities as well as for the awareness of each member in society and women themselves.

1- It is necessary to mobilize more resources to raise awareness of gender for the whole society as well as focus on the implementation and supervision of the implementation of the Law on Gender Equality.

2- Engagement of men should be enhanced in dealing with gender issues. This requires the participation of mass organizations such as Farmers’ Association, Trade Union, Youth Union and Women’s Union.

3- Research, analysis and supervision should be enhanced in the implementation of gender equality for women in general and the implementation of women’s political rights in particular.

4- Regulations on the compulsory retirement age for men and women should be equal according the spirit of the CEDAW Convention.

5- Capacity should be built to empower women and enable them to take part in the political-social life of the country.

According to the author, the following solutions are in accordance with the above recommendations:

Firstly, building and implementing the planning, education, fostering and arrangement of using female cadres in the general planning of cadres’ contingent at each level, sector and locality.

Secondly, building, amending, supplementing and organizing effectively the implementation of policies to develop female cadres in leadership and management.

Thirdly,mobilizing resources and the participation of responsible agencies throughout the entire political system, as well as international organizations and non-governmental organizations to successfully achieve the implementation of the key projects of the National Program on Gender Equality.

Fourthly, pursuing the development of international cooperation (bilateral, multilateral and non-governmental) in gender equality work and mobilizing resources to assist the implementation of the National Program on Gender Equality.

In order to carry out the above-mentioned solutions and recommendations, it is important to increase the role of Government and organizations performing the task of ensuring women’s right to equality and women’s political rights in Vietnam. That is the role of the Vietnamese Women’s Union, the National Committee on the Advancement of Women, the Vietnamese General Confederation of Labour as well as other relevant agencies. Only thus can we expect changes in the awareness of society towards women’s roles not only within families but also within the political system of Vietnam. That is the fastest way to ensure the implementation of women’s political rights in Vietnam at the present time.


(1), (2) Vo Khanh Vinh: Theoretical and practical issues of the group of civil and political rights, Social Science Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p. 24-26.

(3) Nguyen Van Dong: Constitutional rights in politics of Vietnamese citizens, Judicial Publishing House, Hanoi, 2006.

(4) Women’s participation in political system in Vietnam nowadays, lyluanchinhtri.vn

(5) Regional workshop “Increasing women’s representation in political field”, Kontum, 2014.

(6) Women’s representation in leadership and management of our country, tapchicongsan.org.vn


Dr. Nguyen Thi To Uyen

Hanoi University of Foreign Trade

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