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Women’s participation in politics in Vietnam: Achievements, challenges and some solutions in the new period

(LLCT) - Over the past 10 years, the quantity and quality of female cadres participating in leadership and management have increased. The percentage of women participating in the Politburo, the Party Central Committee has increased over the last three tenures, while the percentage of women in the National Assembly has started to rise as well. However, in some areas, the increased proportion of women’s leadership is not stable. This article points out some basic causes of this limitation: awareness of the women’s role and the work on female cadres; implementation of the policy on female cadres; the planning, training, retraining and employment of female cadres and difficulties directly related to them. Then the article proposes a number of solutions to promote women’s political leadership in the new period.

Keywords: politics, women in politics, policy.

1. Political participation of Vietnamese women: Efforts of the Party and State

On November 29, 2006, the 10th session of the 11th National Assembly passed the Law on Gender Equality, creating an important legal corridor to achieve the goal of equality between men and women in all fields of social life and families, including the political realm. The law emphasizes measures to promote gender equality in politics, including: a) Ensuring an appropriate proportion of women’s representation in the National Assembly and People’s Councils to be consistent with the national goals of gender equality; b) Ensuring an appropriate proportion of women in the appointment of positions in State agencies to be consistent with the national goals of gender equality. Next, on April 27, 2007, the Politburo issued Resolution No. 11-NQ/TW, clearly expressing the view on the work with female cadres in the period of accelerating national industrialization and modernization: “Building and firmly developing the contingent of female cadres commensurate with the great role of women is an objective requirement, an important content in the Party’s strategy for personnel work”.

Resolution 11/NQ-TW identifies a number of important orientations for the planning, training, retraining and employment of female cadres, including: i) Developing a master plan for female cadres in the Party’s master plan on cadres at each level, and locality; ii) Taking care of the training and retraining of female cadres to be proactive in human resources; and iii) Implementing the principle of equality between men and women in terms of age in planning, training, promotion and appointment.

The resolution also identifies a number of specific targets for the development of female cadres up to 2020: i) Representation at the Party committee level at 25% or more; ii) Representation at the National Assembly and People’s Councils at all levels from 35% to 40%; and iii) Agencies and units with the percentage of women at 30% or more need to have key female leaders.

On December 24, 2010, the Prime Minister approved the National Strategy on Gender Equality 2011-2020 (Strategy 2011-2020), which identifies three specific targets, basically, adhering to the requirements set out in Resolution 11, aiming at “Increasing women’s participation in management and leadership, in order to gradually reduce the gender gap in politics”.

Gender mainstreaming (GM) in formulating and implementing policies, laws, programs, plans, projects, etc. has received due attention from all administrative levels and sectors. Recognizing the importance of increasing the number of female candidates to ensure the proportion of female representatives, the Law on election of deputies to the National Assembly and People’s Councils (Law No. 85/2015/QH13) stipulates that at least 35% of the total number of people in the official list of National Assembly candidates and People’s Council candidates should be women (Articles 18 and 19). The Prime Minister issued Decision No. 215/QD-TTg dated February 16, 2011 guiding the structure, composition and number of delegates of People’s Councils at all levels for the 2011-2016 term, in which the overall percentage of 30% or more are women should be achieved. The Government also managed to ensure women’s political leadership, for example on the appointment of female cadres in ministries, ministerial-level agencies, and government agencies; participation of women from ethnic minorities, or rural areas(1).

Decision No. 800/QD-TTg dated July 2, 2018 of the Prime Minister on amending and supplementing some contents of the National Strategy for Gender Equality in the 2011-2020 period emphasizes specific solutions as follows: (i) develop, approve and implement the planning work associated with the placement, use, evaluation and training of female cadres, civil servants and public employees in leadership and management at all levels in State agencies and organizations with specific targets and feasible solutions; annually reviewing, adjusting and supplementing the planning; (ii) support the capacity building for female cadres, civil servants and public employees to increase women’s leadership in elected bodies, especially providing support to young female leaders, or female leaders from ethnic minorities.

In addition to creating a legal corridor, the Government also has specific projects aimed at increasing women’s participation in the political system, promoting the role of heads of organizations and agencies in this regard, namely the Project on implementing measures to ensure gender equality for female cadres, civil servants and public employees in the 2016-2020 period which was issued and is being implemented nationwide(2); Decision 178/QD-TTg in 2016 of the Prime Minister on the Implementation Plan of Conclusion 196-TB/TW on the Project of “Strengthening Party leadership in gender equality and for women’s advancement in the new situation”; Decision No. 622/QD-TTg dated May 10, 2017 promulgating the National Action Plan to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Government, ministries, sectors and socio-political organizations have also carried out many activities to support the realization of the goal of gender equality in politics such as media advocacy, training to improve the capacity of female cadres, building forums and networks to connect female leaders, etc. In recent years, on the occasion of the election of National Assembly deputies or Party congresses at all levels, communication activities vigorously promote the Party’s viewpoints, the State’s policies and laws on gender equality, raising awareness, responsibilities, consensus and support of both the political system and the people on the benefits of women’s leadership, contributing to increase their percentage in Party Committees, National Assembly deputies and People’s Councils at all levels. The training focused on female deputies and candidates for the National Assembly, People’s Councils at all levels, female leaders, and those planned for leadership at  different levels(3).

To enhance accountability and strengthen the implementation of gender-responsive institutions, the Government continues to prioritize the allocation of budgets for gender equality work at both central and local levels to implement the project supporting the realization of gender equality national targets (hereinafter referred to as the Project) under the National Target Program to develop the social assistance system for the period 2016-2020 with a total capital of 180 billion VND(4). From 2016 to 2019, the allocated budget of the Project is more than 103 billion VND and is estimated at 57% of the total approved budget(5). The gender-segregated statistical work has been implemented. On October 14, 2011, the Government issued Decision No. 56/2011/QD-TTg on promulgating the national set of national gender statistical indicators. On July 30, 2019, the Ministry of Planning and Investment issued Circular No. 10/2019/TT-BKHDT, stipulating the National set of gender development indicators to monitor and evaluate the National Strategy for Gender Equality 2011-2020. Many publications on gender statistics have been published(6). In addition, many researches on gender equality from research institutions, training institutions, and international organizations have been conducted, providing scientific background for the formulation of policies on gender.

2. Achieved results, limitations and causes

With the aforementioned efforts, the percentage of women’s participation in Vietnam’s political life has increased (see Table 1). The number of female members of the Politburo and the Party Central Committee has increased continuously over three tenures; The percentage of female deputies in the 14th National Assembly increased by 2.3% and 1% compared to that of the 13th National Assembly and the 12th National Assembly respectively. For the first time, the National Assembly has a chairwoman and the Politburo has 3 female members. By the end of 2017, the percentage of female National Assembly deputies reached 27.1%, higher than the 23.4% average (global) and 18.6% (Asia) (IPU 2017). In 2018, this figure was 27.2%. The percentage of chairwomen of committees under the National Assembly was on the rise (December 2016: 23.1%, 12% higher than December 2011). The proportion of ministries, ministerial-level agencies and government agencies with key female leadership was 13 out of 30 (43%) and 14/30 (47%) in 2017 and 2018, respectively(7).

The percentage of women participating in the provincial and commune Party committees as well as People’s Councils at all levels has increased, although the level is not high and has not met the set target. These achievements show a positive trend in women’s participation in the political system. The measure of increasing female candidates has been shown to be initially effective when the percentage of female delegates increased by more than 2% in the 14th National Assembly compared to the 13th National Assembly.

Although women’s participation in leadership and management has increased, however, compared to the goals set out in Resolution 11 and Strategy 2011-2020, most of indicators of gender equality in politics have not been achieved. The increased female representation in National Assembly is not stable. In the 13th National Assembly, this rate was even lower than that in the 12th National Assembly. After the positive measures had been taken for the 14th National Assembly, the ratio increased. The percentage of women in district membership in 2011-2016 decreased compared to tenure 2006-2011 and then in tenure 2016-2021, the figure decreased compared to the previous tenure. The current number of key staff of ministries and departments is only equal to or less than that in the period 2012-2016, while the number of cadres holding the position of provincial Chairman and Vice Chairman from 2016 to now has decreased compared to the previous tenure. If the percentage of female cadres holding the position of district and commune chairpersons is taken into consideration, the situation is the same(9). Internationally, in 2019, Vietnam ranked 87/153 in the Global Gender Gap (down 10 places compared to 2018) and the percentage of women participating in politics in Vietnam ranked only 110th out of 153 countries(10).

Some of the main causes of the above limitations are as follows:

Gender stereotypes

Traditional gender stereotypes hold the belief that women need to focus on taking care of their families, leaving community and social work for men. (“Men in charge of external affairs and women in charge of domestic affairs”); the idea that women are inappropriate for leadership and management as they lack vision, unlike men (The old saying, “Women are superficial whereas men are thoughtful is still quite popular among some people and officials, including those in charge of personnel matters at all levels(11). People, therefore, would favor men as leaders if both women and men are similarly qualified and capable. That gender prejudice among leaders has led to the lack of specific and drastic actions to promote the employment and training of female officials for managerial positions. In fact, some leaders still hold gender stereotypes or just support women in words, not actions.

Gender stereotypes are also shown in women’s attitudes towards leadership and management. Many female cadres want to spend more time on housework, which is considered as a woman’s inborn duty. For them, it is men’s work to participate in politics and social affairs. Therefore, they are satisfied with their present circumstances, having no desire to strive and do not prepare all the required conditions for appointment to leadership positions(12).

Gender stereotypes in family life make family members, especially husbands, unwilling to create favorable conditions for women to participate in social work. A husband’s concern and other family members’ support for a woman’s advancement are critical to her success. Many people and cadres emphasize that family is the primary obstacle to women’s participation in politics(13). When the situation presents a choice between housework and social work, following traditional gender stereotypes, women tend to choose housework, letting their husbands participate in social work. In the context of a society where the economy is underdeveloped, many people consider it a reasonable choice to maximize family benefits(14).

The implementation of policies on female cadres has not been drastic and specific in practice.

Although the viewpoints and targets for strengthening female cadres by 2020 and the tasks of building a cadre of female officials as set out in Resolution 11/NQ-TW are clear, in practice there have not yet been tight, close and drastic directions together with specific measures from many levels of Party committees in localities, ministries and sectors and departments.

Some guiding documents, specific regulations on the planning, training and appointment, issued after the issuance of Resolution 11/NQ-TW, did not thoroughly grasp the Resolution. Many provinces, cities, ministries and departments still have age discrimination in personnel planning, appointment and promotion. Some contents have not been specifically guided, leading to difficulties in implementation, namely, the policy on allowing female cadres, civil servants and public employees when participating in training and retraining to bring children aged under 36 months(15) and the policy sending ethnic minority women to study.

The statistical work and reporting on gender equality have not been timely and highly accurate. Data for some indicators in the 2011-2020 National Strategy cannot be collected due to unclear assignment of responsibility for information collection, namely, the target of having key female leaders in agencies of the Party, State, socio-political organizations with 30% or higher of women; the target of having female leaders in People’s Committees at the district and commune levels.

The compliance with the reporting procedure has not been strict. Due attention has not been paid to the inspection of the implementation of policies and laws on gender equality in politics, especially on the process of detecting, selecting, training and retraining female cadres. There are no appropriate sanctions against heads of the Party and administrative units when targets and solutions are not implemented(16).

Targets on gender equality in political participation have not been appropriately integrated into the socio-economic development plans of the localities and the strategy of the ministries and sectors in the period 2011-2020. Gender mainstreaming is often difficult due to the lack of leadership commitment, the lack of appropriate strategy, the lack of resources and incompetent staff; the lack of a system of supervision, evaluation, and accountability and the lack of data needed to analyze gender inequality(17), and so on.

One of the key points that has a lot to do with the increase of the quantity and quality of female leaders is the difference in the retirement age for male and female officials and regulations related to the age limits for personnel planning, training, fostering, nomination, appointment, etc. based on the retirement age. Up to now, women retire 5 years earlier than men. According to the Labor Code 2019, by 2030, women will still retire 3 years and 8 months earlier than men. These regulations on age limits are placing men and women on different levels by comparison, making it difficult to plan, train and foster female cadres.

The gender equality viewpoints and perspectives in the planning, training, and employment of female staff have not been fully grasped.

3. Planning work

The personnel planning in many agencies does not integrate gender equality due to the retirement age as aforementioned. The selection of staff to be appointed is not based on scientific analysis; the selection of potential staff for training and early planning is not implemented. In many cases the work is still formalistic and has not laid a good foundation for staff building and management. Therefore, there are not enough resources of competent and qualified female cadres to be appointed.

Training and employment of female cadres

Training female cadres is the most crucial solution to develop female staff in terms of quality and quantity. However, due to the regulations on different retirement ages, female cadres’ opportunities to participate in the training are also reduced compared to male cadres. The legal documents on the training of public employees, after the Law on Gender Equality, gradually overcome the difference between men and women associated with the retirement age, but even now, female cadres are still more disadvantaged than their counterparts regarding training opportunities(18). This greatly limits the contributions of female cadres, especially those after the age of 40, when their living and family are quite stable. The issue of recruiting and training of female cadres from ethnic minorities has not been concretized into a policy for implementation.

When the issue of training and employing female staff is mentioned, it is also important to pay attention to the time women need to give birth and raise children - performing a function that men cannot completely replace. Due to biological characteristics, this stage usually happens in the early stage of a woman’s career or employment, the time she gets used to the job and improves the professional level. It is the difficulties associated with this early stage that slow the long-term progress of many women. In their making decisions on training and employing staff, leaders should take into account gender characteristics and appropriate timing for professional development-the time sending female officials for training and fostering, etc-for cadres in general, and for female cadres in particular. Therefore, besides the efforts made by women, there should be special mechanisms and policies to help them during this period.

Regarding the training and retraining of staff, it is important to have a specific roadmap for developing resources. This work in reality, unfortunately has not been done well. Thus, it is quite common that in many organizations, despite planning, there are no specific measures to foster and create sources, which leads to the fact that suitable female cadres cannot be found for promotion and appointment when needed.

4. Some solutions to increase the participation of women in politics in the new period

In the new decade, more concrete and effective measures are required to increase women’s participation in politics. Based on the afore-said analysis, some solutions to be considered are as follows:

1. Communication should be continually strengthened to change the attitudes of leaders and people, or towards both sexes’ perception of the role of women. Gender equality should be considered not only as a tool to achieve a certain goal but also as a fundamental value and human right. At the same time, it is necessary to be aware that the more women’s participation in politics, the faster the country’s development.

2. Gender mainstreaming should be integrated substantially and properly into the Party and State’s viewpoints and policies. A scientific gender analysis should be carried out to ensure that the differences between women and men are considered, and resolved voluntarily from the beginning, at all levels and at all stages of the policy-making cycle. It is necessary to build a gender-segregated database to ensure that the promulgated policy is consistent with the gender equality goal.

3. Existing policies should be continually reviewed based on the Law on Gender Equality and Resolution No. 11 of the Politburo. Some points to consider for modification are limits: age of appointment of women to leadership; age of sending women to training courses. Specifically, there should be a specific mechanism for the training age, planning and appointment of female staff, to ensure equal opportunities between male and female staff and so that they can contribute better to the general development of the country. Therefore, the age limit for training, retraining and appointing female cadres should be more flexible and should be considered as a special measure to promote gender equality.

4. The implementation of policies and specific regulations on the work of female cadres depends a lot on the leaders of units, particularly the head of the unit and the party secretary. Therefore, promoting the responsibility of the head is very important in enhancing women’s participation in politics.

5. One of the big questions is why women’s participation in politics remains low despite many measures over the past decade such as more leaders’ concerns and staff’s increased awareness of gender equality, increased awareness of the role of women, and greater support from society and international organizations. Perhaps the thing is in the mechanism of selecting and appointing female cadres, particularly the electoral mechanism, the training mechanism, and the appointment mechanism. For example, one of the suggestions from past experience with the electoral mechanism is to increase in the number of female candidates, which has played an important role in increasing the proportion of women in the National Assembly. Besides that, increasing the quality of female candidates is also a point of concern. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid combining the criteria of young, female, and from ethnic minorities for candidates in elections and title nominations as now.

6. It is necessary to periodically monitor, evaluate and adopt appropriate sanctions to ensure the implementation of gender equality targets in politics.

7. There should be a specific procedure for staff planning and resource creation. In principle, the creation of this source should start at the grassroots level and start from the stage of receiving new staff. Increasing the training and retraining of female cadres is very important to prepare the resources of staff, avoiding the situation that it is only when congress is to take place that qualified female cadres are screened.

8. Housework services should be expanded, which is an important condition to reduce the time spent taking care of housework for female staff, enabling them to strive to achieve the qualifications and skills needed for leadership positions. Along with that, it is necessary to strengthen communication to encourage men to share more house chores, creating favorable conditions for women to fully utilize their ability to contribute to social work.

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Endnotes:

(1) For example, Guidance of the Central Organizing Committee No. 22-HD/BTCTW dated October 2, 2008 on the planning of cadres to determine the female structure in the provincial membership level, is about 10-15%; Guideline 15-HD/BTCTW dated 5-11-2012 defines more clearly: “Ensuring the proportion of female cadres is not less than 15% in the planning of the committees, the standing committees of the committees and the leadership boards at all levels. Directive No. 36-CT/TW dated 30-5-2014 of the Politburo on personnel work for the 12th Party Congress, requires: “to strive to achieve no less than 15% percentage of female members and to have female officials in the Standing Committee of the Party Committee”; Official Letter No. 3294-CV/BTCTW dated July 26, 2017 of the Central Organizing Committee guiding a number of contents on planning for the periods of 2020-2025, 2021-2026; Directive 21-CT/TW of the Secretariat dated January 20, 2018 on Continuing to promote the work of women in the new situation and the Directive No. 35-CT/TW dated 30-5-2019 on the congress Party committees at all levels proceeding to the 13th National Assembly of the Party.

(2) Decree No. 05/2011/ND-CP dated 14 January 2011 on ethnic minority work, making sure a reasonable proportion of ethnic minority cadres, giving priority to female cadres in agencies, organization in the political system at all levels; Official Letter No. 578/VPCP-TCCV dated February 3, 2012 of the Government Office on the implementation of female cadres work in the cadres planning of the ministries, ministerial-level agencies, and agencies under the Government. Pursuant to Decision No. 491/QD-TTg on the national set of criteria on new rural development dated April 16, 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development instructed and required the new rural communes to have at least one female commune leader.

(3) Decision 515/QD-TTg dated March 31, 2016 of the Prime Minister.

(4), (6), (8), (10), (13) Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, 2018. 10-year report on implementation of the Law on Gender Equality. No. 171/BC-LĐTBXH, dated December 28, 2018.

(5) Decision No. 565/QD-TTg dated April 25, 2017 of the Prime Minister.

(7) For example, 2011 Gender Statistics Handbook; Vietnam Gender statistics 2000-2010; Facts and Figures on Women and Men 2010-2015; Facts and Figures on Women and Men 2016; Figures on women and men of ethnic groups in Vietnam in 2015 through the results of the survey on socio-economic situation of 53 ethnic minorities in Vietnam in 2015; etc.

(9) Including the official members and alternate members

(11) World Economic Forum (WEF) 2019, Global Gender Gap Report 2020

(12), (14), (15), (17) See: Nguyen Huu Minh and Tran Thi Van Anh: Women involved in leadership and management in Vietnam: some influencing factors and solutions, Journal of Sociology, No. 4 (112), 2010, p.3-13; Tran Quy Long, Tran Thi Minh Thi, Tran Thi Hong, 2017: Gender equality in politics. Chapter 3 in the book edited by Tran Thi Minh Thi: Gender equality in politics from the perspective of institutions, culture and international integration. Social Science Publishing House, Hanoi; Tran Thi Hong, 2020. Gender equality in politics in ethnic minority areas. Chapter 3 in the book by Nguyen Huu Minh and Dang Thi Hoa (edited): Implementation of gender equality in ethnic minority areas in Vietnam, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi.

(16) Information about the meeting of the Ministry of Home Affairs with the Committee on Social Issues in the afternoon of April 8, 2016 (Ho Huong, April 10, 2019). Circular No. 36/2018/TT-BTC dated March 30, 2018 of the Ministry of Finance guiding on preparation of estimates, management, use and making of statement of expenditure on training and improvement of officials and public employees (This is almost the end of the Strategy 2011-2020 cycle) but still does not specifically discuss the regime of training for female officials, only according to the law on gender equality.

(18) Discussion on the implementation of Strategy 2011-2020 in Can Tho, Khanh Hoa and Hai Duong, 2020. Local reports and discussions at seminars on the implementation of the 2011-2020 Strategy in 3 provinces jointly organized by the Department of Gender Equality and UN Women, January 2020.

(19) For example, according to Circular No. 03/2011/TT-BNV dated January 25, 2011, the condition that civil servants are sent for overseas training with the state budget (Article 18) requires that the civil servants remain old enough to work for at least 5 years. In Decree 101/2017/ND-CP on Training and retraining for cadres, civil servants and public employees dated September 1, 2017, the regulations are still required for training courses of 01 month or more, civil servants and the public employee must remain old enough to work for at least 02 years (Article 32).

 

(20) For example, some new regulations such as: Directive 21-CT/TW of the Secretariat dated January 20, 2018 on continuing to promote women’s work in the new context and the Directive No. 35-CT/TW dated 30-5-2019 on the Party congresses at all levels, towards the 13th Congress of the Party.

Prof., Dr. Nguyen Huu Minh

Institute for Family and Gender Studies, Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences

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