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    Country Reports


Combined second, third and fourth periodic report (CEDAW/C/VNM/2, CEDAW/C/VNM/3-4)


Population, 2000 estimate: 78,773, 873

Ethnicities: 85%-90% Vietnamese, 3% Chinese, Muong, Tai, Meo, Khmer, Man, Cham

Religion:  Buddhist, Taoist, Roman Catholic, indigenous beliefs, Muslim, Protestant, Cao Dai, Hoa Hoa

GDP, 1999 estimate: US $143.1 billion – purchasing power parity

GDP, real growth rate, 1999 estimate: 4.8%

GDP per capita: US $1,850 purchasing power parity

Major industries: food processing, garments, shoes, machine building, mining, cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, tires, oil, coal, steel, paper

Population Growth Rate, 2000 estimate: 1.49%

Urban Population (% of total): 19.6%

Infant Mortality Rate, 2000 estimate: 31.13 per 1000 live births

Literacy, 1995 estimate:  Total - 93.7%

                                      Male - 96.5%

                                      Female - 91.2%

Primary School Enrollment Ratio, net, 1997:   Total - 98.9%

                                                                      Female - 98%

Secondary School Enrollment Ratio, net, 1997:  Total - 51.9%

                                                                         Female - 50.8%

Sources: World Factbook 2000 [1] and World Development Indicators 2000 [2]

Political and Economic Context

From 1945, the time of its independence from France, until the mid-1970s, Vietnam was wracked by civil war. Because Vietnam’s political fate was considered to have serious global implications, the interests and actions of other nation-states exacerbated and prolonged the conflict.

Upon reunification in 1975, Vietnam became a communist state controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The constitution recognizes and mandates the authority of the party within the state apparatus.

The National Assembly, a unicameral legislative body made up of 450 members, elects major government leaders including the president and the prime minister. The members of the National Assembly must be VCP members or VCP-approved in order to run for office. Because of the strong presence of the VCP within all spheres of governance and public life, most of the domestic political turmoil stems from tensions between the VCP and its opponents. [3]  

Within the past 25 years, Vietnam has managed to recover from the harsh economic impact of war. Initially a state-centered planned economy, the country is gradually adopting an open market orientation. In 1987, a national initiative to reconstruct the economy, “doi moi,” was put in place.  Development economists acclaimed the policy as GDP growth through the first half of the 1990s was sustained at approximately 9 percent.

After the 1997 Asian economic crisis, Vietnam suffered tremendous setbacks, such as a decrease in direct foreign investment from $8.3 billion to $2 billion. Much of the economic loss has been attributed to structural problems, including poor institutional transparency and widespread corruption within bureaucracy. [4]

Freedom of Expression and Human Rights

Access to Independent Information

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that the Ministry of Culture and Information has “control over all media content and management; it licenses all journalists and media outlets and has complete authority to revoke those licenses for any reason.” [5] Practices such as blockage of telephone lines and mail seizure suppress opinions critical of the state or party. [6]  

Religious Persecution

Many Christian and Buddhist leaders in Vietnam are also political activists-drawing further state suspicion of their organizations and activities. Efforts aimed at achieving freedom of worship are constantly thwarted with actions by the state such as the denial of exit visas. [7]    The state has prescribed and conducted church closings and arrests to inhibit religious congregations. [8]

Women’s NGOs

No independent women’s organizations exist within Vietnam. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch reports that no domestic or international human rights organizations are allowed to operate. [9]

A government-affiliated organization of women cadres, Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU), works to improve the status of women. The government depends on VWU’s participation for the successful implementation of government policies targeted or otherwise associated with women. The government’s reliance upon the VWU is evidenced by the state’s clear articulation of the role and involvement of the VWU drafted into the National Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women in Vietnam by the Year 2000. [10]




Article 54, Chapter V states: “The citizen, regardless of nationality, sex, social background, religious belief, cultural standard, occupation, time of residence, shall, upon reaching the age of 18, have the right to vote, and, upon reaching the age of 21, have the right to stand for election to the National Assembly and the People's Councils in accordance with the law.” [11] Further statement of  equality rights is given in Article 63:

Male and female citizens have equal rights in and fields – political, economic, cultural, social, and the family...The State and society shall create all necessary conditions for women to raise their qualifications in all fields and fully play their roles in society, they shall see to the development of maternity homes, pediatric departments, crèches and other social-welfare units so as to lighten housework and allow women to engage more actively in work and study, undergo medical treatment, enjoy periods of rest and fulfill their maternal duties. [12]

Sex discrimination is defined within portions of the Constitution. Furthermore, the state organ is clearly assigned with the responsibility of eliminating discrimination. But women’s full enjoyment of human rights is hampered by oppressive cultural beliefs and institutional practices that are not addressed by prior and current socialist policies nor those policies resulting from the new open market orientation. Women are severely overburdened by the double load of work within and outside the home, the lack and poor quality of medical access services, the risk of trafficking, and other harsh conditions resulting from sex discrimination.



Women in Vietnam are severely burdened by the pervasiveness and character of culturally ascribed sex roles and stereotypes. The strong association of women with home and family, and their valuation as family members, have reinforced women’s identities to be critically intertwined with their status as wife, mother, and daughter (-in-law). [13] Especially with regard to motherhood, deeply entrenched values and stereotypes have subjected women to many harsh practices and policies.  

The preference for male offspring has placed a huge stress upon women. Though both spouses suffer shame and discontent over failure to have son(s), the failure to produce a male child is directly attributed to the wife. [14] She therefore becomes particularly vulnerable as the perceived source of a problem. Bad treatment by the husband and extended family is considered acceptable in the case of a wife who is unable to produce a son. [15] Furthermore, the social implications of not having a son warrant breach of the family planning guidelines of one or two children among the populace. [16]

Even women who do not marry or who are otherwise single due to divorce, abandonment, or widowhood also feel the pressure for male offspring. [17] The number of women giving birth out of wedlock has been increasing. This phenomenon is due, in part, to the strong linkage in a woman’s identity to the status of motherhood. Raising a child out of wedlock is difficult for women in Vietnam as it is not socially condoned, and is economically difficult. Yet women will pursue single motherhood because of the immense importance of children (and especially sons) in securing status. There have even been reports of women paying men for insemination — doubling the amount should the child be a boy. [18]

Stereotypes regarding woman’s role infiltrate into state policy and initiatives. For example, the state has pursued family planning practices that rely on and reinforce the notion of woman as the sole responsible party in reproduction. These initiatives concerned with family planning are problematic because they obligate women to prevention and intervention measures, instead of describing family planning as a process also involving men’s decisions and behavior. Sex role identification contributes in part to the widespread use of intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and abortions as common forms of birth control, whereas condom use and pill forms are less known and used. [19]



The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) reports that between 60,000 and 200,000 women and girls are involved in prostitution and that 6.3 percent of these prostitutes are less than 16 years old. The CATW also reports that among some of the ways women come to be trafficked within the country are marriage to foreigners, kidnappings, and deceptive offers of legitimate employment. [20] Throughout the region, trafficking is aided in many cases by parents. [21]

With 80 percent of the population living in rural areas and increasing industrialization in major cities, it can be expected that women’s migration rates will increase and that trafficking will reflect those forces by increasing. In a report released by Vietnam’s Center for Industry and Safety Registration, urbanization and migration have been identified as factors leading to trafficking. [22] In practically all of Vietnam’s tourism and resort centers prostitutes are readily available. Many prostitutes have arrived there by being trafficked. [23]



Women gained the right to vote in 1946. More than fifty years of suffrage has not led to equality within the legislative body.  Within the highest positions of political power women are absent. Only one-fifth of the legislature and only 6 percent of the cabinet are women. [24]

Because little of Vietnam’s development strategy has addressed the household division of labor, women’s participation in political and public life is still severely constrained. “Doi moi” has meant for many women that the allocation of any spare time and energy has gone towards income generation, not involvement in public life. [25] Women’s participation is effectively hampered by their lack of time, not any specific government mandate prohibiting their involvement in the VCP, government, or public affairs.



Total net enrollment rates observed at the primary education level are high but fall drastically at the secondary level, with the rates of girls slightly behind at both levels (see above under the “Basic Country Information”).  Women’s literacy rates are lower than men’s by more than five percentage points. Vietnam’s effort to provide basic education to its entire constituency is commendable but is undermined by certain economic forces and gender oppression.

Other factors inhibiting the education of girls include the trafficking of prepubescent girls into the sex trade. Throughout the region, parents often sell daughters to traffickers. [26] In addition, the “household economy” policies of “doi moi,” which encourage the household production of exportable goods as a means of income generation, has increased the opportunity cost of sending a girl to school. [27]

Without appropriate measures to offset the loss of a daughter from the household production unit or the short-term financial gain to be had by selling her, the education of girls and young women will be dictated in large part by economics and household dynamics. 



Constitutional provisions concerning equal pay for equal work have been in place since 1947. [28] In the 1992 Constitution, women’s right to equal pay was reaffirmed in Article 63, chapter V. [29]

Women, are concentrated in certain fields that put them at risk for economic exploitation. Initiatives implemented to attract foreign capital have fostered a disregard for the welfare of the worker in general. Women are overrepresented in those industries stimulated by outside investment. “Doi moi” has created a precarious situation of economic exploitation for many women. Having been forced out of government directed employment into sectors stimulated by a market demand for profit, women work with less security and safety than prior to “doi moi.” [30]   But if they opt to not work outside the home, they forfeit earnings necessary to support their families.



Family Planning Policies and Practices

The two-child policy encouraged by the state offered without any corrective measures for the preference for male offspring places women in a difficult situation. If they do not bear sons and do not pursue an additional pregnancy, they are subject to intrahousehold and community shaming.  But if they do have more children, they and their family unit are viewed as failing the state and goals of development.

The Resolution of 1993 on Policy Concerning the Population and Family Planning Work highlights reduction of the birth rate as a national priority to continue socioeconomic growth. In addition, the policy details that family planning must be sufficiently funded, educational/propaganda programs should be “appropriate and diverse,” contraceptive options must be diversified, and in particular, men must be targeted to increase their rates of acceptance and use of contraceptives. [31]

However, even with these clear guidelines and objectives, Vietnam has not achieved a process of family planning which does not unnecessarily harm or overburden the health of women. Methods are still limited and aimed at women, as the vast majority of men do not involve themselves in pregnancy prevention (or in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases) through the use of condoms. Reasons given for non-usage include low availability, reduced physical sensation, feelings of embarrassment, and the inconvenience of application when the bedroom is a shared space with others.

Withdrawal is considered by men and women “harmful to male health, causing weakness and discomfort,” while in addition “the act of withdrawal reduces sexual pleasure” among men. [32] Misinformation about menstrual cycles and a dependence on the cooperation of men further contribute to its ineffective nature and undesirability as method of pregnancy prevention.  Withdrawal is neither dependable nor preferred.

Male sterilization is even less used as a method of birth control for fears about the operation procedure, a belief that it reduces intelligence and sexual prowess, and its finality. Gammeltoft reports,

Male sterilization is often equated with castration, and people fear that a sterilized man will become stupid and dull like a castrated chicken. For these reasons, sterilization is ruled out by most men, and few women want their husbands to be sterilized. Both women and men say they are too economically dependent on the husband’s ability to work and perform normally to take the risks which a sterilization implies. [33]

This statement reflects the cultural perception that men contribute greatly to the household, while women’s contributions are invisible or considered negligible in comparison.

Societal discounting of women explains in part why intrauterine devices (IUDs) are still the most used form of contraceptive, even though there has been considerable evidence of the negative effects of  IUDs on women’s health. Medical surveys have indicated physical side effects of weakness, abdominal pain, backache, headache, and irregular, prolonged or heavy bleeding to be highly prevalent among IUD users in Vietnam. [34] Almost half of current and former IUD users surveyed in a report published in 1999 claimed that IUD use had affected them so severely as to inhibit their ability to work. [35] Yet, these documented effects do not sum to outweigh the culturally perceived negative effect of condom use, withdrawal, and male sterilization on the psyche and health of men.

The government has done little to combat the misconceptions about reproductive health. Beyond the attempts of the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) to go into homes to educate women on the benefits of lower fertility, [36] most of the public media education has been just propaganda with little effect on the gender configurations of reproduction within Vietnam. The lack of progress in addressing gender inequality does not only manifest in concerns of fertility, but in the availability of health care itself.

Access to Health care

The availability of health care varies widely across Vietnam. The provision of adequate health care to women, however, is even further complicated by the low status of women within the family unit. Women’s workloads in Vietnam are strenuous. The invisibility of women’s contribution is one critical component to understanding the lack of health care access.  Since women are not seen as integral to productivity, their health is not deemed an important investment — so services directed at women are poor, nonexistent, or underused.

The inadequacies of the health system are illustrated by the contraceptive issue. Women in Vietnam face many health complications arising from IUD use. Part of the problem stems from the lack of follow-ups with medical practitioners. [37] Especially for women in rural areas, receiving proper medical attention is a function of the amount of time and energy it takes to get to the facilities and providers. [38] In addition when women have low status within the household, addressing their health concerns and needs receives little priority.

Quality of health care also is a problem. For example, a 1993 study found that infection control measures were inadequate. [39] With women commonly suffering from reproductive tract infections, [40] rates of anemia being reported as high as 60 percent, [41] and the prevalence of cancer within the country, [42] women cannot afford to continue risking substandard health care.



With 80 percent of the population still living in the countryside, attention must be paid to the welfare of rural women. Of special concern is the lack of clean drinking water. Their responsibility for supplying water for the family coupled with increasing deforestation and environmental contamination force women to walk longer and longer distances to find water. [43]

Women in remote areas suffer particularly because of inadequate health services. Tetanus and measles epidemic outbreaks were reported in early 2001 with most victims being young women and babies in the mountainous parts of the Gia Lai Province. [44]



Domestic Violence

Women are subject to varying forms of domestic violence. Many women in the course of a lifetime face verbal insults, physical assaults, and sexual abuse. Other types of domestic violence include being forced to tolerate concubines, marital separation as punishment for infertility, and the act of  “rejection” or being returned/ “chased back” to one’s parents. [45] Women encounter domestic violence not only from their male partners, but also from their in-laws. [46] Domestic violence against women is justified on such grounds as infertility and adultery. [47] The severity of the problem is indicated in a 1996 study that found over one-third of the prostitutes in Ho Chi Minh City had run away from home to escape from abusive home situations. [48]



Concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child: Viet Nam. 18/02/93. CRC/C/15/Add.3.

Main subjects of concern:

·        The perpetuation of prejudices in some regions of the country resulting in discrimination against women and girls; the situation of children in rural areas, e.g. regarding health and educational possibilities; the growing number of children living and/or working on the street, child prostitution and pornography.

Suggestions and recommendations:

·        Take all necessary steps, both nationally and also using international assistance and cooperation, to minimize the negative impact that the economic reforms may have on the most vulnerable group, i.e. children of the Vietnamese society: Particular attention should be paid to the protection of children belonging to different minority groups, children living in rural areas and children in urban areas who live and/or work on the street.

Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Viet Nam. 15/09/93. A/48/18,paras.348-358.

Main subjects of concern:

·        the Penal Code did not refer to all the acts of ethnic or racial discrimination prohibited by the Convention; the insufficiency of the information provided on the practical implementation of articles 5 and 6 of the Convention, in particular regarding ethnic and religious minorities, refugees, children of mixed origin and Vietnamese abroad.

Concluding observations of the Committee on Economic,  Social and Cultural Rights : Viet Nam. 09/06/93. E/C.12/1993/8.

Main subjects of concern:

·        With regard to education, it notes that, despite the progress made, there is still no programme to guarantee free primary education; high rates of absenteeism from school and a growing number of street children involved in unlawful activities, such as prostitution, drug abuse and illicit trafficking in drugs.

Suggestions and recommendations:

·        Make efforts to solve the problem of school absenteeism and the concentration of child labour at the expense of school attendance, as well as the problem of overwork by married women; adopt effective measures to reduce levels of malnutrition, to improve the services of the social security system; to ensure the more rapid implementation of the new Labour Code; and, in general, to compensate for the effects on minorities and less privileged social groups of economic adjustments to promote the change to a free market society.


[1] The United States of America, The World Factbook 2000, on-line, available at: <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/vm.html> accessed 1 March 2001.

[2] The World Bank, World Development Indicators July 2000, on-line, available: at <http://devdata.worldbank.org/external/dgprofile.asp?rmdk=82695&w=0&L=E> accessed on 1 March 2001.

[3] Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam,” Human Rights Watch World Report 2001, on-line, available at: <http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/asia/vietnam.html> accessed on 28 February 2001.

[4] Edward Tran, “Doi Moi in Vietnam: A Small Tiger’s Growth Spurt Comes to an End,” Columbia East Asia Review (Fall 1997), on-line, available at: <http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cear/issues/fall97/graphics/regional/tran/tran.htm> accessed on 1 March 2001.

[5] Committee to Protect Journalists, “Vietnam,” Country Reports, on-line, available at: <http://www.cpj.org/attacks99/asia99/Vietnam.html> accessed on 1 March 2001.

[6] Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam,” Human Rights Watch World Report 2001, on-line, available at: <http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/asia/vietnam.html> accessed on 28 February 2001.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Tom Carter, “Human Rights Group Hits Hanoi,” Vietnam news Index 2000, on-line, available at: <http://vinsight.superb.net/2000news/1116h.htm> accessed 1 March 2001.

[9] Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Defending Human Rights”, Human Rights Watch World Report 2001, on-line, available at: <http://www.hrw.org/wr2k1/asia/vietnam2.html> accessed on 28 February 2001.

[10] Vietnam, National Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women in Vietnam by the Year 2000, on-line, available at: <http://www.unescap.org/pop/database/law_viet/vi_017.htm> accessed on 28 February 2001.

[11] Vietnam, Vietnam Constitution, on-line, available at: <http://www.isop.ucla.edu/eas/documents/VN-cons.htm#Preamble> accessed on 1 March 2001.

[12] Vietnam, Vietnam Constitution, on-line, available at: <> accessed on 5 May 2001.

[13] Pham Van Bich, The Vietnamese Family in Change (Curzon Press, 1999)186.

[14] Ibid., 189.

[15] Ibid., 189.

[16] Tine Gammeltoft, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Worries (Curzon Press, 1999) 72.

[17] Le Thi, Women, Marriage, Family and Gender Inequality, Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996)  70.

[18] Pham Van Bich, 190.

[19] Pham Van Bich, 192.

[20] The Coalition Against Trafficking Women, on-line, available at: <http://www.catw.-ap.org/Fgaqs.htm> accessed on 4 April 2001.

[21] Dr. Judith Ladinsky, University of Wisconsin, telephone conversation, 2 May 2001.

[22] The Center for Industry and Safety Registration, National Information Sub-Network of Occupational Safety and Health at Southern Zone, on-line, available at: <http://www.oshvn.net/en/traffickin…patterns_of_trafficking_inwom.htm> accessed on 4 April 2001.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Naomi Neft and Ann D. Levine, Where Women Stand  (New York: Random House, 1997)  487.

[25] Linda J Yarr, “Gender and the Allocation on Time: Impact on the Household Economy”, Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996)  114.

[26] Dr. Judith Ladinsky, University of Wisconsin, telephone conversation, 2 May 2001.

[27] Linda J Yarr, “Gender and the Allocation on Time: Impact on the Household Economy”, Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996)  114.

[28] Ibid., 113.

[29] Vietnam Constitution, on-line, available at: <> accessed on 4 May 2001.

[30] Linda J Yarr, 114.

[31] Vietnam, Resolution of 1993 on Policy Concerning the Population and Family Planning Work, on-line, available at: <http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/population/policies/VIETNAM2htm> accessed on 13 November 2000.

[32] Tine Gammeltoft, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Worries, (The Curzon Press, 1999) 87.

[33] Ibid., 86.

[34] Ibid., 97.

[35] Ibid., 97.

[36] Ibid., 60-61.

[37] Dr. Judith Ladinsky, University of Wisconsin, telephone conversation, 2 May 2001.

[38] Carolyn Sachs, “Rural Women : Agriculture and the Environment in Vietnam,” Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996) 257.

[39] Sagar Jain et al, Thematic Evaluation. Quality of Family Planning Service Vietnam, UNFPA 1993 cited in Tine Gammeltoft, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Worries, 19.

[40] Ibid., 35.

[41] Ha Thi Phoung Tien, “On the Problem of Health Protection for Female Labourers,”  Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996) 201.

[42] Carolyn Sachs, “Rural Women : Agriculture and the Environment in Vietnam,” Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996) 256.

[43] Ibid., 257.

[44] Lonely Planet, “Polio Eradicated in Vietnam but Other Dangers Loom,” Lonely Planet Scoop Reports 17 January 2001, on-line, available at: < action=http%3a%2f%2fwww%2elonelyplanet%2ecom%2fdestinations%2fsouth east asia%2fvietnam$2f> accessed on 4 April 2001.

[45] Le Thi, “Women, Marriage, Family, and Gender”, Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996) 72.

[46] Ibid., 72.

[47] Ibid., 72.

[48] Le Thi Quay, “Domestic Violence in Vietnam and Efforts to Curb It,” Vietnam’s Women in Transition, ed. Kathleen Barry (New York: St. Martin’s Press,  1996) 271.





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