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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009), Special Events (2000 - 2009)

Gender Dimensions of Viet Nam's Comprehensive Macroeconomic and Structural Reform Policies



From a gender perspective, Viet Nam is an interesting case study because it is widely seen as a “globalization” success story where historically the social and political status of women have been high compared with women’s status in many other developing countries. At the same time, there is concern that women’s status may be eroding during the country’s rapid transition to a market economy. Thus, it is of interest to examine the relationship between gender equality and economic performance, and to assess how women have fared when macroeconomic and structural reforms are judged to have produced successful results for the society as a whole. Viet Nam’s recent reform experience is particularly instructive because it helps to identify the preconditions for women to benefit from these reforms.

Similar to other rapidly growing Asian countries, Viet Nam’s high growth has been accompanied by increased gender inequality as well as increased income inequality. Policy makers are paying more attention to this phenomenon of growing inequality because the country is entering a new development phase which involves an acceleration of the globalization process. At risk are poor households (many headed by single mothers) in rural and remote areas which are least able to cope with the transmission of external shocks.

This paper seeks to contribute to a better understanding of macroeconomic policies that benefit women by analysing the links between reform, gender equality, economic development and women’s welfare as they played out in Viet Nam during the 1990s, when the government carried out far-reaching and comprehensive reforms. It employs descriptive, narrative and quantitative approaches to explain how macroeconomic and market liberalization policies, although gender-neutral in intent, can give rise to gendered outcomes as a result of various underlying and interrelated factors. These include social attitudes and conventions influenced by patriarchal values, the pattern and structure of occupational segregation and related gender wage differentials, gender differences in education levels, and labour regulations that have the effect of increasing productivity differences between men and women.

The main finding of this paper is that the welfare of women in Viet Nam generally improved as a result of macroeconomic stabilization and controlled external liberalization policies adopted by a government that espoused a ‘developmentalist state’ model. The Doi Moi reform policies were effective because they were broadly appropriate for Viet Nam’s particular circumstances. Women on the whole are better off as a result of the reforms, but the gains are not evenly distributed across income groups, regions and ethnic groups. Household and enterprise survey data present a mixed picture regarding gendered outcomes. Urban women belonging to the dominant ethnic group, by virtue of their higher status in society and better access to economic resources, have benefited more. Women who live in rural and remote areas and/or are members of ethnic minority communities tend to have low status and have benefited least.

The negative aspects of the reforms bear mention. Although they were gender-neutral in intent, culturally influenced patterns of horizontal segregation and occupational segregation in Viet Nam gave rise to gendered outcomes and increased social stratification. Moreover, women bore the brunt of deflationary measures such as fiscal austerity and public sector downsizing (experienced during the early reform period). As globalization accelerates in Viet Nam, the anticipated change in ownership structure will influence the evolution of the gender wage gap. The output shares of the foreign-invested (FDI) and private sector are expected to rise at the expense of the state enterprise sector. In light of the current pattern of gender wage discrimination in the FDI and private sector, the government will need to adopt and vigorously enforce measures to increase competition in the high-wage sectors of the economy and strengthen laws against gender discrimination, in order to counteract the likelihood of a widening gender wage gap associated with private sector growth.

Section 1 of this paper presents an overview of main issues and findings on the gender effects of Viet Nam’s reform policies and transition to a market economy. To provide the context for understanding gender disparities in outcomes, section 2 presents basic socioeconomic, health and educational data disaggregated by gender, and outlines the legal status and condition of women in Viet Nam. Section 3 describes the main policy episodes (marked by broadly homogenous policy packages and economic circumstances) of Viet Nam’s recent history, and analyses the gender dimensions of key reform policies. Section 4 concludes with a review of policy lessons, directions for future policy research, and recommendations that would enable women to improve their economic and social welfare.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 15 Feb 2006
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 92-9085-067-1
    From: UNRISD