Female academics in Vietnam: What helps and hinders career advancement
AuthorVu, Hang Thi Viet
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Hang Thi Viet Vu
Adopting a critical feminist approach, this study examines facilitators of and inhibitors to Vietnamese female academics’ advancement. Vietnamese women are considered to have greater freedom than their counterparts in other Asian countries, and Confucianism is often viewed as the main contributor to the persistence of conventional gender roles and norms (Èzbilgin & Syed, 2010; Turley, 1972; United Nations, 2002; A. N. Vo & Harvey, 2009; World Bank, 2011). Publications by the current government also suggest that Vietnamese women enjoy a number of rights and privileges accorded by the communist state. The present study, however, brings to light a more nuanced set of factors impacting women’s place in Vietnamese professional life. To some extent, the findings echo the themes commonly found in the literature regarding the underrepresentation of female academics in senior positions worldwide, including family constraints in terms of unequal share of housework and care work, patriarchal organisational culture, sexist assumptions underlying performance appraisal expectations, and overt sexism. Yet the study found a number of historical, cultural, and political factors that are peculiar to the Vietnamese context. These include propaganda by the communist government portraying women’s roles as ideal domestic worker and carer, so-called benevolent sexism, promotion and retirement policies in higher education, the particular Vietnamese expectations of motherhood including the sociocultural context of Vietnamese mothers’ obsession with children’s education, Vietnamese ‘village culture’, and stressors associated with familial harmony given these expectations. The interaction of these factors has created formidable barriers to Vietnamese women’s career aspirations and their progression to the upper ranks in academia. These findings demonstrate the need for formal interventions at the organisational level, improvements in education with regard to curriculum, textbooks, the teaching profession, and career counselling, dismantling the patriarchal laws and policies, more effective enforcement of regulations that promote gender equality, less distorted media representation of women, and the introduction of women’s support groups and developmental programs. The study makes several contributions to the literature of an under-researched area. This study is among the first attempts to challenge the claim that Vietnamese women have enjoyed greater freedom and equality compared to their counterparts in other Asian nations. In addition, it provides an important insight into the impact of Communism on gender issues in Vietnam, which has often been overlooked in previous studies. It also discusses the challenges of applying some major, Western feminist epistemologies to the Vietnamese context, as well as investigating both the hostile and benevolent forms of sexism embedded in Vietnam’s legislative framework, printed texts and organisational practices. Finally, while the study gives primacy to Vietnamese female academics’ accounts, it also appears to be the first that includes men in the research sample. Investigating the opinions of men who hold key decision-making positions in higher education helps reveal new insights and provides a way to further examine gender relations and to contribute to creating better access for female academics to reach senior positions.
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