Thirty years ago, Vietnam was a poor low-income country; since then, it has accomplished remarkable achievements in socio-economic development, not least in its high rate of poverty reduction. But cultural stereotypes remain a root cause of inequality for women and girls, forming a barrier to accessing opportunities in education, health care, and in receiving equal treatment.
This paper used a variety of methods, including a literature review of cultural stereotypes and gender equality and a survey of gender equality for ethnic minorities covering 2894 households by IFGS in 2019. It analyzed the correlation between different variables, including gender, ethnicity, family type, parents’ perception about opportunities for ethnic minority girls for schooling, health care, and equality of treatment. In addition, this article uses material from qualitative data collected from 15 in-depth interviews and life stories.
Traditional gender stereotypes are a major obstacle to achieving gender equality for women and girls. Customs and cultural practices ground prejudices against women and girls in the perception of numerous ethnic minorities in Vietnam. Being perceived as the breadwinner for their family, ethnic women have to participate in the labor force, in addition to taking care of other family members. Furthermore, they lack opportunities to communicate outside their small community. Therefore, in some ethnic minorities, there is a high rate of girls experiencing child marriage, and early pregnancies are more likely; this significantly affects their development and results in negative consequences for nutrition and maternal and child health care. In addition, girls who have an early marriage to satisfy their parents’ desire have to drop out of school and limit their social interactions. Different causes, such as limited awareness, attachment to traditional beliefs, and parents’ prejudice (that schooling is prioritized for boys), have locked adolescent girls into a vicious circle of child marriage and school dropout. This is also the reason for the high illiteracy rate of ethnic minority women in Vietnam.
Traditional stereotyped gender perceptions have become major barriers to the development of ethnic minority girls and women in Vietnam. Child marriage and teenage pregnancy stem from the notion that girls do not need to be educated, but should join the workforce as early as possible and take care of their families; the result is a wide range of negative consequences, including keeping girls away from school and social interaction. Ethnic minority women have a high rate of illiteracy and social communication constraints, leading to their poor access to health care services. The spiral of gender inequality toward ethnic minority girls and women in Vietnam is still ongoing as parents’ perceptions have not changed. Ethnic minority girls and women continue to be marginalized by the barriers of gender stereotypes and traditional culture.