The ongoing pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing gender inequalities. What pressure has it put on women and the achievements of gender equality?
|Le Quang Binh, director of the social enterprise ECUE |
Many studies show that women are more affected by COVID-19 than men and, especially, it widens existing gender inequalities and creates new gaps. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the closing of the global gender gap has been delayed by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.5 years.
In my opinion, the pandemic as a shock reveals the structural determinants that are creating and perpetuating gender inequality.
According to gender stereotypes, women do not need to be highly educated or do big jobs, or women should choose light jobs that do not require technical qualifications. Accordingly, women should prioritise family and career is secondary. These gender stereotypes lead women to participate in low-skill and precarious sectors such as textiles, leather, electronics installations, or the informal service sector – which were all affected when the pandemic emerged.
In addition, in industries that are likely to switch to online work or in key positions, the proportion of female employees is lower than that of men. Therefore, women are more likely to be laid off than men when there is an economic shock.
To tackle gender inequality at its root, we need to change gender stereotypes that are creating inequalities in careers and career advancement, especially for women.
Along with lowered incomes, the proportion of women facing challenges in a domestic setting has also increased. How does this affect the overall development of women and the sustainability of families and social issues?
Gender stereotypes are not only in Vietnam but also in many countries around the world. It comes from the belief that women have qualities and personalities suitable for care work. This is completely wrong because those skills and qualities are all acquired by learning, not naturally.
Unfortunately, the culture of assigning care roles to women has become so pervasive that it should be taken for granted. Therefore, women are forced to shoulder this burden.
It is definitely harmful to women, to families, and to society as a whole. A woman who comes home from work and has to do housework for long hours will lead to damage to both mental health and physical health.
In addition, many Vietnamese believe that “men build the house and women make it home”. The responsibility of maintaining and promoting happiness seems to belong only to women. Thus, inequality in sharing household chores and child care has not only affected the health of women but also the quality of family life, the development of children, and the happiness in marriage.
The tension in the family will certainly make the members’ participation in social activities less and thereby affect the overall development of society.
What could be the most efficient solutions to help limit inequality and empower women?
The issue of gender equality is very complex, so different solutions are needed. However, it is very important to help women and men recognise gender stereotypes that operate in a subtle and invisible way but control our lives.
When they see that gender stereotypes are forcing women to do caregiving or pressuring men to earn more money, they will have a better way of assigning roles and jobs. Recognising that gender stereotypes are man-made, not natural, will also enable them to change more easily towards respecting the equality and freedom of family members.
In addition, gender stereotypes not only exist in the family but are also projected into society, the workplace, and even the market.
Therefore, to solve this effectively, we should have a holistic approach with the participation of many parties. It is required to create an ecosystem that promotes gender equality in which the state formulates the policy and legal framework for gender equality; social organisations, researchers, and press agencies promote communication and share knowledge and practices; and enterprises participate in creating an equal environment in the workplace.
Cooperation and complementarity can quickly and effectively change the gender stereotypes that are creating inequality.
Vu Thi Quynh Anh-Deputy team leader, GREAT
The Gender Responsive Equitable Agriculture and Tourism (GREAT) scheme is a project funded by the Australian government with a total investment of AU$33.7 million to promote gender equality and enhance economic empowerment for women, especially ethnic minority women in the northwest region of Vietnam.
Over the past five years, the project has worked closely with businesses, government agencies and NGOs to create opportunities for women in agriculture and tourism. These are all strong growing sectors and have the potential to significantly increase the participation of ethnic minority women in economic activities.
Realising the negative impacts and pressures of the ongoing pandemic on Vietnamese businesses and especially female enterprises in remote areas in particular, GREAT has recently implemented two initiatives to support female enterprises in digital business transformation. The goal is to equip businesses with modern business management knowledge and tools to confidently expand their markets and business networks, and improve marketing strategies when consumer behaviour is changing.
The initiative on connecting women to markets through improved e-commerce capacity aims to build the capacity of small-scale female businesses such as cooperatives to support businesses that are ready to participate in e-commerce, sell on social platforms and develop services for women to participate well in local digital business.
As a result, 60 products of members have been sold on e-commerce platforms such as Sea Shell, Sendo, and Lazada as well as online sales channels with thousands of orders per month. E-commerce platforms and marketing agencies also provide training for female enterprises, helping them develop logistics services such as warehousing and payments, and participate in the e-commerce market in Son La and Lao Cai provinces.
Meanwhile, the Digital Accelerator Program for 20 female businesses adapting during the pandemic has guided them to practice skills in real business, helping businesses overcome their shyness and self-reliance to change to a new working mindset. All units have increased revenue through online channels, one-third of which have increased revenue 3-5 times. Some enterprises have progressed to internal management in enterprises through software application, expanding the market through export.
Digital transformation has also demonstrated that ethnic minority women have enhanced their entrepreneurial capacities, increased autonomy and decision-making abilities, and improved leadership. We have seen the positive sides and relevance of support programmes with the participation of ethnic minority women, and many business models have had positive changes.
Binu Jacob - CEO, Nestlé Vietnam
Corporate sustainability goes far beyond carbon emissions, responsible sourcing, and water efficiency. Workplace gender equality is quickly catching up as an element that is crucial for building better businesses. There is a reason why the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include gender equality as one of the 17 targets.
By honouring companies that make extra efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace, the Vietnam Corporate Sustainability Forum is clearly talking the talk and sending a signal to companies that this is an important topic that needs focus.
Women are more educated, healthier, and more eager to succeed than ever before. Businesses and nonprofits that actively support gender equality tend to make better business decisions and ultimately make more money.
But unfortunately, according to UNWomen’s flagship report, women worldwide earn nearly a quarter less than men doing exactly the same job. But at Nestle Vietnam, we are proud that the average pay of women is even a bit higher than it is for men for equivalent jobs.
We believe that gender equality is a basic human right and we also understand this makes business sense. Therefore, gender diversity and inclusion have always been embedded into our corporate goals and it gets a lot of attention starting from the CEO of the group and cascading down to our practices on all levels of our organisation.
Nestlé Vietnam has made progress in recent years, increasing the number of women in managerial positions. With the Gender Balance Acceleration Plan, Nestlé put further emphasis on increasing the proportion of women on high management levels. Currently, 55 per cent of top management roles are undertaken by women and a similar proportion can also be found in other management roles.
We believe that a more diverse workforce will reinforce our inclusive culture and make Nestlé an even better company. We know that diversity and inclusion will lead to better decisions, stronger innovation, and higher employee satisfaction.
We were delighted that Nestlé Vietnam won Gender Equality in the Workplace at the Corporate Sustainability Index 2021 awards. We believe in and support improving gender equality in the workplace as it contributes to total corporate sustainability. This also goes deeply in line with our respect culture, including respect for diversity.