Behind the Lives of Vietnam Women


Let’s face it — half the beauty of any country is in its people. Vietnam is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The people are genuine, kind and present. They live for today, and hold their communities tight. Vietnam’s in the midst of an exciting and historic time, with one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia and plans to be a developed country by 2020.

As a woman, I take special note of the role women play in societies I visit. After returning from Vietnam earlier this year, it was clear that the women are driving much of this financial change and globalization, but continue to face serious economic and social inequalities themselves.

The Harsh Reality of Women Workers in Vietnam

This woman breaks for a few moments in a small alley to escape the harsh sun and busy streets of Hanoi.

About 60km southwest of Hanoi, a young woman was rowing myself and five other travelers in a rowboat down Yen River to Perfume Pagoda. Motorboats passed us frequently driven by men, while the rowboats keeping our pace were only rowed by women. Our tour guide confirmed that, in Vietnam, it is customary for women to row boats, while men drive boats powered by motors. There was no further thought or explanation. This is, simply, how it is.

The Women of Vietnam: A Photo Essay

A women rows down Yen River to pick up travelers from Perfume Pagoda.

I noticed this again during harvest time. Women occupied the fields, often with children at their side. They manually harvested the rice with large machetes and filled bags that, when full, were nearly equal to their weight. Once a group of women had harvested a few bags full of rice, a man would drive over on a motorbike with a flat wooden board attached to the back. Two women would heave the bags onto the board, and then secure it, for the man to tote away.

women working in Vietnam

Harvest time in Phong Nha. Often communities harvest through the night and early morning to avoid the strong sun. This woman continues to harvest mid-day while other’s break.

Mothers were running hotels without daycare. They served as head chef for the eat-in meals that were provided to guests, and their children helped them prepare the vegetables and meat. Women sorted, cleaned and sold seafood at the fish markets. Women were messengers and tailors. They were entrepreneurs, and ran the afternoon markets. They were holding a smiling child in one arm, while offering passerbys a betel nut sample with the other. Women were running Vietnam.

Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market

Women sorting clothes in Hanoi’s Dong Xuan Market.

After leaving the country, my curiosity about the female dynamic there continued to grow. Through some research, this is what I found:

  • According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) about 72 percent of women are in Vietnam’s labor force, far more than most countries around the globe.
  • According to the United Nations, women earn up to 50 percent less than men, often despite no significant differences in working hours, education level and seniority.
  • Female jobs are frequently more labor intensive than men’s, with a much higher proportion working outdoors.
  • Vietnamese men and women spend about the same amount of time on income-generating activities, but women spend twice as much time as men on household work. Consequently, the total number of hours worked by women is consistently greater than that of men, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.

woman harvesting rice in Vietnam

The woman pictured had just harvested the two bags of rice behind her.

It’s no secret that gender equality is at the top of the global agenda. The UN is currently defining its Sustainable Development Goals, including achieving gender equality & empowering all women and girls, set to launch this September. As the global community continues to visit Vietnam, it is important that we recognize the country’s greatest contributors.

women smoking in Vietnam

It’s rare to see a woman smoke in Vietnam, and is looked down upon. Those who do smoke are generally older women.

*This is a guest post by professional photographer Angela Altus.

Megan McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.
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2 Responses to Behind the Lives of Vietnam Women

  1. elizabeth September 12, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    We noticed the same when we were there. We many times heard the joke that in Vietnam men’s work is looking after the birds. (Referring to the common practice of keeping a bird in a cage as a pet.) In Turkey we noticed large groups of men hanging out in social clubs not working, but never any women. Research has proven that focusing development activities towards women, micro finance, business skills etc. delivers the greatest results. Something I do find disturbing throughout SE Asia is the number of children not in school. Many are working at very young ages.

  2. Renee Blodgett
    WeBlogTheWorld September 13, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    Elizabeth – agreed — micro finance has proven to have great results around the world, not just in Asia – it’s doing wonders in Africa. Funny reference about the Vietnam’s bird caretaking :-)

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