Gender Equality in Vietnam

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Flag of Vietnam
Population (in Mil.) 88.77
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) 155.82
Sex Ratio (m/f) 1
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.126760563
Fertility Rate 1.91
Estimated Earned Income (f/m) 0.69
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 22.3
Women in Parliament (in %) 24.4
Human Development Index n.a./187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 42/86
Gender Inequality Index 127/186
Gender Equity Index 59/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index 87/128
Global Gender Gap Index /68
More information on variables

In the news

Social Institutions

Viet Nam became a unified country again in 1975, at the end of a three-decade long armed conflict between communist forces and French colonial, and then American troops.[1] The conflict resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties, as well as considerable environmental degradation.[2] A socialist country, market reforms were introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, and since then, the country’s economy has grown massively; while this has brought wealth to some, it is exacerbated social and economic inequality, particularly between urban and rural areas.[3] Viet Nam is classed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank.[4] The Constitution of Viet Nam enshrine the principle of gender equality, and specifically prohibits the violation of women’s rights.[5] In regard to legal rights, the position of Vietnamese women has improved over the past decades. In 2006, the National Assembly passed the country’s first Law on Gender Equality.This law aims to address a range of issues (such as wage gaps) and eliminate discrimination based on gender.[6] The position of women varies considerably among Viet Nam’s 54 official ethnic groups. Harmful practices such as such as the marriage of young girls and marriage of a widow to her deceased husband’s brother[7] are prevalent among some groups, despite being prohibited by law since 2000,[8] Public life is still traditionally viewed as a predominantly male domain, while women remain responsible for unpaid work in the household. This is particularly true in rural areas and in the highlands, where women also face limited education and employment opportunities, and access to healthcare.[9] Viet Nam ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1982, but has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.[10] Under the 2011 Human Development Index, Viet Nam is ranked in 128th place (out of 187 countries), with a score of 0.593.[11] The country’s score in the Gender Inequality Index for 2011 is 0.305 (48 out of 146 countries).[12] Viet Nam’s ranking in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index is 79 (out of 135 countries), with a score of 0.6732.[13]

Discriminatory Family Code

The Marriage and Family Law passed in 2000 gives women and men the same legal rights in marriage.[14] The Law sets the minimum marriage age at 18 for women and 20 for men, with penalties of up to two years in prison for anyone arranging or registering the marriage of people below these minimum ages.[15] Early marriage occurs in rural and mountainous regions, but at low rates that appear to be declining slowly: a 2004 United Nations report citing data from 1997 estimated that 8% of Vietnamese girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed, but new data from 2007 show this to have fallen to 6.2%.[16] A decree passed in 2002 specifically bans polygamy among ethnic groups living in remote mountain areas.[17] The same decree also bans practices of dowry, bride kidnapping, and forcing widows and widowers to marry a relative of their deceased husband or wife.[18] Parental authority is granted to both parents.[19] Women and men have the same legal rights to divorce in Viet Nam.[20] Vietnamese women can pass Vietnamese citizenship onto their children.[21] In regard to inheritance, Viet Nam’s Civil Code provides men and women with equal opportunities to write a will or benefit as an heir. However, certain inequalities can be observed. If a person dies without a will, the law requires an equal distribution of property among the next of kin. In practice, the general custom is for the eldest son to inherit the parental home and the largest portion of the family property, particularly land. Younger sons will often inherit some land or other assets of value, while daughters receive only small symbolic items. Children generally become part of their father’s patrilineage at birth, although matriarchal customs prevail in some ethnic groups.[22] The government reports that “prolonged disputes on inheritance especially of land-use rights have made women hesitant to take part in court proceedings. There is a relatively popular practice in Viet Nam that among people in rural areas or ethnic people, when their daughters get married, and in most of the cases, daughters cannot inherit properties of their parents. Women often do not claim their rights to inheritance.”[23]

Restricted Physical Integrity

Rape, including spousal rape, are criminalized under Vietnamese law, according to the US Department of State’s 2010 human rights report.[24] The same report states that in 2009, a man from Phan Thiet Province was jailed for 18 months for raping his wife, and that in other cases of rape which reach the courts, these are usually prosecuted ‘to the full extent of the law’.[25] In 2007, the government of Viet Nam passed the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control. The law legislates the duties of the state, individuals, families, organizations and institutions in regards to preventing domestic violence and supporting of its victims. The law also states that those who perpetrate domestic violence "shall either be fined as a civil violation, disciplined or charged for criminal penalty and have to compensate for any damages caused". The law also prescribes "re-education" measures for repeat offenders.[26] However, according to the US Department of State, local NGOs considered the law to be weak, and that police and legal systems remained ill-equipped to deal with domestic violence cases.[27] Sexual harassment is illegal, however the law is reported to be ineffective.[28] Violence against women is believed to be widespread, particularly in the family context. Based on data from the National Assembly Committee of Social Affairs, it is reported that more than half of (51.3%) of all divorces between 2000 and 2005 in Viet Nam were due, in part, to domestic violence.[29] The US Department of State reports that although the divorce rate has risen in recent years, there is evidence that many women remain in abusive marriages rather than confront the social and family stigma – as well as the economic uncertainty – that can follow divorce.[30] The Viet Nam Women’s Union and international NGOs promote rehabilitation programmes and shelters for victims of violence and sexual abuse, including commercial sexual exploitation.[31] No reliable data is available as to the number of cases of rape in Vietnam.[32] There is no indication that female genital mutilation is practised in any form in Viet Nam. Abortion is available on request in Viet Nam.[33] Women in Viet Nam have the right to use contraception and make decisions regarding which form of contraception to use.[34] In theory, the law restricts couples to a maximum of two children, with penalties for public sector workers who have more than two children.[35] In practice, the law is inconsistently applied, according to the US Department of State.[36] Contraceptive prevalence rates appear to be increasing in Viet Nam. Where a 2002 Demographic and Health Survey found that nearly 57% of married women were currently using a modern method of contraceptive, United Nations data from 2007 estimated this rate to be 68.2%.[37]

Son Bias

Up-to-date data is not available, but data from the 2002 DHS indicates that vaccination rates were slightly higher for girls under two included in the survey than for boys.[38] Data regarding malnutrition rates were unavailable. For under-five mortality, rates for boys were higher than for girls, although rates of infant mortality (i.e. a child dying before its first birthday) were slightly higher for girls.[39] Overall, this would not indicate pronounced bias towards sons in regard to early childhood care. A 2009 report into child labour practices in Viet Nam by the Understanding Children’s Work project (UCW) concluded that children’s work in Viet Nam ‘did not have a strong gender dimension’ in terms of the types of work children were engaged in, and how many hours they worked, beyond a very slight preference for removing boys from school in order to partake in economic activity outside the home.[40] Enrolment rates for girls as slightly lower than for boys at both primary and secondary school level, although attendance rates are virtually equal, according to UNICEF (94% at primary level, and 77% for boys / 78% for girls at secondary level).[41] The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.[42] There is no evidence to suggest that Viet Nam is a country of concern in relation to missing women. However, in 2007, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women raised concerns about the preference for male children.[43] Further, in 2007, a UNFPA report found that Vietnam could soon be a country of concern in relation to missing women.[44]

Restricted Resources and Entitlements

Women and men in Viet Nam have equal ownership rights, including access to land. However, the government of Viet Nam does not legally recognise privately owned land. Instead, the Land Law grants individuals long-term leaseholds through land-use right certificates.[45] According to a CEDAW study, women accounted for only 10 percent to 12 percent of the 12 million farmers allotted land by the end of 2000.[46] This reflects women’s limited awareness of their right to access land and traditional customs that place the husband as the head of the household. Vietnamese women have equal access to property other than land. Some ethnic minority groups favour male ownership; others follow matriarchal systems in which women control family property.[47] Officially, women in Viet Nam have legal access to bank loans, but many women have only a limited understanding of their financial possibilities and lack the capacity to formulate the effective business plans needed to acquire commercial loans. These issues may be addressed by the recent establishment of lending institutions that specifically target women borrowers.[48]

Restricted Civil Liberties

There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement, although traditions and customs often insist that women “follow after” their husbands, meaning they are expected to live in the residence of their husband’s choosing.[49] Freedom of speech, assembly and association are all restricted in Viet Nam.[50] NGOs, including those working on women’s rights, operate under considerable restrictions, limiting their capacity to challenge government policy and speak out against rights abuses.[51] As such, most women’s rights NGOs in Viet Nam focus on service delivery, women’s capacity building, and providing support to victims of violence against women.[52] The Viet Nam Women's Union, affiliated with the Communist Party of Viet Nam, advocates on women’s rights.[53] Women and men appear to have the same rights to vote and stand for election in Viet Nam, however,[54] political life is tightly controlled, and the government strictly monitors political activity, effectively prohibiting opposition movements to the government.[55] By November 2011, women held 122 of 500 seats in national parliament.[56] This represents a slight percentage decline from recent years and fails to meet the target of 30% set out in the National Strategy for the Advancement of Vietnamese Women to 2010.[57] Women’s representation at lower levels of government, such as in People’s Councils or at the provincial or district level, reaches between 20 and 24%, but women only comprise between 1 and 4% of leadership positions.[58] All employed women in Viet Nam are entitled to up to six months (of which two months are compulsory) of paid maternity leave depending on working conditions and the nature of their work. Women receive 100% of their wages, financed by a national social security system into which they must have made contributions for six months before the birth of their child. In addition, they receive protections from night-time, overtime and dangerous work, and cannot be dismissed on account of their pregnancy.[59]


  1. BBC (n.d.) ‘Vietnam country profile’, BBC News, (accessed 21 November 2011)
  2. Reference 2
  3. Freedom House (2010) ‘Freedom in the World country reports: Vietnam’, (accessed 21 November 2011)
  4. World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Vietnam’, Washington, D.C.: World Bank, (accessed 21 November 2011)
  5. Article 63 of the 1992 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (As Amended 25 December 2001)
  6. Law on Gender Equality, adopted 26 November 2006
  7. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2005), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Vietnam, Combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/VNM/5-6, CEDAW, New York, NY, p. 3, 52.
  8. Article 6 of the Revised Marriage and Family Law, adopted 9 June 2000 in Reference 7, pp. 51-52.
  9. Reference 7, pp. 18-19; CEDAW (2007) Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Viet Nam, CEDAW/C/VNM/CO/6, CEDAW, New York, p.6
  10. United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2011): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. - CEDAW: (accessed 15 November 2011) - Optional Protocol: (accessed 15 November 2011)
  11. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at, accessed 29 February 2012. p.129
  12. Reference 11 p.141
  13. World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at, accessed 2 March 2012.p.11
  14. Reference 7, p.51
  15. Article 9 of the Marriage and Family Law in REFERENCE 7, p. 52
  16. United Nations (UN) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY, p. 376; UN (2008), World Marriage Data 2008, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY.
  17. Decree 32/2002/ND-CP on the implementation of the Law on Marriage and Family among ethnic minorities in Reference 7, P.9
  18. Reference 7, P.9
  19. Reference 7, Pp. 9, 53.
  20. Reference 7, P.52
  21. Reference 7, P.28
  22. Reference 7, pp. 48-50.
  23. Reference 7 pp.49 – 50.
  24. US Department of State (2011), 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Vietnam, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC, (accessed 21 November 2011)
  25. Reference 24
  26. National Assembly (2007) Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control accessed 19 March 2012
  27. Reference 24
  28. Reference 24
  29. Anonymous (2006) Report on Non-Governmental Organizations Regarding Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Viet Nam: Ha Noi, Viet Nam.p. 13; US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Vietnam, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.
  30. Reference 24
  31. US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Vietnam, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.
  32. Reference 24
  33. UN (2011) ‘World Abortion Policies 2011’, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York.
  34. Reference 24
  35. Reference 24
  36. Reference 24
  37. Committee for Population, Family, and Children and ORC Macro (2003) Vietnam Demographic and Health Survey 2002, Committee for Population, Family and Children and ORC Macro: Calverton, MD., Table 4.3; United Nations (2009)
  38. Committee for Population, Family, and Children and ORC Macro (2003) Vietnam Demographic and Health Survey 2002, Committee for Population, Family and Children and ORC Macro: Calverton, MD., Table 8.8
  39. Reference 40, Table 7.3
  40. Understanding Children’s Work Project (UCW) (2009) ‘Understanding children‘s work in Vietnam Report on child labour’, Rome: Understanding Children’s Work Project, An Inter-Agency Research Cooperation Project, ILO / UNICEF / World Bank, pp.18, 43
  41. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) (n.d.) ‘Viet Nam – statistics’, (accessed 21 November 2011)
  42. Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 29 February 2012
  43. Concluding comments of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Viet Nam, 2 February 2007, CEDAW/C/VNM/CO/6 at para 12.
  44. UNFPA (2007) New common sense: Family-planning policy and sex ratio in Viet Nam accessed 19 March 2012
  45. Reference 7, pp. 48-49.
  46. Reference 7, p. 46.
  47. Reference 7, p. 48.
  48. Reference 7, P. 41.
  49. Reference 7, p. 50
  50. Reference 3
  51. Reference 3
  52. Reference 3; Reference 24
  53. Reference 24
  54. Reference 7, pp.22-23
  55. Reference 3; Reference 24
  56. Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (n.d.), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments, IPU: Geneva,
  57. Anonymous (2006) Report on Non-Governmental Organizations Regarding Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Viet Nam: Ha Noi, Viet Nam, p. 20.
  58. Reference 59, pp. 21-22.
  59. International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, ILO: Geneva, Switzerland, accessed 11 March 2010

Case Studies

The Women, Business and the Law

Where are laws equal for men and women? 

The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.

For detailed information on Vietnam, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Vietnam


The FAO Gender and Landrights Database

The FAO Gender and Landrights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender
FAO logo.jpg
inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access

is one of the major causes for social and gender in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Six categories

The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:

  • National legal frame
  • International treaties and conventions
  • Customary law
  • Land tenure and related Institutions
  • Civil society organizations
  • Selected Land Related Statistics

For detailed information information on Vietnam, please visit the report on in the FAO Gender and Landrights Database.


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