Monday, February 26, 2007

The Vietnamese Woman, Warrior and Poet: Duong on the History, Culture and Legacy of Gender Equality in Vietnam

Wendy Duong, Univ. of Denver, has posted an article, Gender Equality and Women's Issues in Vietnam: the Vietnamese Woman - Warrior and Poet, which appeared in the Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal. Here's the abstract:
Exploration of women's issues in Vietnam strengthens the emerging voice of the “exotic other female” in contemporary international feminist discourse. Any women's movement in Vietnam today must be caste as the revitalization of the Vietnamese women's collective cultural identity, rather than as a Western imported feminist doctrine. The Vietnamese women's collective cultural identity is based on the history and cultural folklores of Vietnam, including expressions of feminist ideas in law and literature and a long history of warfare and collective sufferings, wherein women have been seen as martyrs, national treasures, and laborers in war and in peace.
The advocacy of gender equality in Vietnam today is limited by eight “risk factors.” First, Vietnam's strong matriarchal heritage that persisted through its early history has at times led to the disingenuous proposition that Vietnam has no need for a feminist movement. Second, Vietnam's repetitive, prolonged war and poverty have together overshadowed gender issues. Third, women's movements in Vietnam have not evolved into a doctrine with a structured basis that is independent from nationalism, socialism, or literary movements. Fourth, gender equality in Vietnam has become entangled in what this Article describes as the “fallacy of a trio,” in which gender equality becomes synonymous with nationalism and socialism. Fifth, the rule of law in Vietnam has traditionally been considered secondary to customs derived from the oppressive values of Vietnamese Confucian society and the autonomy of the Vietnamese agricultural villages. Sixth, women's rights advocacy has been caught up in the “universality versus cultural relativism” discussion, further complicated by the question of whether there should be “Asian-styled gender rights” in Vietnam. Seventh, Vietnam, despite its age, is a new nation with a wide variety of philosophical bases, legal traditions, and paradoxical values. Finally, the single-party political system of modern Vietnam renders any feminist movement susceptible to Party politics.
The limitations on advocacy for gender equality are illustrated by the shortcomings of Vietnam's Year 2000 National Action Plan, which attempted to address women's issues in the aftermath of the United National Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. While the reassertion of cultural identity can effectively empower Vietnamese women, the feminist advocate must approach cultural identity with caution in order to avoid the semantic traps of euphemism, empty ethnocentrism, and unhealthy preoccupation with the past that can impede progress for the future.