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Occasional Paper Gender Policy 14: Gender Dimensions of Viet Nam’s Comprehensive Macroeconomic and Structural Reform Policies

12 Apr 2006

  • Author(s): Le Anh Tu Packard

Viet Nam is widely seen as a “globalization” success story. It is also an interesting case study from a gender perspective because, historically, women have had high social and political status. But women’s status may be eroding during the country’s rapid transition to a market economy. Thus, it is of interest to examine the relationship between gender equality and economic performance, and to assess how women have fared when macroeconomic and structural reforms are judged to have produced successful results for the society as a whole.

The paper contributes to a better understanding of macroeconomic policies that benefit women by analysing the links between reform, gender equality, economic development and women’s welfare as they played out in Viet Nam during the 1990s, when the government carried out far-reaching and comprehensive reforms. It explains how macroeconomic and market liberalization policies, although gender-neutral in intent, gave rise to gendered outcomes as a result of various underlying and interrelated factors. These include social attitudes and conventions influenced by patriarchal values, the pattern and structure of occupational segregation and related gender wage differentials, gender differences in education levels, and labour regulations that have the effect of increasing productivity differences between men and women.

The author finds that the welfare of women in Viet Nam generally improved as a result of macroeconomic stabilization and controlled external liberalization policies adopted by a government that espoused a “developmental state” model. Although women on the whole are better off as a result of the reforms, the gains are not evenly distributed across income groups, regions and ethnic groups. Urban women belonging to the dominant ethnic group, by virtue of their higher status in society and better access to economic resources, have benefited more. Women who live in rural and remote areas and/or are members of ethnic minority communities tend to have low status and have benefited least.

The negative aspects of the reforms should not be glossed over. Although they were gender-neutral in intent, the effects of reforms were gendered and culturally stratified. Women already bore the brunt of deflationary measures such as fiscal austerity and public sector downsizing. In light of the current pattern of wage discrimination in foreign direct investment, the government will need to adopt and vigorously enforce measures to increase competition in the high-wage sectors of the economy and strengthen laws against gender discrimination, in order to counteract the likelihood of a widening gender wage gap associated with private sector growth.

Viet Nam’s recent reform experience is particularly instructive because it helps to identify the preconditions for women to benefit from similar reform efforts under way elsewhere.

Le Anh Tu Packard is a Senior Economist at Moody’s Economy.com (MEDC) and a Research Fellow and Convener of the Research and Study Group on Vietnamese Social Economic Reform, Center for Vietnamese Philosophy, Culture and Society, Temple University, Philadelphia, United States.

Order from UNRISD; 44 pages, 2006, $12 for readers in industrialized countries, $6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students.