Constructing Vietnamese womanhood and the problematisation of domestic violence in Vietnam

Author: Xuan Hien Nguyen

Nguyen, Xuan Hien, 2020 Constructing Vietnamese womanhood and the problematisation of domestic violence in Vietnam, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Since becoming a communist state under a socialist government, Vietnam has promoted principles of gender equality and called for the abolition of gender practices that are considered backward and feudal. This effort to achieve gender equality takes a Marxist and socialist feminist focus on organisation of labour and the public sphere. It is also closely governed by the state, using emulation campaigns run by the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) as a tool to promote certain state constructions of what it means to be a Vietnamese woman. Often, these constructions focus on women demonstrating their success in productive labour as well as their ability to perform their essentialised role of wife and mother. While this approach resulted in certain improvements in Vietnamese women’s access to the labour market and representation in politics, it fails to address structural gender inequality, women’s multiple labours, and issues of violence against women such as domestic violence. Drawing on Carol Bacchi’s “What’s the problem represented to be?” policy analysis, this thesis examines the effects that this approach where the state governs national constructions of womanhood has on the way domestic violence is problematised in Vietnam. It finds that domestic violence is often not acknowledged as a product of structural gender inequality and unequal relations between men and women. Rather, justifications, such as a man has the right to punish his wife when she does something wrong, or a woman must have done something to deserve getting hit, are often used when discussing domestic violence. This representation of domestic violence contributes to the acceptance of the idea that women, as a good wife, should have the capacity to manage family relationships to create a happy, harmonious family atmosphere, which would contribute to preventing domestic violence. What results from this problematisation of domestic violence is that women are held accountable for the violence they suffer and become responsible for preventing domestic violence against themselves. The “Five No’s and Three Cleans” campaign, an emulation campaign run by the VWU, represents the state’s significant role in supporting this representation of domestic violence, as well as promoting a construction of Vietnamese womanhood that emphasises, rather than challenges, the perception that women are responsible for domestic duties in the private sphere. With the VWU acting as the leading organisation on women’s issues in Vietnam, this representation of domestic violence dominates Vietnamese society despite contestations from feminist civil society organisations, resulting in the perpetuation of women’s triple burden of productive, reproductive and community labours. Meanwhile, limited engagement of men may bar men from understanding the harms that gender inequality in general, and domestic violence in particular, can have on them, while exacerbating risks of violence against women as a result of men’s resistance to change. This research concludes that these issues currently left undiscussed by gender discourse in Vietnam must be addressed in order for domestic violence prevention efforts to be truly effective and sustainable.

Keywords: domestic violence, violence against women, gender construction, gender roles, Vietnam Women’s Union, Vietnam

Subject: International Studies thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Susanne Schech