By Catherine Earl; Nguyen Thi Hong- Xoan; Greeni Maheshwari

Abstract: On 10 April 2020, the Vietnamese Government announced a package of VND 62.000 billion (US$2.7 billion) to support vulnerable groups seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including self-employed, migrants and women. But recovery measures may ingrain gender inequalities in patriarchal Vietnam and further weaken women’s economic autonomy. Issues of economic insecurity, underemployment and job loss compounded by COVID-19 are not gender neutral. Signficantly more women (44%) than men (30%) work in the sectors most affected by COVID-19 and women are particularly affected by closures of informal, small and medium businesses due to social distancing. Poor access to finance compromises restarting businesses. While more girls participate in education than boys, girls do not realise comparable benefits of education. On average women earn 81.1% of men’s incomes, but the gender pay gap among university educated workers is stark at 19.7% and this contrasts with the pay gap for unskilled workers of around 1%.

Women and girls with disability face additional barriers stemming from economic and social dependence as well as stereotyping and stigma. Poor health and age-related disability among older manual labourers may compound old age poverty as age pension rates are low and do not provide adequate incomes from relatively young mandatory retirement ages of 55 for women and 60 for men. Ethnicity intersects with gender and age inequalities and migration status shapes economic (in)security and compounds patriarchal norms. This paper draws on current longitudinal qualitative research among unskilled and highly qualified women in Ho Chi Minh City. Taking a postfeminist approach, we analyse, firstly, micro-entrepreneurs restarting their informalbusinesses as online goods and services, and secondly, recent graduates launching careers in professional services during COVID-19 recovery. We explore how social inequalities structure the current crisis and how the crisis will come to shape social inequalities in the future. 

Keywords: gender inequality, urban poor, COVID-19 recovery, heteronormativity, chrononormativity, feminisms of the Global South, Vietnam

Catherine Earl is Lecturer in Communication at RMIT University in Vietnam. A social anthropologist and policy analyst, Catherine has published widely on women, work and welfare in Australia and Vietnam. Publications include ”Vietnam’s new middle classes: Gender, career, city” (NIAS Press, 2014) and “Mythbusting Vietnam: Fact, fiction, fantasy” (NIAS Press, 2018). –

Greeni Maheshwari is Lecturer in Economics and Finance at RMIT University in Vietnam. Greeni’s current research investigates barriers and enablers for career enhancement among university women leaders in higher education in Vietnam. In addition to pursuing academic publications, Greeni is keen to initiate future projects that promote gender equity for women leaders in universities in urban and rural Vietnam. – 

Hong-Xoan Thi Nguyen is Associate Professor and Dean of Sociology at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City. Hong-Xoan has conducted extensive sociological research on gender, labour migration, marriage migration and climate change vulnerability in Vietnam. Her recent book Di dân trẻ tại Tp. Hồ Chí Minh (Migration of Youth in Ho Chi Minh City) was published in Vietnamese in 2015. Hong-Xoan directs the gender-focused sociology graduate research program at her institution. –