High primary enrollment ratios for girls and impressive female labour force participation rates are two striking examples of Vietnam’s progress on gender equality. On female leadership, however, Vietnam has a huge unfinished agenda. The good news is that a recent study
by Grant Thornton (2013) shows women’s leadership in business is growing and 30 percent of Board of Director roles in Vietnam are held by women compared to the global average of 19 percent. Women’s membership in the Communist Party has also risen from over 20 percent in 2005 to more than 30 percent in 2010. The not so good news is that across business, government and political spheres, the face of leadership in Vietnam is still overwhelmingly male.
In the last decade and a half, the share of women in the National Assembly has been declining. Only one out of nine chairs of National Assembly Committees is female. Women’s representation remains low in key bodies of the Communist Party: the Politburo (two out of 16), the Central Committee and the Secretariat. In Government, the civil service has a large percentage of women but their representation in leadership is small and tends to be at lower levels: 11 percent at the division level, 5 percent at director level and only 3 percent at ministerial level (UNDP, 2012).
But should we be concerned about getting higher levels of women in leadership? Is this just about “political correctness” or can having more women in leadership in business, government and politics benefit Vietnam’s development?