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Women's career in Vietnamese academia: An analysis from multiple lenses

Despite scholars and governments’ efforts to eliminate obstacles to women’s career progress, the global labour market is characterised by gender inequality. Women are more likely than men to be employed in vulnerable jobs and support roles and underrepresented in senior management levels across all sectors (ILO, 2020). Like the global picture, Vietnamese women tend to work in positions which do not usually have formal work arrangement or provide social security and safety nets against economic shock (WB, 2020b). In terms of the quality of women’s jobs, only 27.7% of leader, manager and administrator positions nationwide are occupied by women (GSO of Vietnam, 2018) although Vietnamese women in the early history held powerful position in history. The employment experiences and outcomes of Vietnamese women have become the focus of a small number of studies. For example, the experiences of rural-to-urban migrant women workers (Agergaard & Vu, 2011; H. N. Nguyen, Hardesty, & Khuat, 2011), women’s location within the informal economy (Jensen & Peppard, 2003; Turner & Schoenberger, 2012), and women’s leadership and media practices (H. T. Vu, Barnett, Duong, & Lee, 2019) have been examined. A few studies have explored women’s experiences in academia, including the exploratory studies into barriers and facilitators experienced by female deans (T. L. H. Nguyen, 2012) and experiences of female university rectors in Vietnam (Funnell & Dao, 2013). Alongside these studies, Do and Brennan (2015) examined the complexities of Vietnamese femininities with a focus on the informal power of Vietnamese women in both spheres of home and work. Although all these studies have confirmed the link between cultural and historical factors and women’s experiences and gender practices in Vietnam, none have examined how the different waves of foreign influences affect labour market outcomes for Vietnamese women. Therefore, my research interest is to critically examine how waves of colonisation and foreign influence throughout Vietnamese history have impacted on Vietnamese women’s choices and positions on the labour market. Vietnam as a research context can offer an opportunity to articulate gendered segregation from a distinctive position, a country in the wake of multiple colonisation and wars, an emerging economy in transition from a planned to socialist-oriented market economy and a society in the crossroads of diverse influences including Chinese Confucian ideas and ideologies, French colonialism, Soviet communism, United States of America colonialism, and contemporary global influences. I chose the Vietnamese academia as the site of my research because Vietnam has developed a unique hybrid approach to higher education that has been informed by its former colonisers. For example, there are elements of the elite cultural attachment to the occupation, which is related to the Confucian traditions as a result of the lengthy Chinese colonisation. Furthermore, the current Vietnamese university model inherits the former models from France’s administrative centralisation policy, the Soviet Union’s model of small and specialised colleges and institutes, and the US and European models of curricula and the emphasis on research. Therefore, the exploration of how Vietnamese academic women construct gender and experience unequal outcomes in Vietnamese higher education sector in which all the imprints of the colonial powers have left can contribute to a more complex understanding of women employment and the impacts of social, political and economic structures on the production and reproduction of gender inequalities from the standpoint of the ‘other’. To explore the Vietnamese academic women’s experience, I adopted a feminist methodology from the standpoint of a non-Western feminist through the lenses of liberal and postcolonial feminism. My starting point was informed by liberal feminist sentiments, in particular, I agree that women and men have the similar capacity to reason. Furthermore, as a Vietnamese woman, I have experienced and observed gender inequalities in various aspects of life. Therefore, the goal of my research was to advocate for equality of opportunities, equal treatment and freedom of choices for women and men. Furthermore, equality of opportunities and gender equality, have also been reflected in the efforts of the Vietnamese government to dismantle gender discrimination. However, while liberal feminism allowed me to focus on gender inequalities at an individual and organisational level, it has not fully explained the cause as well as the persistence of gender inequalities or considered Vietnam’s historical, cultural and social factors. Hence, I employed the postcolonial lens to observe the relationship between waves of changes in Vietnam’s social, cultural, and economic background and gender issues. Drawing on multiple feminist lenses will help to identify and critically analyse the historic processes, economic practices and social structures that maintain gender inequalities in Vietnam, with the view of considering ways to enact change for Vietnamese women. Based on my feminist standpoint, liberal and postcolonial feminist lenses were used to analyse twenty-eight in-depth interviews with female academic staff from universities in Vietnam. From the liberal feminist lens, participants identified a number of personal and organisational barriers and facilitators to career progression. Personal facilitators included egalitarian attitude that women and men had equal abilities and skills to engage in managerial roles. Personal barriers included the construction of managerial and leadership positions as undesirable and unfit for women. In the organisational context, effective mentoring facilitated career, while a lack of mentoring and non-transparent appraisal and promotion criteria were viewed as harmful to women’s career. Data analysis from postcolonial feminist lens revealed the profound influence of Confucian values on academic women’s construction of roles in the domestic and public spheres. In the domestic sphere, my participants constructed themselves as Vietnamese filial daughters, dutiful wives and nurturing mothers while at work they constructed themselves as the virtuous women who adhered to the Confucian’s essentialisation of women’s gender roles. Meanwhile, like Western academia, work was structured around an uninterrupted career, which benefited men more than women. There was an increasing demand for publishing which added more workload to women, but the pay was insufficient to maintain household expenses. The examination of women’s career through both lenses demonstrated that the process of performing gender in Vietnam involved multiple forms of postcolonial femininities which were consistent with Connell’s (1987) description of emphasised femininities and Schippers’ (2007) notion of pariah femininities. There was also performance of alternative femininities, which showed signs of resistance. A notable example was the resistance of my participant against a powerful patriarchal structure to make her own choice for her future. Although these acts of resistance might not result in an immediate large-scale change in material conditions (Murphy, 1998), the multiplicity and inconsistency of their performances of postcolonial femininities gave me hope for potential changes (Butler, 1990). The findings from this study make several contributions to the current literature. First, this study is one of the first to thoroughly examine the gendering process in Vietnam in general, and in Vietnamese academia specifically. The new insights about the gendering process help to pave the way for the development of gender studies in Vietnam, (de)construction women’s careers in Vietnam, and to integrate a minority perspective into mainstream scholarly works. Moreover, my study explores the construction of gender and its impact on women’s experience in the labour market in relation to the imposition of eastern and western knowledge in a developing country whose colonial history is shaped by both eastern and western colonisation. This study will be of interest to any colonial discourse scholars who attempt to challenge the view of the relations between (and among) Western and Eastern countries as binary, fixed and categorial with the West as the colonisers and the East as the colonised. One major limitation of the study is that although the study focuses on the ‘other’ perspective, the Vietnamese academia is treated as homogenous and some factors such as ethnicities or regional culture have not been paid adequate attention. In addition, my study focuses solely on academic women in heterosexual relationships and therefore might overlook the subordination of people with non-heteronormative forms of sexuality.  
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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