Indolent husbands leave Vietnamese women burnt out

By Long Nguyen   July 7, 2020 | 11:38 pm PT
Indolent husbands leave Vietnamese women burnt out
A tired woman cleans her kitchen. Photo by Shutterstock/Makistock.
Working women, dreaming of domestic equality, experience greater levels of stress as husbands refuse assisting with household chores.

At 6 p.m, Truong Anh Tuyet, 38, finishes work and travels home to Long Bien District in Hanoi each day. It normally takes her one hour to prepare dinner for the four-member family, before washing the dishes, taking her dog for a walk and watering the flowers on her rooftop garden.

In the meantime, her 39-year-old husband does little more than zone out on Netflix.

"I asked him to help me many times, but he keeps saying housework is my responsibility. All our conversations on the topic end in arguments," Tuyet lamented, adding the Covid-19 semi-lockdown in April exasperated the situation as "he remained home all day, and only moved from the bed to the living room sofa. He has no idea how to cook or do anything."

Tuyet, a bank accountant in Hanoi, is among a myriad of Vietnamese women, especially those living in metropolises with stable jobs, stressed out of their minds with laundry and cooking, etc., with zero support from their partners.

"Unpaid work is thought to be a woman's affair, so they have less time to engage in paid jobs or join social activities," said Hoang Phuong Thao, head of ActionAid Vietnam, a non-governmental organization fighting poverty and injustice worldwide, in a report on women doing housework in Vietnam.

In 2018, a survey by the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs and the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research revealed only 3 percent of surveyed husbands wash dishes at home, with only 0.5 percent offering to do so all the time.

Notably, 20 percent said they had never washed dishes, which, according to many Vietnamese men, are women's jobs.

A report conducted by the Labor Ministry and ActionAid in 2016 showed Vietnamese women spent an average five hours a day on unpaid work such as household chores and childcare, while men spared only around three hours.

According to the report, in some disadvantaged areas, women spent over eight hours a day on unpaid employ.

Many women, especially those stuck at home with their husbands during the Covid-19 semi-lockdown, feel pressured by the amount of housework they face, alongside the lack of support from their male counterparts.

"He is like a kid, cluelessly moving around the kitchen, sitting in front of his laptop or the TV until I call him for lunch or dinner," said Le Hoang Thanh Huong, 38, English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City.

"I do not want to put up with this situation any longer since I also have to work. We must share these responsibilities equally," she maintained.


More and more Vietnamese women have taken up positions in the labor market, working longer hours and earning more than ever before, instead of staying home completely dependent on their husbands.

"Almost three-quarters of Vietnam's female working-age population has been part of the labor force for at least two decades, one of the highest and most persistent rates in Asia and the world," according to a report by International Monetary Fund released last year.

With younger women going to work and earning money like their husbands, the demands to share housework and related responsibilities have also grown, leading to the so-called "chore wars."

"I work eight hours per day just like my husband, so why do I have to cook dinner, wash the dishes, do the laundry, and prepare his breakfast while he does nothing? It is unfair," said Nguyen Thi Bich Thao, 30, a headhunter in downtown Saigon.

The mother of a two-year-old toddler added she did not have time to take a rest or even listen to her favorite music as her life "was all about the baby and chores".

"Sometimes I got mad looking at him doing nothing but watch TV and sleep on weekends," Thao complained.

According to many sociologists, the social and economic changes inherent to rapid industrialization, modernization and international integration have changed the perception of women and their domestic responsibilities among Vietnamese youngsters.

"Women's lives have improved markedly, and they now have many chances to dress up, get made up, and go on holiday," said Vuong Thi Hanh, former deputy chairwoman of the Central Committee of Vietnam Women's Union.

These changes, clashing with traditional values, create a demand for equality when it comes to household chores, payment and many other aspects of life in which both men and women share.

"Women fight for equality at work, but we also need it at home," Thao commented.

Common stereotypes that uphold men as pillars of the family and only capable of working outside the house add to the domestic imbalance.

It is commonly said if women fail to manage their family affairs and housework, they are nothing, regardless of how successful they may be in their careers and society, according to sociologists.

Research by the Institute for Social Development Studies pointed out Vietnamese women are more likely to get involved in housework than men. Fixing and maintaining equipment in the house are usually solely reserved for men.

"Traditional gender norms are clearly reflected in the way parents educate their children," according to the research.

In the past few years, the government has raised public awareness on gender equality, but the situation remains dire as the majority of women stay trapped within the "invisible" areas of informal, unpaid employment, according to the International Labor Organization.

"I tell both my son and daughter to do housework, so they could learn women and men can share domestic chores. But my husband is still stubborn, seeing him lying on the couch all day makes me sick," said Tuyet.

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