Vietnamese women make history, but they have more kicking to do

February 7, 2022 | 05:50 pm PT
Truong Anh Ngoc Journalist
Vietnamese women have accomplished the historic feat of winning a World Cup slot. This is a shot in the arm for their long, hard fight for equality with male peers.

When the final whistle of the Vietnam vs. Taiwan playoff match was blown Sunday, joy erupted. Fans had waited for a very long time to see Vietnam's women's football team win a place in the World Cup championship. And on Sunday, they made history.

There was cheering and laughing and shouting and screaming in my neighborhood. Someone even danced upstairs, thumping their feet on the floor above our apartment. Facebook hashtags rolled across the platform like a wave, carrying congratulatory messages.

Our women's ticket to the World Cup couldn't have come at a better time, on the last day of the Tet holiday and during springtime of the Vietnamese football scene. The ticket came just five days after the men's team defeated China in the last qualifier match for the World Cup, the furthest they've ever gone in their journey.

These victories were more than tournament slots; they were stories of courage and perseverance, of not backing down in the face of adversities. But for our women's team, it was also a story of their triumph over social bias and prejudices that have maligned them not only on the field, but also in everyday life.

Just around a decade ago, not many people cared about women's football in Vietnam. They only began to get more attention after winning the gold medal at the SEA Games 2019. They spent as much time and effort as their male peers, and yet never got the same acknowledgement. But such is the deep-rooted sexism and patriarchal attitude in Vietnam that their World Cup entry before the men is a victory that much more pronounced.

On the global stage, women's football has come a long way since the first World Cup championship 'in 1991. Their halves used to be five minutes shorter than the men's, their skill levels were far lower, and the criticism and sneers they took were many. Things have changed remarkably since. By the time of the most recent World Cup championship in France in 2019, women's football matches had gained nearly as much attention as their male counterparts.

Yet the fight for equality is far from over. After winning the championship, the U.S. women's football team still had to fight for appropriate remuneration levels compared to the men's. No matter what women footballers achieve, there will still be obstacles that prevent a level field with men. As long as the inequality prevails, female players won't be adequately rewarded for their sacrifices.

Our girls have gone through a lot of trials and tribulations to get to where they are today. They have pushed themselves beyond their limits not just to receive ovations, but also to make a stand in a man's world. The slogan for the 2019 Women's World Cup was "Dare to Shine," but our women have done that their entire lives. They will continue to do so in the matches in Australia and New Zealand in July and August next year. Their opponents will no doubt be formidable, but that would not dent their determination to do well and give their best.

A few years ago, when the Vietnamese women's team won the SEA Games, I had a conversation with coach Mai Duc Chung, who has dedicated many years to women's football. He said his greatest wish was to see his students having "stable and long-lasting jobs, love and families." He noted that he barely received any wedding invitations from his players.

It's unfortunate to see that not many things have changed since the day our girls won their gold medal in 2019, that there's still so much work to do to make our society given them their due. I hope that the ticket to the World Cup proves to be a game changer.

*Truong Anh Ngoc is a Vietnamese journalist in Hanoi. The opinions expressed are his own.

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