Invisible labor: Vietnamese women and all the unpaid hours they are forced to accept

By Trang Bui   October 20, 2017 | 12:35 am PT
Men simply aren't pulling their weight, according to a new ActionAid report.

Vietnamese women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day doing unpaid care work, three times more than men, new research from the charity ActionAid has found.

That translates to 32 hours per week or 207 working days per year, based on a working day of eight hours.

The burden is greatest on elderly women (60+), who spend more than five hours per day caring for their grandchildren and doing housework. 


Paid and unpaid work by age. Extracted data from ActionAid Vietnam's Unpaid Care Work Time Diary Surveys - April to July 2016

The number is even more staggering for women from the H'mong ethnic minority group, who spend an average of seven hours a day on unpaid labor, two hours more than their male counterparts and nearly three hours more than women from the Kinh majority ethnic group in Vietnam.

Most of the time is spent on housework, caring for family and collecting fuel and water, chores that would be less arduous with better access to infrastructure and public services.

Unpaid care work is not a new global concept, but in Vietnam it’s still invisible and widely undervalued, according to the report.

ActionAid researchers asked 784 participants from nine cities and provinces across Vietnam to keep track of their paid and unpaid work from January to June 2016.

Nong Van Dong, deputy manager of development assistance in Cao Bang Province, oversaw the diaries kept by over 100 people from Thong Nong Village, a northern mountainous area where the majority of people are ethnic minority groups.

“The idea of unpaid care work is completely new to both men and women here,” Dong told VnExpress International on the sidelines of a conference on Thursday. “In one of the villages, 35 out of 50 men said housework and care work were for women. They think it’s a matter of fact.”

Dong said that men in Cao Bang would never do housework. They leave home for days on end to work in far-flung areas, leaving the household chores to their wives and mothers.

“They’d feel embarrassed if they were seen doing housework,” Dong explained. “If a man wanted to wash clothes for his wife and newborn baby, his parents would forbid him to, reminding him that it’s not his duty.”

But keeping track of their time has made the women realize how consumed they are with unpaid work while their men are out earning money, drinking and watching TV, a luxury they can rarely afford.

“They kept silent when we first addressed the issue, but at the third and fourth meetings, the women started to counter the traditional arguments, saying that housework should be shared between husband and wife," Dong recalls.

“I saw a man washing clothes for his pregnant wife by a river last year, but change has been minimal,” Dong said.

At the conference in Hanoi, ActionAid researcher Nguyen Phuong Thuy questioned the conundrum.

“In cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, women are paid up to VND7 million ($308) a month for housework and child care,” Thuy said. “Once they get married, they earn nothing, doing the same job.”

But the study also points out that even in big cities, educated women don’t seem to escape the burden either. Regardless of their education, women are still subjected to the same social norms and expected to carry the little varying numbers of unpaid care work hours.


Unpaid care work by levels of education. Extracted data from ActionAid Vietnam's Unpaid Care Work Time Diary Surveys - April to July 2016

Pham Phuong Chi, a lecturer at Vietnam's Women Academy, admitted at the conference her hours of child care are not much less than women in mountainous areas.

“My baby is four months old and I’m already worried about giving her a proper education," Chi said. "I spend hours taking care of her and even send her to nursery.”

Researchers believe if the work was equally shared, women would have more time to do paid work and enjoy recreation, while public services would reduce the burden for both genders.

“Domestic work makes all other work possible,” a 2016 UN Women report stated. 

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