Author: Hannah Stephenson
This month marks CARE International’s Global campaign March4Women where we will be joining together with partners and organization across the world to celebrate and empower women to march for their rights!
In Vietnam, CARE aims to raise awareness around gender-based violence (GBV) with a particular focus on sexual harassment (SH) and its impacts on female workers.
When faced with the words ‘sexual harassment’, the world seems to struggle to come to terms with identifying any real collective definition. In Vietnam, both the legal context of sexual harassment and the lack of one unifying definition continue to ensure that SH remains as a topic very much under the radar.
What is sexual harassment?
According to the Code of Conduct on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, sexual harassment is “defined as any behaviour of a sexual nature that affects the dignity of women and men, which is considered as unwanted, unacceptable, inappropriate and offensive to the recipient, and that creates an intimidating, hostile, unstable or offensive work environment”.
Facts and figures on sexual harassment in Vietnam
Since the introduction of SH into legal frameworks in 2013, it is shocking to see that not a single case of sexual harassment at the workplace has been brought to court in Viet Nam. Worse still, according to the Tiếng Chuông (a webpage of the National Committee for AIDS, Drugs and Prostitution Prevention and Control), no one has even been fined for this offence (while several cases of child sexual abuse have been brought to court). On the other hand, statistics demonstrate that 78.2% of victims of workplace sexual harassment within Vietnam are women.
According to a survey in 2014 , 87% of women respondents from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City reported that they experienced sexual harassment in public places, and 67% of bystanders did nothing to stop it. At schools, 31% of girls said that they were sexually harassed in public places and on public transport. A report by Plan International said that 11% of students in 30 high schools in Hanoi reported having been sexually abused or harassed.
Another study on sexual harassment in the workplace in Viet Nam, conducted by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), found that the fear of reprisals prevents victims from speaking out, let alone reporting any formal complaints and therefore evidence would suggest that many only seek help or report their concerns when harassment escalates to serious sexual assault.
Despite some reports, the reality of these statistics is yet to be fully realised. There have been no formal or legal studies addressing the impacts or scale of sexual harassment across Vietnam. SH remains under-reported, deep-rooted and wide-spread.
Blaming the victim
The Ministry of Labour Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) report in 2013 pointed out that victims of sexual harassment are predominantly women, usually in low-ranking positions that are below or dependent on their harassers. Since there are no direct provisions within the existing labour code on effectively prohibiting conduct or protecting victims, embarrassed and afraid of losing their jobs, many victims keep silent. Gender norms and traditional conservative attitudes may also be a contributing factor sweeping SH under the carpet; victims blame themselves and feel as if their behaviour or action is the reason why they are harassed. According to the MOLISA, victims of sexual harassment at work suffer both direct and indirect negative effects, such as poor physical health, emotional stress (and in some cases psychological crisis), economic strain resulting in difficulties in career development and economic empowerment.
How can we STOP sexual harassment!
Recent social media activities promoted to raise awareness including the #MeToo campaign is just one example of the extent of the the problem of sexual harassment and its effects on women globally. Collectively we should acknowledge a change in attitudes towards the taboo of SH and help to raise awareness on drawing the line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Discussions on SH should move away from blaming and shaming victims towards the development and implementation of policies that focus on combating the widespread nature of SH and ensuring that harassers do not go unnoticed or unpunished.
To stop sexual harassment against your colleagues, your friends/family and yourself, Join CARE in Vietnam in our #STOPsexualharassment (#chấm_dứt_quấy_rối_tình_dục) campaign and CARE global #March4Women campaign.
How to join:
- An ILO Convention on ending violence and harassment in the world of work: All you need to know about it
- Online social campaign #ListenWholeheartedly
- Delays in tackling sexual harassment can cost garment industry billions
- CARE supports consultation process on the draft revised Labour Code
- Reforming Care