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Exploring indigenous approaches to women’s well-being in Viet Nam : negotiating gender Nguyen, Julie H.D.T.

Abstract

Using an interdisciplinary approach, this dissertation focuses on the cultural aspects of women's well-being in Viet Nam in the context of achieving more effective and equitable human development. The concept of culture refers to the traditions, which have been formed and transformed over thousands of years, and which are mainly characterized by the intertwining of conflicting doctrines of indigenous culture. This study seeks to: (a) describe some of the major historical and cultural factors affecting gender relations; (b) examine the effectiveness of national and international efforts in negotiating and adapting to the gender and development approach; and (c) evaluate the implications of current socio-economic and cultural changes for the future well-being of women and female children. Using qualitative and quantitative methods in a variety of approaches, including a review of Vietnamese primary sources, policy documents and a case study of a suburban commune, the thesis reaches five main conclusions. First, Viet Nam encounters certain difficulties in achieving women's emancipation, which stems from its historical, cultural and political context that requires a concerted effort to negotiate and adapt to the prevalent theories relating to the gender and development approach. Second, although there remain considerable negative impacts of traditional norms and practices on women, there are also tremendously positive aspects of equality and social cohesion in these traditions. Therefore, a balanced and thorough analysis is necessary in order to identify suitable and effective intervention measures. Third, with the recent đổi mới (renovation) policies, the promotion of gender equity has met with a certain degree of success, but apparently is still significantly constrained by the persistence of social and cultural norms that create continual obstacles to gender equality. Fourth, the dynamics of changes in gender relations at local levels reveal that women are often left in more vulnerable positions in terms of receiving lower benefits achieved at higher cost and sacrifice. Fifth, policy prescriptions regarding women's wellbeing will require a consideration of material and non-material aspects of their relative situation, an appreciation of both modern and traditional values, and a realistic and sensitive approach in making proposals for their reform and modification.

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