Last week the Vietnam News ran a story about International Women’s Day. It reported that: “This year’s inflation may be a dampener on International Women’s Day, but many supermarkets and centres in HCM City have announced sales and promotions to attract ladies back to the shops.” One supermarket chain was running a promotion called “Ton vinh ve dep Viet” (Honour Vietnamese beauty) and at another chain a promotion was titled Rang ngoi ve dep Viet (Shining Vietnamese Beauty).
International Women’s Day in Vietnam is like a cross between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
This morning at work, I and my two female work colleagues each received a red rose from our male boss. On March 8 each year, said my colleagues, men in Vietnamese offices will often buy the women they work with flowers as our boss did, and treat them to lunch as well. Husbands and boyfriends buy dinners and gifts and husbands may even tidy up the house that day.
Hanoi has many beer taverns that are either open to the street or actually on the footpath, and are almost exclusively patronised by men. However, tonight a couple that I go past on the way home from work were much quieter than usual.
But the florists were busy, and many street vendors were positioned by the road to sell roses from shallow baskets balanced on the seats of their bicycles. Red roses fetched around 10 times their usual price today, given the expectation that men will buy some for the women in their lives, professionally and personally.
All this is a far cry from the origins of the day, as described on the United Nations’ website, as emerging from labour movement early in the last century and becoming a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women.
The way the day is observed in Vietnam also contrasts with my memories of March 8 in Australia, where it’s commemoration is also firmly rooted in the labour and women’s movements and is also a day to celebrate women’s achievements as, over the past century, they have increased their choices in how they live their lives. On the other hand, the day is not widely observed and I suspect that most Australians would not be even aware of it.
For a different view of women in Vietnam from the one that’s mostly presented on International Women’s Day visit the Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi, or look at its website at www.womenmuseum.org.vn.