Editorial: Closing the gender gap

LIKE the Philippines, Vietnam pins a lot of hopes for employment and income generation on tourism.

Hanoi, the capital, targets a seven-percent increase in tourist arrivals for the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016, according to its Department of Tourism.

This means attracting about 6.1 million tourists for the national capital, populated by about eight million.

By studying the Vietnamese experience, Filipinos can gain insights on how to navigate past pitfalls to grasp opportunities in tourism to improve people’s lives, particularly in closing the gap between genders.

From Hanoi to Hoa Lu is a two-hour bus ride that takes one past several business establishments. From weekday to weekend, one hardly sees locals frequenting the shops.

Crowds aggregate at stopovers, whose refreshments and “happy rooms (toilets)” draw buses and private cars endlessly unloading and loading tourists, and the terminal destinations of Hanoi’s myriad tour packages, such as Hoa Lu.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lu was the capital of Dai Co Viet, as the country was known during the Dinh and Le dynasties.

Today, the ancient capital has swarms of tourists tramping through its temples, imperial tombs and pagodas. Many local women left farms to take lightning snapshots of tourists, ride away on their bikes to print the photos, and then doggedly sell these to the camera subjects.

Wang, a tour guide, advised one not to look in the eye or smile at any local woman handling a camera if one wanted to avoid being shaken down to buy an amateurishly taken snapshot at tourist rates.

But it is not lack of technical finesse but smartphones and selfie sticks that challenge Hoa Lu’s amateur women photographers.

This is but a minor challenge, though, for the women of Vietnam, who, undeterred by inequalities in a patriarchal society, shoulder unpaid work raising children and running households but also take on nontraditional sources of income created by the tourism boom.

In 2011, a World Bank working paper made a favorable country gender assessment of Vietnam, citing its transformation from being “one of the poorest countries in the world to (becoming) a middle income country,” and its “considerable progress in addressing gender disparities in education, employment and health.”

“The gender gap in earnings is lower in Vietnam than in many other East Asian countries,” the World Bank said in assessing the country’s achievement of Millennium Development Goals.

Wang, 25, recently acquired his accreditation to guide international tourists, which improves his earnings and aspirations for his young family. His wife, a freelance teacher, taught him to speak English. An English-speaking guide is a prerequisite for Hanoi tours.

Three months ago, he and his wife decided that she will accept only students at home. This gives her the flexibility to balance work and caring for their three-month-old daughter, with the help of Wang’s mother.

Clicking on his China-made phone to show a photo of his baby, Wang said she is named Ming. It means “bright future”. She plays and sleeps without fuss, he said. “I want her to grow up learning to do things on her own.”