This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on February 3, 2021. The translation was done by Ha Thanh.
* * *
Only 9.5 percent of the members of the Central Committee of theVietnamese Communist Party (VCP) are women, or just 19 out of 200 members. Of these, 18 women are official members and one is an alternate member.
What do these numbers tell us?
Let’s take a look at some other numbers first.
In the Politburo (the Party’s most powerful body), only one member out of 18 is a woman, Truong Thi Mai. Mai is currently the head of the Central Mass Mobilization Department of the Central Committee, a not-so-important organ of the Party. Also, it is expected that Mai probably will not hold any important position in the next five years.
Among the new five members of the Secretariat – the body assisting the Politburo – one is a woman. Her name is Bui Thi Minh Hoai. Yes, while it is true that the Politburo could send more members to this body in the future, even if it does, it can only add one more woman, which would be its only female member, Truong Thi Mai.
Compared to the 12th Party Congress, the number of female members in the Party’s Central Committee has fallen by one person, and the number of female Politburo members has decreased by two.
None of the female Central Committee members of the 13th session may possibly hold key positions in the Party or the State. In the previous session, five years ago, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan became the chairwoman of Vietnam’s 12th National Assembly. Now, the “gang of four” or the “four pillars,” will just be made up of males.
However, if we look at the (arguably) equivalent of the VCP’s Central Committee, which is the National Assembly, we see a different picture.
The percentage of women in the National Assembly over the past 10 years has often been around 25 percent. Now, it is close to 27 percent, which is a lot higher if we compare it to the number of females in the Central Committee. Furthermore, this gender ratio is expected to remain unchanged in the National Assembly election in May 2021.
In 2018, Vietnam was among the top three countries in Southeast Asia with the highest proportion of women in its Congress, along with Laos (28 percent) and the Philippines (28 percent).
In the world, the percentage of female delegates in Vietnam’s Congress is even higher than the United States (23 percent), the Czech Republic (23 percent), South Korea (19 percent), Hungary (12 percent), Japan (10 percent), and even exceeds the global average of 25 percent.
Isn’t that great news? Unfortunately, the answer is No.
It is because the National Assembly is of little significance in Vietnam. Every Vietnamese citizen acknowledges the fact that our Congress has no real authority. It is nothing more than the place that rubber stamps the Politburo’s and the Party Central Committee’s decisions.
In Vietnamese, people usually call the National Assembly the agency of “puppets” where its delegates just nod and approve Party decisions.
Real political power only rests in the VCP and its committees.
The Politburo is a gathering of about 20 of the most powerful Party members. However, the Central Committee is also becoming increasingly powerful, and we could say it has become the main power center within the Party. Obtaining a position within the Central Committee is one of the key goals of any serious and ambitious Vietnamese Communist politician. Failure to enter the “Central” (the word commonly used to refer to the Central Committee) is often regarded as the end of a Party member’s political life because he or she would be one of the voices that carries no authority.
The fact that women only make up less than 10 percent of the Central Committee, therefore, can be considered as a reflection of their actual position in Vietnam’s politics.
Of course, the proportion of female politicians in the localities may be higher. However, for an authoritarian regime with only one political party like Vietnam, where the central government dominates almost every aspect of society, being a part of the Central Committee gives its members actual political authority.
Why is the proportion of women in politics in Vietnam so low?
Gender stereotypes are considered to be a major barrier to climbing the political ladder in Vietnam. Research by Oxfam shows that all genders in Vietnam prefer male leaders. To them, men are viewed as more suited for leadership roles, and also have the masculine qualities that are also believed to be the necessary qualities of a good leader.
In spite of all the good rhetoric about fairness and gender equality promoted by the VCP propaganda machine, and despite its putting on a seemingly pretty face on the proportion of women in politics, Vietnam, in fact, is still almost exclusively dominated by men.