Crime & Justice

The $8 fine that reveals sexual harassment impunity in Vietnam

By Eric San Juan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Dec 2 (efe-epa).- Vietnam is one of the world’s most advanced countries in terms of women’s rights in Asia, but a recent episode of sexual harassment in a lift, which resulted in a minimal sanction, has shown the impunity for these actions.

In a nine-second video see throughout social networks in the country, a 44-year-old Estonian man unexpectedly whips the buttocks of a woman exiting an elevator in Ho Chi Minh City.

Following the victim’s complaint, authorities imposed an administrative penalty of 200,000 dong ($8.63) on the attacker, which has exposed the shortcomings of the Vietnamese legal system to protect women from these actions.

For Khuat Thu Hong, founder and director of the Vietnam Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS), this episode and a similar one from a year ago in Hanoi – when a man forcibly kissed a woman in a lift – are proof of the country’s legal failings.

“There is no definition of sexual harassment in the penal code. When something like this happens, authorities do not know what to do and impose an administrative sanction. It does not make any sense. Vietnam is defenseless to protect women,” he told EFE from Hanoi.

According to Hong, this legal vacuum does not represent the perception of society, which generally condemns these acts. He said the man sanctioned a year ago with the same fine for kissing a woman was expelled from the apartment he had rented and had trouble finding a landlord who would accept him as a tenant.

“I don’t know what happened to him, but the public scorn was much more important than the 200,000 dong fine,” he said, adding that tolerance for these actions has been reduced to a minimum in the last decade.

However, these two cases, which received a lot of media attention due to the dissemination of videos from security cameras, are not anecdotal: a study by the organization Action Aid in 2014 revealed that 87 percent of women surveyed in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, had suffered some kind of harassment.

Although global sexual harassment awareness movements such as “Me Too” have not had much of an impact in Vietnam, Hong said he thinks they have contributed to changing minds and highlighting the issue of impunity.

Legal helplessness in the face of harassment is striking in a country such as Vietnam, where women have won more rights than in other neighboring countries.

One of the fields in which it is most noticeable is labor: according to ISDS, women represent 49 percent of the workforce and 79 percent of women are in paid employment, figures higher than in most of the world.

“In Vietnam we have a saying for women: if you can earn money, you are strong. Women are stronger in our country because they work. There is evidence of the importance of women in the economy for centuries,” the director of ISDS said.

These achievements are reflected in the percentage of women in positions of responsibility in companies, 27 percent, with prominent figures such as Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, CEO of the airline Vietjet Air, included in 2019 in the list of the 1,000 wealthiest people on the planet.

In addition, Vietnamese mothers are entitled to six-month paid maternity leave, the longest in Asia, something Hong said was a double-edged sword due to the lack of correlation with paternity leave, of just five days since it was implemented. four years ago.

“The law implies that taking care of children is the woman’s job, paternity leave is simply symbolic. Maternity leave has a good side, but it places women at a disadvantage, many companies doubt whether to hire them for this reason and enlarges the wage gap,” he said.

Hong said maternity is also the reason most entrepreneurs have small or medium businesses, as they have to take care of the upbringing and housework.

Another peculiarity of Vietnam is the presence of women in professions traditionally reserved for men: it is common to see taxi or motorcycle taxi drivers and construction workers.

“We believe women can do everything men do. I have seen women in all kinds of jobs during the war because men were not there. However, segregation still exists, many people think that women should take lighter employment. In the end, many do what they want,” he said. EFE-EPA


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