By Natasha Stott Despoja AM, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls
At a rooftop restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, the assembled guests were encouraged to “Break the Glass Ceiling” as we looked up at the glass roof above us.
This was not an act of rebellion, but an enthusiastic call by Australia’s Deputy Ambassador to Vietnam for the women of Vietnam to overcome barriers.
One of the highlights of my visits in many countries has been the chance to meet with our Australia Awards Alumni. I have had this pleasure in Bhutan, Indonesia and Mauritius.
Vietnam was no exception. In that restaurant I met talented men and women of all ages who had studied in Australia as a result of the Awards program and were now using their skills and interests to work in their home country.
Significantly, Vietnamese women account for well over half of Australia Awards recipients.
Our cultural and education exchange with Vietnam is impressive. At any time there are around 25,000 Vietnamese studying in Australia.
We also have Vietnamese students studying at an Australian institution within Vietnam and it was a revelation to visit the RMIT International University Vietnam campus, Vietnam’s first fully foreign owned-university.
When I first visited this campus, almost 13 years ago, it consisted of little more than demountable buildings among lush fields. Now it is a bustling, modern and high tech campus producing well rounded graduates. I met a group of wonderful young women studying there and enjoyed an afternoon discussing their stories and backgrounds and their hopes for the future.
Vietnam was the 29th country I have visited in my capacity as Ambassador for Women and Girls.
Like many of the countries I have been fortunate to visit, there are similarities between our nations.
Vietnamese women, like Australian women, have yet to achieve gender equality.
They have a gender pay gap (50 percent in the informal economy and around 75 percent in the formal economy); they have high rates of gender based violence (with around 58 percent of women having experienced some form of violence) and they have low levels of political representation (women comprise only 27 percent of representatives the National Assembly).
These are all areas where Australia, too, faces challenges and which are a focus for our bilateral cooperation: sharing experiences and finding common solutions. In Vietnam, for example, Australia is addressing issues ranging from economic empowerment – through programs such as WEAVE (Women’s Economic Empowerment through Agricultural Value Chain Enhancement) which I was honoured to launch – through to capacity building among female Assembly Members and working with NGOs and the Vietnamese Women’s Union to support survivors of gender based violence and to prevent violence in the first place.
I thank our team at the Embassy in Vietnam for a productive and whirlwind trip and congratulate them on their considerable efforts to make gender equality the central part of their work.
Natasha Stott Despoja
Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls
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