Our Perspectives

How abnormal is normal?


woman on motorbikeA woman carrys kids on her motorbikes through the street of Viet Nam. It’s a common rush-hour scene, where after-work routines for many women involve picking up kids, shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning, and helping kids with homework. Photo: Nguyen Viet Lan/UNDP Viet Nam

Women zip through the streets, carrying kids and groceries on their motorbikes. It’s a common rush-hour scene on the streets of Viet Nam, where after-work routines for many women involve picking up kids, shopping for groceries, cooking, cleaning, and helping kids with homework.

Existing stereotypes in Viet Nam confine women and men to certain roles, positions and careers. According to a UNDP report on women’s leadership in Viet Nam, few women achieve senior government positions. In the civil service, women hold very few senior posts: only nine percent ministers, eight percent vice ministers, and seven percent at director-general level.

The current situation is far from where Viet Nam has stated it wants to be. The National Strategy on Gender Equality sets a target of a minimum 35 percent women’s representation in elected office, but currently the National Assembly is only 24 percent female.  

There are gaps in policies and their implementation, and advancement is also restricted due to traditional views on gender norms. These views, held by men and women, are shaped in large part by societal stereotypes.

UNDP and UNFPA in Viet Nam recently launched a campaign to put a spotlight on these discriminatory stereotypes and behaviors. With the question “How abnormal is the normal?”, the campaign aims to achieve equality for all and allow everyone to achieve their full potential.

The campaign argues that what people in Viet Nam consider ‘normal’ gender roles are actually abnormal. These abnormalities are encountered every day in families and workplaces, in daily routines and conversations:

• that women cannot be seen as “fit” leaders

• when people shrug off the use of sex-selective abortions due to preference for sons

• when violence and harassment against women is not condemned in strongest terms possible

• that women are solely responsible for child care, while men can engage in “manly” activities such as drinking and sports.

The #HowAbnormal campaign targets both men and women and uses videos* featuring flipped gender roles to highlight the double standards in social norms and expectations placed on women and men, boys and girls. The goal is to raise awareness and  question "how abnormal the normal is" in order to change perspectives and behavior.

The #HowAbnormal campaign calls on the participation of the public, especially the youth, Government, media, and civil society organizations to take action to remove gender-based barriers. It encourages people to watch the films, take the pledge, and make a commitment to reshape gender norms towards a more equal and just society. 

Part of the campaign is a contest that encourages filmmakers to develop creative films that challenge negative gender stereotypes, bring in different perspectives, and promote equality in the workplace, home and public spaces.

This has been a truly exciting effort thus far, and it is just the beginning. Engaging youth has been the most rewarding part of this initiative, and we are keen to build on the energy, creativity and innovation of young people to reach as many households in Viet Nam as possible.

The messages and visual products generated by the campaign will now be taken to major universities across the country through our partnership with the Viet Nam Youth Union, involving over 70,000 young people.

Together, we can ensure that all of the population of Viet Nam is enabled to participate in, shape, and lead the country’s development.

*The videos were produced with support from the Innovation Fund of the UNDP Regional Bureau in Asia and the Pacific and replicate a successful initiative previously implemented by the UNDP in Nepal.

Bakhodir Burkhanov Capacity development Blog post Governance and peacebuilding Political participation Gender equality Women's empowerment Sustainable development Viet Nam Poverty reduction and inequality

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