Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bay Area Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 3: Women Fight for Liberation

The women of Vietnam

In order to really understand the position of women in Vietnam today it is important to know a little about the lives of women in pre-revolutionary Vietnam (before about 1945). For centuries Vietnam was ruled by foreign powers. From about 1850 the French controlled Vietnam. The people in Vietnam lived in miserable conditions under the rule of the French colonialists. Nine out of ten of the people were poor farmers, living on land owned by rich French and Vietnamese landlords. When times were hard, even the peasants who owned small rice plots had to sell their plots to the landlords and then had to pay high rents in order to grow crops on them.

The peasants were also forced to pay many taxes. To get the money for taxes parents often had to sell their children. Or husbands would hire out their wives. It was common to see “women peasants in tattered clothes pulling the plough in place of the missing buffalo.” Women also made up about 15% of the work force. They were forced to work 12 hours a day doing the same work as men for half the wages. Women workers were laid off with no relief when they were pregnant. In order to keep a job, many women would try to hide their pregnancies by wearing tight belts. This often killed the baby. Women whose husbands died were barred by tradition from remarrying. Relatives would take away children of any widow who married again. The Vietnamese woman was oppressed not just by French and Vietnamese rulers but by her man as well. She was the slave’s slave.

However, the situation of women began to change rapidly in 1930 with the founding of the Indochinese Communist Party (later the Vietnam Workers’ Party). The Party, headed by Ho Chi Minh, realized that the country couldn’t win independence from French rule and get rid of the landlords and the exploitive bosses with only half the country, the men, involved in the fight. The Party worked to get rid of anything that oppressed women and kept them from being involved in the struggle – and in its first political writings the Party declared that the struggle for the equality of the sexes was one of “the 10 principal tasks of the revolution.” In 1930 the Party helped form the Women’s Union for Emancipation (later the Vietnam Women’s Union) to mobilize the masses of women workers and peasants and intellectuals—first in the fight against the French colonialists (1945-54), then in the struggle against American imperialism, and now, in the northern half of Vietnam, in the building of socialism.


The Vietnamese women rose up to smash the shackles that bound them for so long. Many times they were tortured to death for refusing to give up the fight for the freedom of their people. One woman, Minh Kai, who was arrested during the early days of the Communist Party, refused to give her tormentors any information at all. They killed her. But before she died she wrote on the prison cell wall with her own blood:

A rosy cheeked woman, here I am
fighting side by side with you, men!
On my shoulders weighs the hatred
that is common to both of us.
The prison is my school, its mates my friends,
The sword is my child, the gun my husband.

This poem clearly shows the spirit of the Vietnamese woman—that her equality with men could only spring from a common struggle for the liberation of the country and the building of a new society.

At first, in the fight against the French, women took over all the work at home to allow their husbands to fight on the front. Then young wives even began to add their signatures to their husbands’ applications to enlist in the people’s army. By 1952 there were almost a million women guerrilla fighters in North and South Vietnam, battling to drive out the French colonialists. Women too old to go to war formed the Association of Fighters’ Mothers. Its members hid and supplied fighters. These women considered all those fighting for the liberation of Vietnam their “adopted” children.

Immediately after the liberation of North Vietnam from French rule, women worked tirelessly to rebuild their country. For the construction of one dam, women provided 80% of the labor. They worked to undo the damage caused by American and French aggression. Because it had been impossible to live any other way, 30,000 women in Hanoi had been forced into prostitution under the rule of the French and their Vietnamese Women’s Union placed those women in production and construction groups where they could earn a living while learning a trade. By 1961 the number of women industrial workers had increased to 70,000 (from 10,000 in 1952). In addition, 3 million peasant women were working in agricultural cooperatives. By 1965 women made up 45% of the workers in light industry and 23% in heavy industry.

Women’s liberation in North Vietnam was not achieved easily, of course. There were many problems. For the first time, women, who had never left their houses, were actively participating in social activity (going to meetings, etc.). But many women elected to positions of responsibility often quit. Either the extra work was too much of a burden or their husbands had ideas left over from the old society and resented their wives being politically active. They wanted them to just take care of the house. The Party realized that these old ideas were keeping, women from taking part in the revolution. So besides creating laws which guaranteed women equality, the Party also waged a persistent struggle against the ideas that kept women down. They took the struggle to the masses of people (especially the women themselves).

In 1946, North Vietnam passed the law on marriage and the family. This law guaranteed freedom of marriages, stated that a man could have only one wife, guaranteed equality between men and women, and protected women and children’s rights. This touched off a big struggle among many peasants against ideas and customs left over from the old society. Practices like child marriage, marrying many wives, etc., were still very common. Laws alone could not get rid of these old customs – it took a lot of education and persistent struggle led by the women.

Today in South Vietnam, even in the midst of the war of liberation against U.S. imperialism, the struggle for the liberation of women is being carried out, based on the successful battles waged in the North. The Vietnamese Women’s Union has organized women into handicraft teams (knitting, basketwork, etc.) to help them lead independent lives and at the same time add to their income. In the towns, kindergartens and nurseries have been set up in every quarter.

On every level of the new Vietnamese society women are rising up and taking their rightful place as equals, comrades in the struggle to change the world. Theirs is a struggle we can surely learn from. It is an inspiration to fight our oppression as women as part of the struggle against the oppression of all people under U.S. imperialism.

The Vietnam Worker’s Party and the Vietnamese Women’s Union have been and still are always concerned with the daily needs of the masses of women workers and peasants. Today 90% of the women have been taught to read and write. Basic education and training courses have been started in the factories for women workers.