As Vietnam's Women Go Abroad, Dads Tend the Home

While there were some cases of adultery, divorce and drug abuse, the Vietnam survey results in particular appeared to challenge the notion that female labor migration leads to broken families, said Lan Anh Hoang, a lecturer in development studies at the University of Melbourne who conducted interviews in several Vietnamese villages for the survey. Vu Hoi and Vu Tien were part of the Vietnam sample, which covered the northern provinces of Thai Binh and Hai Duong.

Vietnamese men in rural areas "actually don't mind doing household chores," Hoang said. "They have always been involved in domestic work, so it's not a big issue now that their wives are away."

One possible explanation is that the country's communist government has long promoted gender equality, she said.

A Vu Hoi village official, Pham Ngoc Thuy, agreed.

"Of course there are positive and negative aspects of labor migration, but the media always focuses on the negative ones," he said. "In Vietnam we pride ourselves on gender equality, and when women go abroad, most men are willing to pitch in around the house."

The total amount of remittances sent back from all Vietnamese workers overseas now exceeds $2 billion a year, said Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, director of overseas labor management at the labor ministry. Taiwan, Malaysia and South Korea are the top three destinations.

Tran Xuan Cuong, a farmer in a nearby village said some of the roughly 170 million dong ($8,000) his wife saved was used to build an addition on their home and to invest in raising pigs and brewing liquor.

He said some neighborhood men fell into alcoholism or even heroin abuse, but he wasn't tempted.

"It was hard to be both a father and a mother, but it's something we do because it's our obligation," Cuong said while sitting in his living room.

Women, too, have made many sacrifices, giving up being with their children to earn money abroad.

"Everything is for the livelihood of our family," said Cuong's wife, Pham Thi Lien, who worked in Lebanon as a maid and later in a factory. "We both had to overcome difficulties."

Viet, the farmer and carpenter, said his wife was planning to return home from Taiwan for good later this year.

"I don't mind farm chores," he said with a grin. "But once she comes home, I'll be more than happy to hand back the other ones."

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