Social change for women workers in garment factories in rural Vietnam

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Duong, Thuy Trong (2022) Social change for women workers in garment factories in rural Vietnam. PhD thesis, Victoria University.

Abstract

In the last five years an increasing number of garment factories in Vietnam have relocated to rural areas in the country, as has also occurred in other countries in Southeast Asia. In large part, the purpose of this has been to recruit a workforce from the peasants currently working in family agriculture. Workers in these factories are mainly women who are older than 25 and have children. Some of these women had been working in factories in large cities who returned home. These factories also opened up employment opportunities for “left-behind” mothers, women who had never migrated out of their village. Previous research has explored why young women migrated to work in factories in cities, the ways they struggled with aspects of modern life in urban areas, how this changes their gender identity, and forms of exploitation they experienced. Rural women workers with children have rarely been included in these studies. Rural factory work is quite distinct, partly because women are able to stay in their homeplace while also working in the formal labour force. This thesis draws on feminist approaches, in particular Third World Feminism, to examine the ways women experience these changes and negotiate new roles in their families and communities because of this work. Further, the thesis examines how the move from family agriculture into the formal workforce creates cultural change in their communities. Using an ethnographic approach, I spent time in a Vietnamese village and during this time I worked alongside women to observe changes in this context and I conducted semi structured interviews with women factory workers. In this study I have occupied the role of both an “insider” and “outsider,” because I grew up in a village nearby but left many years ago. Thematic analysis was used to develop themes across the interviews, with fieldnotes providing thick description about the factory setting and community context. The shift to paid work has had a dramatic impact on the lives of these women workers. Women’s work is valued in a new way. Family agriculture was a form of ‘invisible’ work, but their work in the formal sector is valued as ‘real’ work, both by their families and their communities. This is the starting point for changes to individual, family and community roles and dynamics. This study shows that the factory becomes a public homeplace, a flexible working environment that has brought rural women together and strengthened the relationship between them. Mothering working women, as a result of increased income and a shifting social status, have become active powerholders and decision makers, resulting in increased agency (choice and control) over who they are, what they look like and how they resist, maintain, and negotiate their place and role in the family and community. Whilst women’s work in factories is exploitative, it opens up many possibilities for the women themselves and triggers an incremental change process that could have important flow on effects for their daughters’ generation.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/43934
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4405 Gender studies
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4410 Sociology
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords factories, Vietnam, women, Third World Feminism, cultural change, communities, gender relations, ethnography
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