Open Access Research

Dimensions of gender relations and reproductive health inequity perceived by female undergraduate students in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam: a qualitative exploration

Thanh Cong Bui1*, Christine M Markham1, Michael W Ross1, Mark L Williams2, R Palmer Beasley3, Ly TH Tran3, Huong TH Nguyen4 and Thach Ngoc Le5

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health, The University of Texas - Health Science Center at Houston, 7000 Fannin Street, UCT 2610C, Houston, TX, USA

2 Department of Health Policy and Management, Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, Florida International University, Florida, USA

3 Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences, School of Public Health, The University of Texas - Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA

4 Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

5 Department of Sociology, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Can Tho University, Can Tho City, Vietnam

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2012, 11:63  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-63

Published: 24 October 2012

Abstract

Introduction

Increasing evidence indicates that gender equity has a significant influence on women’s health; yet few culturally specific indicators of gender relations exist which are applicable to health. This study explores dimensions of gender relations perceived by female undergraduate students in southern Vietnamese culture, and qualitatively examines how this perceived gender inequity may influence females’ sexual or reproductive health.

Methods

Sixty-two female undergraduate students from two universities participated in eight focus group discussions to talk about their perspectives regarding national and local gender equity issues.

Results

Although overall gender gaps in the Mekong Delta were perceived to have decreased in comparison to previous times, several specific dimensions of gender relations were emergent in students’ discussions. Perceived dimensions of gender relations were comparable to theoretical structures of the Theory of Gender and Power, and to findings from several reports describing the actual inferiority of women. Allocation of housework and social paid work represented salient dimensions of labor. The most salient dimension of power related to women in positions of authority. Salient dimensions of cathexis related to son preference, women’s vulnerability to blame or criticism, and double standards or expectations. Findings also suggested that gender inequity potentially influenced women’s sexual and reproductive health as regards to health information seeking, gynecological care access, contraceptive use responsibility, and child bearing.

Conclusion

Further investigations of the associations between gender relations and different women’s sexual and reproductive health outcomes in this region are needed. It may be important to address gender relations as a distal determinant in health interventions in order to promote gender-based equity in sexual and reproductive health.

Keywords:
Gender relation; Gender equity; Women’s health; Reproductive health; Vietnam; Undergraduate student.