Women of the Republics
Nghia M. Vo
         From 1954 onward with the birth of the Republic of Vietnam and under the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem, southern women embarked onto a new, free, and capitalist life modeled on western customs. They were given free education and basic freedoms that consolidated their standings and gains in society: from 1954 to 1960, five thousand elementary and secondary schools were built raising the national total from 1,780 to 6,774. These gains, however, were dampened by the rapidly growing war against the communists and its accompanying inflation and misery. As the war progressed and as men left for the army, women filled in the vacant positions and emerged as the breadwinners of the families. Familial and social responsibilities gradually shifted toward women.

         We will review in this chapter the southern republican society, businesswomen, women writers, Mme Ngo Dinh Nhu, a house divided, social changes and the effects of the arrival of the Americans.

         Southern capitalist society

         The north-south or Anti-communist War for the South Vietnamese (1954-1975)-also known as the Vietnam War by the Americans or the American War by the North Vietnamese-that decimated the country thrust women into new roles previously not reserved for them. Women took care of their families and businesses while their men went to war for an undetermined time. They were forced to perform many tasks by themselves including: raising and teaching their children alone, holding jobs outside home, running the family, and making other crucial decisions. The war temporarily freed them from Confucian rules and propelled them straight into the society.

         Under the First and Second Republics, the South Vietnamese Constitution gave them equal protection under the law and many went to the universities to become professionals, teachers, writers, engineers, nurses, doctors and lawyers. They proved to themselves and to the country they had the will and the brain to achieve academic goals although the burden of tradition still weighted heavily upon their shoulders. They took positions formerly reserved for men and became professionals, managers, lawyers, and some even engaged in various political and military roles. They were visible in major societal positions. They earned their shares of income while their husbands' fixed military income rapidly lost its value due to rising inflation.

         The arrival of half a million American soldiers dealt another blow to the Confucian society: the vast array of goods and the rapid inflow of a strong U.S. currency after 1965 destabilized the economy and worsened the inflation: 440 percent in 1969 and 900 percent in 1972. The middle class became poorer and the chasm between rich and poor widened. People had to struggle constantly to remain virtuous but poor or corrupt but rich: a university professor, despite all his training and credentials earned less in a month than a bargirl in a night. Western role models and morals sapped this oriental society at its core. Therefore, everyone including women faced the constant daily fight against the temptations of ill and easily gotten money, vice, and decadence.

        Please read the rest of the story in THE WOMEN OF VIETNAM.