Friday, July 24, 2020

Can Vietnam leverage its COVID-19 success for economic growth?

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A policeman helping a rider fix their mask | Source: Đài Truyền Thanh TPST via Wikimedia

While the entire world is battling with COVID-19, Vietnam, in a country of over 100 million recorded just 330 cases as of early June 2020 and zero death in May 2020.

A professor at Nagasaki University’s Institute of Tropical Medicine Vietnam Research Station said that "Vietnam has no special test kits or drugs to treat the disease, but the government decided to do what it had to do at an early stage and put that plan straight into practice."

Vietnam was quick in its action. As soon as the first case was confirmed, the government had called upon measures for serious quarantine, implemented strict border control measures, and curbed unnecessary local movement. Close to a million people were isolated to halt the spread of further infections.

The strict measures helped Vietnam to quickly control the COVID situation and put the focus back on the economy. The mainstay of Vietnam's economy, garment export and tourism witnessed steep fall resulting in loss of employment to over 3.5 million people in the first half of 2020. Still Vietnam’s economy has expanded by 0.36% over last year in the same period unlike other countries in the region where it contracted as compared to last year. The annual GDP growth for Vietnam in 2020 is expected to be around 2.7% to 3% which again is the best in the region.

Vietnam , today is the safest country in the region to travel, work, or stay amidst the worldwide COVID pandemic. It is being favourably considered as an alternative destination by many companies who are looking to cut down their reliance on China in their supply chain.  The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the European Union and Vietnam which will be operational in August, may help Vietnam grow its exports.

Apart from export led growth, the tourism sector may also grow significantly as the other major tourist destinations in the region, Singapore and Thailand, are still battling with the pandemic, while Vietnam has successfully overcome the same.

The government is also looking to support the local business by slashing the corporate income tax to 30 percent which increased the liquidity for some sectors of economy. Special tax benefits and deferred tax payments(in some cases) are also in  line for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which constitutes almost 97% of all the businesses in Vietnam. All these measures are expected to lead to a 7% GDP growth for Vietnam in 2021.

The miraculous recovery from the pandemic, government incentives to industry, and the willingness of many companies to relocate from China present such a perfect mix of opportunities for Vietnam to leap ahead and become the fastest-growing economies in SouthAsia. What remains is to see how fast and how effectively the country is able to act while this window of opportunity is open.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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