Women needed to be more active and prepared for leadership positions in agencies and organisations, especially political posts.

The opinion was shared at a conference about strengthening women's participation in leadership that was held in Hanoi on Dec. 29 by the Viet Nam Women's Union.

The traditional role of women in the family sometimes makes them reluctant to apply for higher positions, so it was necessary to raise awareness among women and their families about the issue, said Pham Van Thuan, vice director of the Party Central Committee's Commission for Organisation's Personnel and Organisation Department.

Maternity leave, child-rearing and various features of leadership posts including frequent travel and working aboard were common barriers, he said.

Nguyen Thi Quoc Te from the Supreme People's Court said that the earlier retirement age for women combined with maternity leave gave them less chance to earn promotion.

Nguyen Quang Du from the Central Committee of the Vietnam Father Front said that to some extent, current policies posed difficulties for women such as the retirement age and requirements to apply for further training.

To qualify for the top positions in departments and ministries, candidates are required to have gone on advanced political courses and female candidates must be at least 36 years old. This means there are almost no opportunities for younger workers.

In another case, to apply for a State-funded scholarship under a project to improve leadership and management, candidates must be nominated by their colleagues as potential management personnel before they are put on what is a very limited shortlist.

"Women need a louder voice to contribute to the policy making process at grassroots levels, preparing human resources for higher posts," Du said.

Head of the Personnel and Organisation Department under the Vietnam Women's Union Tran Thi Lan said that the number of women in leadership positions in central institutions including the National Assembly and Government ministries had yet to reach its true potential.

The higher the position, the fewer women there were, she said, adding that according to a personnel plan for the next 10 years, this was not expected to change significantly.

"Joint efforts and co-operation are needed. The union is always willing to introduce and recommend competent women for leading positions," she said.

The conference was part of a project to strengthen the rate of women's participation in central leadership launched last year.

The project, worth 357,500 euro (460,000 USD), was implemented by the unions in the provinces of Quang Binh, Phu Tho, Kon Tum, Kien Giang and Binh Phuoc and Hai Phong city. The Spainish Agency for International Co-operation and Development provided 325,000 euro (419,000 USD). /.