The United Nations yesterday painted a grim picture of culturally engrained violence against women in Vietnam and called for a policy of 'zero tolerance'. Some of its most shocking findings related to domestic violence, which it said was common but rarely reported to police. It cited its study that showed that more than 80 per cent of women had experienced some form of violence. The main abuses were neglect, verbal abuse, beatings and forced sex. The UN also found that more than 60 per cent of men with HIV/Aids do not use condoms during sex with their wives. In 'The Gender Briefing Kit', the UN provides a snapshot of conditions in Vietnam and outlines some of the main inequities caused by what Jordan Ryan, the head of UN operations in the country, describes as socially learned behaviour. The high level of abuse occurs despite laws that outlaw rape, prostitution, sexual harassment, discrimination and trafficking. Another study by the Vietnam Women's Union found that almost all men - and most women - believed it was acceptable for a man to abuse his wife. Men blamed alcohol or temper for their violence, while their partners, in the tradition of stoic Vietnamese womanhood, accepted it as normal. What was needed to counter the high level of violence was 'better education and a policy of zero tolerance', Mr Ryan said. 'It is simply not acceptable behaviour.' He said gender imbalances, including violence towards women, threatened Vietnam's record on poverty reduction and economic growth. 'In unequal societies, in which men have more than women . . . you can bet that you're going to have more poverty there,' Mr Ryan said. 'If you ignore gender disparities, you can bet that you will have reduced growth. More equal societies are more efficient at transforming growth into poverty reduction.' The report revealed that women were denied equal access to land, education and jobs. They worked longer hours than men for less pay and on less food. The head of Vietnam's National Committee on the Advancement of Women, Tran Thi Mai Huong, acknowledges that Vietnam has had laws and policies to protect and promote women for 50 years. But she concedes it is time for a shift. 'We need to change our approach to dealing with gender,' she said. 'It's not just a task for the Women's Union but a responsibility of society at large.'