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The e-Newsletter of the Gender Network

March/April 2012 | Vol. 6, No. 1

My practical approach to promoting gender equality in Viet Nam

by Nguyen Thanh Giang, Gender Officer, Viet Nam Resident Mission* Nguyen Thanh Giang shares how she introduces the concept of gender mainstreaming to the people she works with. Early in my career, I visited an NGO-funded training program on hybrid pig raising in the mountainous parts of northern Viet Nam. It was here that I first realized how overlooking gender issues may significantly affect our works effectiveness. Over a half of the participants were male farmers. As the session was going on, my colleagues and I observed that the men did not seem to be interested in the session. They sat in small groups, smoking pipe cigarettes, and chatting with each other. In contrast, most of the women were active, watching, preparing feeds, feeding the hybrid piglets, and asking questions. I asked why these men were not interested and was told by a female participant that males normally do not prepare feeds for pigs at home. However, they were in the training because the commune people's committee often invited household representative to training sessions, who were often male, regardless of the topics of meetings or training. In fact, the female told me that her husband was sick, which was why she was able to attend this training. That opened my eyes to the fact that men and women play different roles and have different needs, constraints, and interests. If development workers do not see these and treat men and women as a homogenous group, development support may not be effective. Our challenges Over the years, I have experienced many challenges in working on gender issues in Viet Nam. First is the low awareness among people of gender issues. In the Vietnamese language, the term gender is not self-explanatory and is often thought to refer to "sex" or biological differences between men and women, instead of socially determined differences. It is, therefore, hard to work for something that people cannot even define. The second challenge is the limited capacity of government partners to implement projects using the gender mainstreaming approach. Many agencies at both central and local levels don't have the capacity to diagnose and address gender issues even when resources are available. Moreover, enforcement of laws on gender equality in Viet Nam is weak. Though the country performs rather well in the region in terms of promoting gender equality, I feel that not many agencies take serious effort to implement it. To illustrate, there are many job advertisements in newspapers that encourage only male applicants to apply. Many promotional materials or text
* This is article was originally published in ADB Avenue in the section On the Frontlines

books show gender bias or promote gender stereotypeswomen and girls are good at cooking and washing. Yet no one acts to stop these. If these violations are not sanctioned and publicized, promoting gender equality will continue to be challenging. Given these challenges, awareness raising and capacity building are very important. I often use workshops as a venue to make partners understand gender issues fully. This is more effective when the participatory approach is used, meaning, there are a lot of group discussions and gender analyses of real situations. Adding meaning to numbers At ADB, I try to make our partner's staff aware of these issues during field visits and every opportunity that I get. When I visit the field with partner's staff, interviewing community people to learn about the needs and constraints of men and women, I found that using real numbers and efficiency arguments is acceptable to technical staff. For example, I say "because 65-70% of agriculture work is performed by women, so they should play an important role in irrigation water users' association and board" or "as women are important users of safe waters because they do do family chores like cooking, washing, bathing their babies, they should attend trainings or make decisions on design plan of pipe arrangement. Only then do the Gender Action Plans become real and relevant to them. That said, I will need to find effective arguments for promoting gender equality in non-traditional sectors such as transportation or energy. I am very happy to see that two laws on gender equality and prevention of domestic violence were passed. I am proud to have worked with organizations, including the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and ADB, which supported the adoption of these laws. One of my most fulfilling experiences was when, through my efforts, the staff and management of a district health center in a central province fully embraced gender equality, with the director becoming a change agent. Way beyond the project, he continued to promote gender equality in all primary health care interventions and introduced prevention of domestic violence as part of the service package in their district hospital. Tips for gender specialists and project staff For gender specialists or mission and project implementers who wish to work on gender issues, I would suggest they take every opportunity to talk to ultimate beneficiaries or "target groups " (both men and women, boys and girls of Kinh and ethnic groups, if there are) to learn how these will affect men and women, and boys and girls. Observing project activities onsite will also be helpful in achieving effectiveness. Gender issues, I have to add, are not only development issues but are also about the rights of citizenswhether whether political, economic, social or cultural. As a VRM gender officer, I am happy to see that my inputs are well recognized and taken by my colleagues. Also, I am glad to see my recommendations are well taken by project partners in the projects. Through these, I hope to see ADB-financed projects really improving the living conditions and the decision making power of women and girls, as well as men and boys.

The views expressed in this paper are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this paper do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology.