Mekong Plus fights domestic violence and sexual inequality in the Mekong Delta

Mekong Plus fights domestic violence and sexual inequality in the Mekong Delta

Mekong Plus fights domestic violence and sexual inequality in the Mekong Delta

Since its inception, Mekong Plus has placed great emphasis on its mission to eliminate poverty and improve lives in the poorest villages of Vietnam and Cambodia

Due to societal and environmental factors, Mekong Plus observes that almost half of impoverished households in the region feature single mothers as sole breadwinners. Bernard Kervyn, Founding Director of the 20-year-old NPO, states that family violence, alcohol abuse, and traffic accidents are amongst the most common causes of this worrying situation.

Domestic violence rampant in rural areas

In the worst cases, the husband may die due to illness or other causes, and his family ends up confiscating everything from the widow!” Bernard explains an oft-quoted scenario.

In Long Mỹ, a rural commune of Hậu Giang province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, where Mekong Plus has successfully piloted many of its programmes, Madam Hương shares her experiences from the perspective of an eyewitness and a caretaker of a popular shelter for women running away from their homes due to domestic violence.

Ms Samol, a brave Cambodian woman who had her arm chopped by her violent husband

“Even knives appear when the men get drunk!” she said while narrating an incident where a husband almost beheaded his wife in a drunken stupor. Based on her experience, a shocking number of more than 1 in 4 men in the village turn dangerously violent when drunk. The widespread popularity of strong moonshine made with local rice convolutes the problem.

There are three other shelters in the vicinity, but Hương’s remains the favourite, thanks to her reputation of providing ad-hoc employment for runaway women. From making conical hats to working with Mekong Plus to make environmentally-friendly water hyacinth fibre bags for its handicraft-focused social enterprise Mekong Quilts, Mekong Plus has also worked with Hương to organise plastic waste collection drives that generate much-needed income that helps ease the costs of health insurance that prevents them from falling into greater poverty if sickness arises. 

One of Mekong Plus’ craftswomen working on a water hyacinth bag.

Training women to protect themselves

Ms Hằng, leader of the gender equality project at Mekong Plus conducts regular training sessions that teach local women about their existing rights and how to deal with situations when the law fails to protect them in Hàm Thuận Nam district of Vietnam’s coastal Bình Thuận Province.

“We must be precise [about the problem]. What do we call [domestic] violence?” Hằng asking a crowd of women listening avidly to her workshop focusing on self-defence and women rights. 

Pamphlets with illustrations and written descriptions of different forms of domestic violence were then distributed to the women.

Domestic violence training programmes organised by Mekong Plus in rural villages of Vietnam

“Many local wives have accepted domestic violence as a husband’s given right,” she added. 

“Some even ask for forgiveness when beaten!”

Lack of sex education part of the cause

Bernard highlights that the widespread problem of abuse and sexuality inequality takes root in the lack of sex education in classrooms. Thanks to this realisation in the earliest days of running Mekong Plus, Bernard and the team decided to act—starting from 2002, Mekong Plus began working with local teachers on a recurring sex education programme in high schools.

“We want to reach the children [with the relevant knowledge] when they are in puberty,” Bernard noted the importance of timing. 

Since gender issues often begin during puberty and in school as ‘innocent’ disrespect and teasing, he believes that helping the young to understand the opposite sex is the pathway to reducing domestic violence in the future.

A group of young students in a Cambodian school

In the beginning, the programme saw resistance from parents, but positive results seen quickly from the second year quickly changed their view.

Based on official statistics obtained from local authorities, 20% of high school girls in Vietnam have had secret abortions. Reduction of such incidents in areas where Mekong Plus’ programme thrive has become a key factor that encouraged many families to support its continuation.

“[With this programme], the boys don’t joke [about sex] and what is happening to their bodies [anymore],” he explained.

Through training teachers, little monitoring is required and the programme runs smoothly in most cases.

Beyond in-school training, Mekong Plus maintains a hotline for both teachers and students to seek help. In recent years, most work outside of classrooms is done in the form of private chats through messaging apps.

How you can help Mekong Plus

Currently, Mekong Plus works with more than 150 women and 100 secondary schools in a bid to eradicate gender problems and domestic violence in Vietnam.

The COVID-19 crisis has made raising funds and reaching its beneficiaries difficult. 

If you’d like to learn more about various programmes helmed by Mekong Plus and how you can help, do visit https://mekongplus.org/en/welkome-at-mekong-plus

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