Empowering Vietnamese Women: Progress, Challenges, and the Role of NGOs | Mekong Plus

Editorial

As this study demonstrates, the last decade has seen significant progress for girls and women in Vietnam, in terms of the protection of their rights and their access to opportunities across several domains. 

Women and girls have seen a marked improvement in living standards, access to education and economic and employment opportunities. Nevertheless, the somber prevalence of rights violations persists, with gender-based violence, sexual harassment and human trafficking all egregiously affecting primarily girls and women. 

Moreover, girls and women have not benefitted equally from the progress that has been made in Vietnam. And there are significant disparities between urban and rural settings: girls and women in rural areas suffer greater discrimination and rights violations, have fewer educational and employment opportunities, earn lower wages and, generally, live in greater precarity. Girls and women in rural communities disproportionately bear the burden of caring for family members and spend long hours on household chores and grinding physical labor, which comes at a high opportunity cost. Lacking education, qualifications, and formal employment opportunities, countless girls and women remain trapped in poverty, facing bleak future prospects. 

In this challenging context, the work of Mekong Plus, in the region of the Mekong River Delta, is vital for girls’ and women’s wellbeing and life prospects. Mekong Plus provides crucial educational and vocational training programs — including tailored training for women farmers and entrepreneurs — for girls and women from the most underprivileged communities. These impactful programs are positively transforming the lives of individual girls and women, and their families and communities. Our organization commends the work of Mekong Plus! 

Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke

Founder & President of Women’s WorldWide Web (W4)

Member of the Strategic Advisory Committee of UN Women France 

 

Introduction

In the heart of Vietnam, beneath the vibrant surface of bustling cities and serene rural landscapes, lies a hidden thread – the narrative of women.

Their stories are woven into the fabric of the nation, a narrative of remarkable progress intertwined with persistent challenges.

This exploration delves into the lives of Vietnamese women, understanding their contributions to development, the obstacles they face, and the organizations fighting for their empowerment.

 

Women in Vietnam: Navigating Progress

The case of Women’s rights in Vietnam

Vietnam boasts a legal framework that champions gender equality, evident in laws guaranteeing equal rights in education, employment, and political participation. 

The Law on Gender Equality (2006) guarantees equal rights for women in education, employment, healthcare, and political participation. The Constitution further prohibits discrimination based on sex. These legal frameworks form a positive foundation for advancing women’s rights.

Over the last years, great progress has been made in the fields of: 

 

Labour force participation rates by sex in Vietnam

  • Labor Participation: Vietnamese women are highly included in the labour force, with rates reaching 75% of participation, a number much higher than APAC & World figures, which are around 45-50%. 

 

 

Urban and Rural Landscapes: Divergent Experiences and Needs

Vietnam’s rapid urbanization paints a dynamic backdrop for women’s experiences. Between 1990 and 2020, the urban population more than doubled, reaching 40%. This trend is projected to continue, with predictions of over 50% of Vietnamese living in cities by 2050. This dramatic shift signifies both opportunities and challenges for women navigating diverse landscapes.

 

The conditions of Vietnamese women in urban areas

In bustling cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnamese women are increasingly visible as entrepreneurs, driving small businesses in the informal economy. Studies estimate their contribution to urban economies at a staggering 70%. While many thrive in this environment, the financial picture is not uniform.

Urban areas generally boast higher average salaries. The World Bank reports an average monthly income of 5.9 million Vietnamese dong (240 USD) for urban residents, compared to 3.8 million VND (155 USD) for those in rural areas. This translates to a 35% salary gap in favor of urban dwellers.

However, urban environments translate to higher housing, food, and transportation expenses, squeezing household budgets. Also, women in the cities can be confronted with limited childcare options. The lack of affordable childcare forces as a result many women to choose between work and family, hindering their economic participation.

 

The conditions of Vietnamese women in rural areas

Rural women, representing 60% of Vietnam’s female population, encounter a unique set of challenges that hamper their well-being and limit their opportunities. 

The lack of readily available and qualified teachers and healthcare professionals in rural areas significantly impacts their access to education and healthcare, consequently affecting their overall health and educational attainment.

Predominantly engaged in agricultural work, Vietnamese women face the harsh realities of low wages, long hours, and dependence on unpredictable weather patterns that can wreak havoc on their livelihoods. It is worth to note however that the agricultural sector is currently shrinking, in favor of industry and service sectors. 

Change in employment distribution by economic sector Vietnam

But according to ActionAid Vietnam in 2022, the scarcity of diverse formal employment options in rural areas restricts their potential for income growth and career advancement, hindering their economic freedom and social mobility. 

Understanding these interconnected challenges faced by rural women is crucial for formulating effective policies and programs that can empower them and unlock their full potential.

 

The Essential Role of Vietnamese Women in Development

Despite the challenges they face, Vietnamese women remain the backbone of the nation’s development.

 

Economic Engine: Driving Income and Supporting Families

Beyond their ubiquitous presence in bustling rice fields and urban markets, Vietnamese women are invisible giants driving the nation’s economy. 

Studies by Oxfam reveal their crucial role in the informal sector, contributing a staggering 70% to urban economies and 40% to rural economies. This translates to significant household income and vital support for families, making them the hidden engine of Vietnam’s development. Vietnamese women excel in various sectors:

  • Agriculture: They make up 70% of the agricultural workforce, ensuring food security for the nation and generating export income through crops like rice, coffee, and cashews.

 

  • Small Businesses: They are 90% of micro-entrepreneurs, running small businesses in diverse sectors like garment manufacturing, food stalls, and handicrafts.

 

  • Informal Market Traders: They dominate informal markets, selling everything from fresh produce to household goods, providing essential services and creating employment opportunities.

 

Their entrepreneurial spirit shines through in their resourcefulness, adaptability, and resilience. They often operate with limited resources and navigate a challenging business environment, yet they persevere and contribute significantly to the national economy.

Microloans for women of the Raglay minority 

 

 

Catalysts for Change: Leading in Community Initiatives and Social Progress

Beyond their impressive economic contributions, Vietnamese women are powerful agents of change, actively shaping the social fabric of their communities. Their tireless efforts span diverse areas, leaving a lasting impact on education, healthcare, environmental protection, and more.

 

Empowering the Next Generation: Champions of Education and Healthcare

women vietnamese education

Vietnamese women understand the transformative power of education and healthcare. They play crucial roles as teachers, healthcare workers, and community organizers, ensuring essential services reach even the most remote areas. Statistics illustrate their impact:

  • Women make up over 70% of Vietnam’s primary school teachers, ensuring early childhood education opportunities for young children. 

 

  • Female healthcare workers account for almost 60% of the workforce, playing a vital role in improving maternal health outcomes. (World Health Organization, 2021)

 

  • Vietnamese women spend on average twice as many hours as men doing house chores such as: cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and shopping, family care, and childcare. 

 

chores in vietnam men women

 

Protecting Their Environment: Guardians of Sustainability

Recognizing the interconnectedness of people and the environment, Vietnamese women are vocal advocates for environmental protection. Their leadership translates into action:

  • 25% of women farmers in Vietnam actively participate in sustainable farming practices, such as organic composting and water conservation. (FAO, 2020).

 

  • Women-led initiatives like the “Mangrove Action Project” have planted over 1 million trees in coastal areas, mitigating climate change impacts and protecting biodiversity.

 

 

Thuý raises worms for her organic farm

The Struggles of Vietnamese Women

While acknowledging their contributions, it is crucial to address the hurdles women face.

 

Education Gap

Despite exceeding men in early education numbers, women face a substantial gap in higher education completion. 

While bachelor’s degrees may reach parity, only 1 in 3 Master’s and 1 in 6 doctoral degrees are awarded to women.

Mekong Plus mobilizes the community for the scholarship fund.
The 2% poorest girls get a small scholarship. As a result, they continue their education more than the average children!

 

Wage Gap

Vietnamese women processing cashew nuts

Workshop: processing cashew nuts

Women in Vietnam earn 29.5% less per hour than men. This disparity stems from occupational segregation, limited advancement opportunities, and discriminatory practices. 

While women excel in early education, they’re concentrated in lower-paying sectors like agriculture and service industries. 

Additionally, societal norms often prioritize men for leadership roles, hindering women’s career growth. 

Finally, discriminatory practices make negotiating fair wages difficult, perpetuating the cycle of inequality.

 

women managers vietnam NGO

In Mekong Plus and local partners, 75% of managers are women, because they are so good at their job!

 

Sexual Harrassment

Sexual Harrassment Vietnam

In Vietnam nearly 90% of women report experiencing sexual harassment, often starting at a young age. 

Sadly, most lack awareness and understanding, leaving them unsure how to react or seek help. 

Even when they do, only 20% of victimes find adequate support, leading to feelings of anger, fear, and vulnerability.

This pervasive issue, occurring in everyday spaces, demands collective action. We need not only to empower victims but also raise awareness across society, equipping everyone to effectively prevent and respond to sexual harassment.

 

Mekong Plus runs legal aid programs in the villages

 

Domestic Abuse & Violence 

Over 50% of married women in Vietnam experience physical, emotional, or sexual violence from their partners. This alarming statistic reflects the pervasive issue of domestic abuse. 

 

Women are sometimes abandoned without any support

 

Traditional patriarchal norms create unequal power dynamics within families, and stigma and fear lead to underreporting. 

Furthermore, inadequate legal frameworks and limited support services hinder victims seeking help.

 

 

Human Trafficking

Vietnam is a source, transit, and destination for human trafficking, with women and children being the most vulnerable. Poverty, limited education, and weak border controls make women and children easy targets for traffickers. 

Victims are indeed almost exclusively from a low education background, making our educational programs and sex education programs all the more relevant. 

 

 

 

This complex issue requires stricter law enforcement, prevention strategies, and empowering communities for sustainable solutions.

 

 

Conclusion

While Vietnamese women have soared, reaching new heights in fields once inaccessible, their journey is far from over. 

The challenges they face, from outdated social norms to persistent gender inequality, are stark reminders that progress demands continued effort. We cannot celebrate their achievements without acknowledging the hurdles they still must overcome.

This is where you, the reader, come in. By supporting Mekong Plus’ development programs, you invest in these women’s futures. 

Your donation empowers them to break down barriers, access equal opportunities, and rewrite their own narratives. 

Together, we can build a Vietnam where the full potential of every woman can truly flourish.

 


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A word from our President

On behalf of our entire Board of Directors, our Association’s Director, Mr. Bernard Kervyn, and the entire Mekong Plus team, I would like to extend warmest thanks to our donors and corporate and institutional sponsors! Thank you for supporting our work to promote the empowerment of girls and women in the Mekong River Delta region, enabling them to create safer and more prosperous futures for themselves, their families, and communities. 

Laurence Villeneuve

President, Mekong Plus

 

 

Other NGOs Supporting Women in Vietnam 

  • Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU): The national women’s organization advocating for policies promoting gender equality and empowering women at the grassroots level. (Source: Vietnam Women’s Union: )
  • ActionAid Vietnam: An international NGO working on gender equality, promoting women’s rights and participation in decision-making processes.
  • Alliance Anti-Traffic Vietnam: A non-profit organization fighting sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children in Southeast Asia.
  • “She Means Business” by UN Women Vietnam: This program supports women-led businesses through mentorship, networking, and market access opportunities.

 

Sources

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