In Vietnam, individuals and civil society organizations (CSOs) are starting to have a greater say in the decisions that influence policy changes at both the community and national levels. Despite such progress, however, there remains room for women to play an even more prominent role in Vietnam’s social and economic development process.
Vietnamese women in rural areas, as well as ethnic minorities and disabled groups, are particularly underrepresented when it comes to influencing public discourse and policy decisions regarding health, disabilities, education, and economic opportunities. While a growing number of CSOs exist to assist women in overcoming these barriers, there is a lack of coordinated advocacy to change already existing policies and practices. Additionally, many of these CSOs lack the institutional capacity to successfully identify issues and implement impactful projects.
In an effort to help improve this situation, Kenan’s Vietnam Office recently hosted a forum in Hanoi called “Give Her an Opportunity,” which brought together 91 CSO participants, government officials, and female leaders to share their experiences and ideas for improving the ability of Vietnamese women to advocate for and influence public policies. The “Give Her an Opportunity” Forum was organized as part of the U.S. Department of State-funded Vietnam Women Improving Lives and Leadership (Vietnam WILL) Project that works to build the capacity of Vietnamese civil society organizations (CSOs) and public agencies serving the needs of women.
At the Forum, participants viewed a short film detailing four of the main challenges facing girls and women in Vietnam, including: dropping out of school due to financial reasons or family pressures, lacking access to job opportunities or vocational trainings, domestic violence, and a lack of inclusion for those with disabilities. Afterward, there was an open dialogue where attending CSOs, government representatives, and international experts shared their past experiences working to find solutions to such issues.
Such a well-attended and lively Forum shows the progress Vietnamese women have made in enhancing the development process in recent years. It also demonstrates the continued importance of advocating for effective dialogue between governmental and CSO leaders to address the concerns of women and girls in Vietnam. As Mrs. Nguyen Thi Oanh, Chairwomen of Hoa Binh Women’s Union, said at the Forum, “the most important thing we can do it to educate women on their rights.” Forums like, “Give Her an Opportunity” play a critical role in improving the ability of CSOs and the Government to fully understand the issues facing women and girls in Vietnam, and educate them on their rights.
Indeed, empowering and linking key mobilizers who are working to promote women’s rights is at the heart of the Vietnam WILL Project. Since October 2014, Vietnam WILL has built the capacity of CSOs and public agencies in Hanoi and nearby Hoa Binh that serve the needs of women. In particular, WILL advocates on behalf of Vietnamese women by developing the capacities of CSOs that focus on health, education, disabilities, and economic development.
Since April, 2015 Kenan has cooperated closely with two local strategic partners, the Center for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) and Inclusive Development Action (IDEA) to conduct three training courses for 22 CSO leaders on leadership and advocacy skills, as well as two trainings for 65 CSO staff on issue identification, effective communication, and project design. Results from pre- and post-training tests show a large improvement in participants’ advocacy skills and understanding of women’s rights, as well as a strong commitment among CSOs to continue working to improve gender equality. As Ms. Phan Thi Thu Hien, a Gender Specialist with the UNFPA, put it at the Forum, “Such a holistically designed project, with a rights-based and gender equality approach, and implemented by an alliance of CSOs is necessary to make real change for Vietnamese women in the future.”