Nipping inequality in the bud
  • | VET | June 16, 2019 12:39 PM
A lot has and is being done throughout Vietnam in the name of gender equality among children and girl's empowerment.

Photos: Plan International Vietnam

Busy cooking for the family and taking care of her little brother, 12-year-old Hoang Thi Duyen in Hoang Su Phi district in northern Ha Giang province is at her happiest when at school. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up, so studies hard. Thanks to “We Are Able”, a recent project on gender equality, thousands of girls like Duyen now have an opportunity to continue going to school. They are lucky compared to many other girls of the same age and area in the past, whose dreams never came true after having to leave school early to support their parents. “We Are Able” is one of many projects expressing Vietnam’s efforts in enhancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Ensuring gender equality and empowerment is one of the targets for sustainable development, as Vietnam affirmed at the third ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Women (AMMW) last year. Vietnamese women make up over 50 per cent of the country population and over 70 per cent of the workforce, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told the meeting. He affirmed that ASEAN cannot successfully implement the ASEAN 2025 vision if women and girls are not guaranteed equal opportunity and are left behind. Every woman and every girl must therefore have equal rights in her family and in society and be educated and protected.

According to the Prime Minister, various initiatives have been integrated into national programs in Vietnam to promote gender equality and improve social welfare for women and children. Each year the country spends some 2.6 per cent of GDP on social support programs, including those for women and girls.

It has also paid greater attention to young girls in recent years, especially in remote areas where they suffer more gender inequality from traditions and customs. Local authorities have been cooperating with local and international organizations in a bid to instigate change.

Access to education

Ensuring equal access to education for children, particularly girls, in education reform efforts is the priority of the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET), according to Mr. Tran Kim Tu, Deputy Director of the ministry’s Department of Teachers and Education Administrators.

The rates of out-of-school children of primary and lower secondary school age in some ethnic minority groups are around 10 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively, while those for the majority Kinh group are 2 per cent and 6 per cent, according to the latest figures from UNESCO. Girls under 15 in some ethnic minority groups are much less likely to go to school than boys, with reasons including affordability and the need to support their family by cooking, babysitting, and working in the fields.

MoET has worked with UNESCO and other organizations to improve school access for ethnic minority children. One recent project is “We Are Able”, launched by MoET, UNESCO, and South Korea’s CJ Group. The three-year project will engage with 16,000 people, including ethnic minority school students, teachers, principals, education officials, parents, and community members in the three provinces of Ha Giang, south-central Ninh Thuan, and the Mekong Delta’s Soc Trang, where there are a large numbers of ethnic minority people and where many children work to support their parents.

Through the project, a number of girls will be given the chance to pursue their dreams and granted scholarships to attend school. It also fosters a safe and healthy educational environment by enhancing knowledge of gender-based violence in schools and strengthening teachers’ capacities in gender-responsive school counseling as well as in understanding of the importance of girls’ education’s positive influence on their lives and the lives of their families and communities. Another important activity is improving employment opportunities for girls and young women through targeted career orientation programs, training on income generation, and facilitating access to the labor market.

The project follows the “Gender Equality and Girls’ Education Initiative in Vietnam: Empowering Girls and Women for a More Equal Society 2016-2020” project. Also developed jointly by MoET and UNESCO, this provides opportunities for girls and women to increase access to quality education, especially those in disadvantaged and vulnerable situations. UN team members UN Women, UNFPA, and UNDP have joined the effort to provide specialized expertise.

The initiative provides technical assistance to ensure gender equality in the reform of curriculum and textbooks, the training of education managers and policy developers, the development of innovative teaching and learning materials, and helps joint efforts between parents and communities to support schools to create enabling environments for students to better apply what they learn in school within their homes and communities.

Reducing child marriage

Along with enhancing education access, reducing early marriage in ethnic minority groups is also given attention. The rate of early marriage in ethnic groups is six times higher than among the Kinh, according to the Department of Ethnic Minorities at the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA). In some places, one out of every five girls and one out of every ten boys aged 10-19 are married. “This has a serious effect on poverty reduction, the health of mothers and babies, and opportunities for education and careers for young girls, and action is needed,” said Ms. Nguyen Thi Tu, Director of the Department of Ethnic Minorities.

CEMA has cooperated with the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU), with technical support from UN Women and Vietnam Television, to implement a project reducing child marriage in the 2015-2025 period, with a target of reducing the instance of such marriages by 2-3 per cent each year. Main activities include producing TV programs, short films, banners, and leaflets on reproductive health, the negative effects of early marriage, and equal rights for young girls. Experts are also sent to remote areas to give local residents consultancy and training.

The number of child marriages has fallen in some areas where awareness has been raised. For example, Mui Chay, a 16-year-old girl in Thong Nong district in northern Cao Bang province, called off her wedding and returned to school after her family was convinced by project consultants. “I wanted to still go to school but most other kids here of my age are married, so when my parents found me a husband, I thought it was okay,” she told local media. “I see now that it’s not good to get married that young, as we must stop going to school and then work in the field, like our parents, and will be always poor.”

Ensuring safety

The VWU also launched the “Safety Year for Women and Children” project this year with the participation of embassies, research institutes, and international non-government organizations. The project came as a result of the number of female victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment increasing in recent years. It focuses on safety for women and children in public and in the family, preventing violence and sexual harassment against women and children, and reducing child marriage. The VWU cooperates with international organizations and the police to raise public awareness and uncover cases to protect women and children, especially girls.

Joining the event, Plan International Vietnam, a leading girls’ rights organization, also launched the project “Safety for Girls = Safety for Everyone”, which aims to protect young girls and women on buses.

It also launched another global campaign, “Girls Get Equal”, on the International Day of the Girl Child (October 11) last year, attracting the involvement of local authorities and organizations all over the country. In the campaign’s five years it will carry out some 1,000 events to be attended by hundreds of thousands of people to actively spread messages about equality for girls, according to Ms. Thu Quynh, Influencing & Communications Manager at Plan International Vietnam.

Together with the bus project, Girls Get Equal’s highlight activities this year are raising awareness about equality for girls and anti-bullying at schools, with the participation of dozens of schools in Hanoi and Ha Giang, Lai Chau, Thai Nguyen, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Quang Ngai, and Kon Tum provinces, an ICT event supported by FPT Telecom with scholarships and job opportunities to encourage girls to join in information and technology, which is usually considered to be for boys only, and workshops on equality for girls at school, in the workplace, and in the community.

Vu Van Quan, a student at Ta Nhiu Secondary School in Ha Giang province’s Xin Man district, said the campaign taught him to recognize that the teasing and bullying of his female classmates is also a type of violence and gender inequality. He stopped it where he saw it, and told his friends to do the same.

In particular, Plan International Vietnam will also prepare to build up children councils for the Children Parliament People, held at the end of the campaign. The Children Parliament People is the key activity of the campaign and gives the right to children, especially girls, to have their opinions sent to the country’s leaders. “With experience from working with children, we hope their wishes will be considered in policies that affect them,” Ms. Quynh said.

Women and girls are half of the world and there is no development without them, and Vietnam has been one of the pioneers in fighting for gender equality, according to UNESCO Representative to Vietnam, Ms. Katherine Muller-Marin.

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