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|Cooperative meetings are having a profound impact on the roles of men and women in the family|
At the house at the end of a muddy road in Tra Vinh province’s Cau Ngang district, Duong Thi Lan and her husband Le Van Mien were preparing lunch. While Lan was cleaning up some fish, Mien bent down in the garden to pick vegetables for a salad.
Mien said that he feeds two seasons of white-leg shrimp every year, and if the shrimp is not infected by disease, the couple can earn around VND500 million ($21,700) in annual profits. Previously, the husband carried out the shrimp farming by himself while Lan did typical housework like cooking, cleaning the house, and taking care of some plants and vegetables, bringing in little to no income. But now, Lan is very much involved in the business side of the family and sells pickled shrimp made by herself.
After lunch, the couple and handfuls of other households in the commune went to a training class on promoting gender equality through collective actions at Thanh Cong Co-operative, only 100m from the house. The class was held by experts of the global anti-poverty organisation Oxfam and ICAFIS, a non-profit organisation which promotes aquaculture and fishery sustainability.
Much different from in the recent past, this class attracted and was open to both men and women. Everyone who joined in discussed the issues together, offering some solutions and initiatives to accelerate their farming performance and therefore their incomes.
Mien said that thanks to such classes on gender equality and economic structures, the couple now had a better overview on their resources. They discussed together and decided to farm white-leg shrimp while applying high technology.
“The initial investment is quite a lot, but we both agreed to invest in a modern farm, and just went ahead with it.”
Another member of the cooperative class, Quang Thuy Oanh, said that she had not previously been privy to the ins and outs of her family’s business, and sometimes argued with other family members. When attending such classes on gender equality, both she and her husband eventually understood and realised the disadvantages that she had suffered, so they discussed and implemented some changes. Now, both the wife and husband make decisions on their financial situation together, and are happier for it.
Dang Thi Phong, meanwhile, also confirmed that she and other women had never been invited to meetings related to business or farming like this previously. The men had always been the decision-makers on all things related to money and expenses of the family without any discussion with other family members.
“Since the project related to gender equality by Oxfam deployed here, a lot of things have changed. Husbands now do more housework, while wives have proactively joined meetings and discussed plans on farming shrimp and clams,” said Phong.
Despite there being a legal framework related to gender equality in Vietnam most women in the country, especially in rural areas, still face some stigma and prejudice that prevent them from making decisions regarding the economy, politics, and other areas.
Moreover, according to a number of reports and surveys collated by Oxfam, more than half of married women in Vietnam say they have been abused physically or emotionally in their family at one point, as well as feeling under pressure to carry out all necessary housework.
According to organisations affiliated to the UN, the hours that women traditionally put in to doing housework means they have less time for labour regeneration, and it also impacts their health, as women also make up 70 per cent of the labour force in the country. This impacts family incomes and general social development.
“Men can take care of children and do housework very well but few of them do so because of prejudice. This should be eradicated as soon as possible to mobilise all resources and promote the ability of both men and women for social development,” said Ha Thi Quynh Anh of the UN Population Fund.
Oxfam has been developing a variety of projects to challenge gender prejudice. One such initiative on inclusive and sustainable clam and bamboo value chain development in Vietnam during 2018-2022, in provinces such as Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Tra Vinh, Nghe An, and Thanh Hoa, is expected to enhance income and reduce poverty sustainably through improving capacity and performance of small-scale households, helping them to approach market more easily.
According to Phan Thi Thu Huong, Oxfam’s gender equality project manager, experts of both Oxfam and ICAFIS use the Gender Action Learning System to analyse and promote woman’s power in every family and cooperative. The system includes various branches on gender dynamics analysis, engaging participants, collating emerging gender issues, empowering farmers, and more besides.
“These tools of aims to analyse and empower woman so that they can control and benefit from all resources, assets, incomes and thus improve their decision-making ability, as well as improve their lives,” said Huong.
Thanh Cong Co-operative director Quang Quoc Binh said, “We all encourage women to further participate in every area. Women are now actively exploring information in society and sharing more with their husbands, and thus accelerating their family’s economy and improving happiness,” Binh said.