Truong Duc Tung is an inclusive growth director for USAID’s Governance for Inclusive Growth (GIG) Project in Vietnam. GIG works to strengthen policymaking while cultivating a more inclusive and participatory environment in Vietnam.
Why is social inclusion important for the development of Vietnam?
Though Vietnam has made significant progress in achieving the key targets of the Millennium Development Goals and has confirmed its strong commitment to implement the Sustainable Development Goals framework, the challenges toward vulnerable groups such as the poor, women, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and the LGBTI community still remain large. The statistics below illustrate the severity of this challenge:
1. Ethnic minorities: While approximately 13 percent of the population in Vietnam lives below the poverty line, the poverty rate of ethnic minority groups is still over 66 percent. This group also has much lower access to education, health care, electricity, clean water, and sanitation. Data estimated by the World Bank shows that the ethnic minority population could comprise 84 percent of the poor in Vietnam by 2020.
2. Women: The current representation of women in Vietnam’s National Assembly for the 2016 to 2021 term is only 26.8 percent despite the effort of the government and international development partners aiming to increase this rate to 35 percent. Only one out of 22 ministers of the government is a woman. Women-owned enterprises account for only 25 percent of firms in Vietnam. Of the female labor force, 68.2 percent work as unpaid family workers with inadequate earnings, low productivity, and indecent working conditions. A national study revealed that 58 percent of ever-married women experience some forms of physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their partners.
3. People with disabilities: People with disabilities are among the poorest of the poor in Vietnam and have very limited opportunities to access employment or quality health services. Nearly 20 percent of people with disabilities have never gone to school, and this rate for people with severe disabilities is 45 percent.
Those obstacles will not only affect the lives of marginalized people, but also hinder the potential development of the economy. More efforts need to be made by government and development agencies to ensure every citizen benefits from the economic growth and enjoys their equal rights. The USAID Governance for Inclusive Growth (GIG) Project in Vietnam has been working with the public and private sector to enhance governance and to facilitate trade through improving the legal and regulatory environment and the system of accountability, as well as promoting inclusive growth that benefits all citizens in the country.
What are the biggest challenges you have encountered when implementing inclusive activities?
Gender stereotypes remain influential among society and even with young people in Vietnam. Women are considered to be responsible for household work and have less status and power in the family. This attitude brings negative implications for women in both family and social life. Men are still preferred for leadership positions over equally qualified women. In the business sector, women-owned enterprises have shared several barriers with the GIG team that they face, including difficulties in accessing financial resources and markets, limited opportunities to widen business networks, and a lack of management skills and knowledge.
For ethnic minority groups, because they often live in remote areas, there are geographic and language barriers that have naturally limited their participation in the growing economy of Vietnam. Ethnic minority people, especially women, lack knowledge on government policies and programs on poverty reduction and economic development because of their lower literacy level and limited dissemination of information in those regions. Therefore, the participation of local people in designing the policies and development plans directly affecting their lives is limited.
People with disabilities also face serious challenges of inadequate awareness of communities and service providers regarding how to properly support people with disabilities to enjoy theirs rights equally as other citizens. Changes has been slow in providing people with disabilities with meaningful opportunities for participation, and addressing key barriers in physical access, communication, and policies.
In Vietnam, there are not many civil society organizations and civil society's development is at the infant stage with limited capacity. Voices of vulnerable groups are therefore still lacking in policy dialogues and the development agenda.
What are some innovative approaches you have taken to include marginalized groups in your project?
On the USAID GIG project, our staff and counterparts have applied several approaches to promote inclusive growth and social inclusion, with a focus on strengthening the legal framework, building institutional capacity, and promoting public participation.
1. Strengthening the legal framework to promote the access to justice: The project provides technical support in development of the revised Legal Aid Law and the new Decree on Legal Counselling. These legal documents will directly benefit specific marginalized groups who are not able to pay for legal services. The project has also shared international experience and best practices with the Ministry of Justice, National Assembly, and other national stakeholders, and has planned a number of training sessions on legal aid and legal counselling for 2017.
2. Strengthening the legal framework around economic empowerment: The project also works with the government and private sector to support the development of the Law on Small and Medium Enterprises, review the implementation of the Law on Cooperatives, and review national policies on trade promotion in the remote, mountainous, and island regions.
3. Mainstreaming issues of vulnerable people into legal normative documents: As examples, the project is supporting the development of a guideline on public consultation in policy development, mainstreaming transgender issues in the new Civil Code, and mainstreaming the issues of gender-sensitive budgeting in the State Budget Law as well as developing its implementation guideline.
4. Building the capacity of government on gender equality: The project supports the discussion of a gender action plan in the justice sector. We are also training staff in the justice sector to mainstream gender issues in legal normative documents.
5. Promoting the participation of vulnerable groups in policy discussions: In all our project’s research, consultation meetings, and policy discussions, we give priority to promoting the participation of specific vulnerable groups or small and medium enterprises to ensure their needs and issues will be in the discussion agenda and reflected in formulated policies and laws.