Mrs. Lan Chi and Ms. Dieu Thuy sharing their experiences through an interview. Quang Tri province, Vietnam. February 2024. © Nguyen Bao Ngoc, Plan International Vietnam.
07.03.2024 - von ZFRA, Plan International Schweiz

Bridging the gender gap in Vietnam

Flooding has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who are more vulnerable to health risks, disrupted livelihoods, and educational challenges. As a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience AlliancePlan International is working with women in Quang Tri, Vietnam, to bridge this gender gap and empowering them to take on leadership roles within their communities as they work towards a more resilient future.

As the floodwaters in Quang Tri recede, a deeper, often overlooked impact on the lives of women and girls emerges. Truong Thi Lan Chi, Chairwoman of the Women's Union in Dong Luong Ward, Quang Tri Province (a socio-political organization that represents and defends the rights and interests of Women in Vietnam), revealed the intricate challenges women face after floods.

In the immediate aftermath of a flood event, people often do not have access to adequate health care. Worsened hygiene conditions can cause infectious diseases leading to often overlooked gynaecological health risks for young people who menstruate.

Truong Thi Lan Chi revealed that when floods occur, many women lose their jobs because they need to prioritize domestic and caregiving responsibilities and recovery of the community. Women experience this more often than men because of deeply ingrained cultural expectations. This gender disparity is underscored by Vietnam's current ranking 72 out of 146 countries on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index for 2023

Vietnamese women using a boat to provide food support to isolated households. Quang Tri province, Dong Luong Women Union. October 2023. © Plan International

Students, especially girls, are also disproportionately affected by floods, as damaged schools and school closures force young people to stay at home. Ngo Thi Dieu Thuy, Deputy Secretary of the Youth Union in Dong Luong Ward (the largest social-political organization of Vietnamese youth), explains that parents sometimes cannot afford to send all their children back to school; and often boys are given preference over girls to return to schools. This negatively affects the dreams and aspirations of the next generation of women.

Amidst these challenges, women find themselves on the frontline of rebuilding not only their homes but also the foundations of their communities. This reality underlines the importance of empowering women as the linchpin for an effective and sustainable recovery. This situation prompts a shift in family dynamics, with women assuming additional responsibilities. Truong Thi Lan Chi highlighted that while men often engage in preventative tasks, it is the women who undertake post-flood remedial activities like regenerating livestock and crops. However, societal norms that prioritize "respecting men over women" persist, creating internal conflicts within families that don’t let women participate in decision-making.

“After a single flood, women's health is clearly affected, and many means of livelihood are also swept away […] At the same time, the recovery process takes longer. If there are no pre-emptive measures, women's ability to cope with floods will be limited and weaker than that of men", says Truong Thi Lan Chi, Chairwoman of the Women's Union.

Women’s empowerment for resilience

In Quang Tri, many women are primary caregivers and educators, which gives them valuable perspectives in shaping recovery plans that are sensitive to the well-being of community members. For the Women's Union and the Youth Union this is fundamental; both are women/youth-led organizations that are pillars of the community response, providing assistance and support on multiple fronts. 

The Women's Union is involved in facilitating the recovery process for single families and the elderly, mobilizing members to provide support and ensuring health checks for those who cannot leave their homes. They also deal with educational disruptions, mobilizing families to encourage children to return to school.

Meanwhile, the Youth Union focuses on mobilizing children to resume their education, ensuring their safety while traveling, and providing essential health and nutritional support.

Ms. Lan Chi showing a way to monitor the level of flood in her community, sponsored by Plan. Quang Tri province, Vietnam. February 2024. © Nguyen Bao Ngoc, Plan International Vietnam

Plan International's collaborative efforts with trepresentatives of both organisations take a dynamic approach to effectively engage communities. For example, Plan International has facilitated the establishment of 18 groups, involving over 150 women for widespread dissemination of crucial information related to the project activities down to the most vulnerable areas.

The Women's Union manages 30 Village Saving Loan groups, benefiting nearly 1,000 community members. Plan International's collaboration with the Women’s Union extends to other projects focused on youth empowerment in the areas of youth economic employment and gender-based violence prevention. 

The project aims to achieve a minimum of 40% female membership in the local response committees by the end of 2024. Last year, Plan International facilitated seminars and trainings where women in Quang Tri could become active contributors and were able to enhance their skills, including first aid and risk assessments, strengthening their capacity to respond effectively to future floods. 

In the aftermath of the floods in Quang Tri, the impact on women underlines the need for a gender-balanced recovery from hazard events. The collaboration between local leaders, Plan International and our local partners signal a collective commitment to build resilient and equitable communities. Recognising the central role of women, challenging norms, and promoting inclusiveness are crucial steps towards resilience.