Strengthening Women’s Land Rights in Vietnam
Friday, April 3rd, 2015
ICRW – It is very promising to see gender being included in important discussions around land policy. While we have made great strides incorporating gender perspective in this sector, much more work needs to be done to address the unique challenges and barriers women face that prevent them equal access to land and resources.
Last week, I had the honor to participate in the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, which brings representatives from governments, civil society, the private sector and development community to foster a dialogue and share best practices to improving land governance. At the conference, I presented initial findings from an innovative project, which is developing and training teams of grassroots legal advisors to help women farmers in Vietnam realize their land rights.
This project is particularly interesting as Vietnam has relatively progressive land rights policy. Radical reforms in the 1990s resulted in significant legislative and public policy changes around land rights, which contributed to Vietnam’s rapid economic growth. The 1993 Land Law created a land market and prompted a sweeping land redistribution program – 11 million Land Use Rights Certificates (LURCs) were issued to rural households within seven years. While this law was intended to be gender neutral, more men benefited and received a larger portion of the LURCs. Further, reports on the status of land rights suggest that violations of women’s land use rights persist.
This law has since been replaced twice. The land law in 2003 corrected some of the gender inequalities by requiring LURCs to record the names of both spouses, as opposed to only the head of the household. However, challenges remained due to the lack of both men’s and women’s awareness of Vietnam’s property rights laws and the lack of resources to enforce women’s property rights at the provincial level. The current land law passed in 2013 mostly focuses on residential land and residential projects in an effort to improve the local land market and the real estate development sector. And while this law is important for maintaining Vietnam’s positive growth track, it is important to ensure that it’s enforcement does not disadvantage vulnerable groups especially women.
With this two-year project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the International Center for Research on Women and the Institute for Social Development Studies, we aim to address such challenges by identifying barriers for women’s access to land, strengthening the reach and efficacy of land rights for farmers, especially female farmers, and increasing awareness of existing land rights under current legislation.
In December 2014, the project collected information through surveys applied to couples in 847 households in two provinces in Vietnam – Hung Yen and Long An. Researchers also interviewed commune authorities and members of commune organizations in both provinces. Through this initial assessment, we found that women had less information than men on how to access land. For instance, less than 50 percent of women interviewed in two provinces in Vietnam knew how to obtain a Land Use Right Certificate. Lack of knowledge of the law is one important barrier to accessing land for farmers. When asked about their perception of their ability to solve land related conflicts, women, more than men, answered that they did not feel they had the ability to solve these conflicts.
Women also face additional barriers due to traditions that give preference to men over women to accessing land. Evidence shows that provincial authorities who involved in land rights issues may be influenced by customary practices that reinforce gender inequalities. Further, the team found that preference for sons over daughters in inheritance is still prevalent despite the fact that the law mandates that all citizens of Vietnam are equal and have equals rights.
The case of Vietnam is incredibly important in studying barriers for women’s access to land as this case illustrates that while legislative measures are important in securing access to land for women, they are not enough. Despite fairly progressive land rights policy, there are still gaps between men and women in terms of their access to land. This is why this project is so critical. By identifying the barriers that impede women’s access to land rights, this study will contribute concrete recommendations for better integration of gender into existing law and policy – a crucial factor to enhancing food security and reducing poverty.
Building on lessons learned on the important role community rights workers or paralegals play in promoting women’s access to justice and land use rights, the next phase of this project will focus on mobilizing and training 60 paralegals from four communes across the two provinces. The paralegals will be trained to increase awareness of land rights, provide legal counseling to individuals and mitigate land disputes.
We look forward to sharing findings as they become available. Stay tuned.
ICRW – The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), along with the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS), has just launched a first-of-its-kind project in Vietnam that is setting up and training teams of grassroots legal advisors to help farmers, particularly women farmers, realize their land rights.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the two-year pilot effort, called Land Access for Women, aims to empower women to exercise their rights in rural areas of Hung Yen in the North and Long An in the South, two provinces that are home to a number of ethnic minorities. In addition to training legal advisors – known in Vietnam as “community volunteers for gender equality” – researchers will work to better understand and document the gender-specific barriers to realizing land rights in rural areas as well as increase the ability of local organizations to advocate for gender-equitable reform.
The “Paralegal” Approach
The project builds upon lessons learned through a successful five-year ICRW program in Uganda that also trained community volunteers to act as legal advisors, known there as “paralegals”, on women’s property rights and land dispute techniques. Although adapted to the Vietnamese context, whose culture, history and policies differ greatly from those of Uganda, the approach is somewhat similar.
In Vietnam, ICRW and ISDS will help train 60 volunteers from four communes, administrative bodies comprised of several villages. The volunteers will then carry out a variety of activities to educate communities about land rights as well as provide legal counseling to individuals, mitigate land disputes and advise families on how to navigate legal structures. Meanwhile, a network of “mass organizations” – which resemble civil society organizations, but with links to Vietnam’s communist party – will lead activities to advocate for more effective integration of gender into the content and execution of current land laws and future reforms.
The community volunteer approach has been a powerful one, greatly improving women’s access to justice. ICRW’s research in Uganda shows that paralegals were deemed more approachable than formal authorities in resolving property issues by rural people and women in particular. ICRW also found that they were effective: their services are free of charge, and they are able to resolve matters quickly, be flexible in their ability to meet with clients and remain neutral in land matters.
ICRW and ISDS experts will spend the next few months assessing people’s knowledge of land rights and perceptions about gender equality in the four communes as well as determine what kind of barriers women may face in terms of accessing land. Then in early 2015, community volunteers selected from civil society and mass organizations will be trained on land rights, women’s rights and monitoring and evaluation techniques.
“What makes our work in Vietnam interesting is that the country actually has a fairly progressive land rights policy,” said Dr. Gina Alvarado, ICRW gender and evaluation specialist and project director for Land Access for Women. “However, although this policy includes language about including women, most property disputes still take place at the commune level, and there is resistance from rural families who are wedded to long-held customs.”
Revolutionary land reforms
Indeed, radical reforms in the 1990s resulted in significant legislative and public policy changes around land rights, which contributed to Vietnam’s rapid economic growth. The 1993 Land Law created a land market and prompted a sweeping land redistribution program; within seven years, 11 million Land Use Rights Certificates (LURCs) were issued to rural households. Although this law was intended to be gender neutral, more men benefited and received a larger portion of the LURCs. The 2003 Land Law corrected some of the gender inequalities by requiring LURCs to record the names of both spouses, as opposed to only the head of the household.
“Still, we have evidence showing that provincial authorities who decide on land allocation and distribution may be influenced by customary practices that reinforce gender inequalities,” Alvarado said. “So violations of women’s land use rights persist.”
What’s more, some areas of the two provinces where the project is taking have become centers of conflict – particularly as they have grown more industrialized since Vietnam’s market-oriented reforms of the 1990s. These conflicts involve farmers, local authorities and private sector companies engaged in buying and confiscating land from poor, rural families. Tensions also exist within households over land rights and use.
“We want to identify what happens with poor households in general,” Alvarado said. “Whatever barriers women are facing are going to be bigger if they’re in the context of a whole market being created that is increasing the difficulties for the poor in general.”
Although many challenges remain, Khuat Thu Hong, co-director of ISDS and manager of the Land Access for Women project in Vietnam is optimistic that change is possible.
“Local authorities in both provinces have welcomed us to work in their communes,” Hong said. “We hope our work will contribute to better awareness and protection of women’s land rights and improve law implementation in general.”
Gillian Gaynair is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and editor.