Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Domestic Violence in Vietnam: Situations and Challenges

Though national level statistics on gender-based violence do not exist, existing research shows that domestic violence is a problem in North Vietnam. A number of
recent studies in North Vietnam suggest that about one third of women experience domestic violence, and one in every three abused women suffer more than one kind of violence.

Social norms and cultural attitudes pose a challenge in program intervention. Violence against women is a socially acceptable behavior amongst Vietnamese men; it is seen as a punishment for their wives when they transgress the traditional roles. In addition, Vietnamese women are expected to quietly endure the hardships and protect the harmony and reputation of the family. Many abused women, therefore, do not seek support.

Multisectoral action against domestic violence Vietnam has made many efforts in response to this issue. In 2007, the government issued a Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control, which clearly defined domestic violence as “any intentional action by a family member to cause damage or potentially cause damage in terms of physical, spiritual, and economic damages to another family member” and provides a legal framework for the intervention and prevention of domestic violence.

The National Standards and Guidelines on Reproductive Health also have regulations on this issue. Different cause-oriented groups have also banded together in 2007
to form the Domestic Violence Prevention Network in Vietnam. The network aims to maximize the voices and strengths of organizations and individuals working on
domestic violence.

Case study:
An integrated model for gender-based violence prevention in community and clinic settings Organizations have come up with innovative ways to deal with the challenge, as can be gleaned from the example of the Consultation of Investment in Health Promotion (CIHP), a local NGO in Vietnam.

Since May 2006, CIHP has been implementing the Ford Foundation- funded action and research project “Integrated Model for Responding to Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Clinic and Community Settings” in seven communities in Cua Lo town, Nghe An province - a costal center province in Vietnam. The project design focuses on the creation of a comprehensive network for behavior change communication (BBC) as well as support to abused women through a variety of institutions. After two and a half years the project has had many signifi cant achievements:

• 80 percent of female clients visiting district hospitals were screened.

• Counseling center provided 195 counseling sessions for 77 abused women.

• A total of 202 abused women were supported.

• Hundreds of BCC sessions were organized for local men and women. Dozens of articles, reports were included in local newspapers, radio and television.

• Many IEC materials, including guidelines to support abused women and intervene in GBV cases, stories of abused women, were developed and widely distributed.

• A number of campaigns on GBV were organized at commune and district levels.
right and the obligation to intervene in GBV cases.

• More women who experience violence seek support and identify options available to them to change their relationship with their abusive partner.

• Local authorities started to punish abusive men. About ten men, who repeated their abusive behaviors for 2nd or 3rd time, were requested to pay fine, to learn laws on DV, and to undertake public work in commune area.

There are a number of lessons learned:

• It is very important to move from “reconciliation” to “comprehensive and effective support”. Domestic violence is often intervened by reconciliation groups composed of local authorities and representatives from mass organizations such as women’s union. The “Reconciliation” approach focuses on persuading both sides to make compromises and promotes harmony. Therefore, it often reinforces traditional gender inequity norms, limits choices of women and ineffectively addresses violence. The “comprehensive support” means not only reconciliation but also providing knowledge on laws, guidance on the procedure for intervening and support for abused women, challenging gender stereotypes, as well as creating a strong network between reconciliation group and police, health and legal systems.

• The introduction of laws on domestic violence plays a substantial role in the prevention and intervention on domestic violence. Due to lack of knowledge of the laws, members of the supportive group work mainly based on personal experiences and sometimes struggle with insufficiency in recording evidence, preparing legal documents, and intervention toward abusers. Training on laws and consultation with police and court helps members of the supporting system provide better support for abused women. Local people have indicated that since they heard about the laws on
domestic violence, they know that they are protected from violence. Some women told us that they used the laws on domestic violence to indirectly warn their husbands.

• Women’s empowerment through self-help groups, life skills, creative training in arts and proactive involvement in social activities is crucial for preventing and ending violence. Self-help groups provide opportunities and a supportive environment for women to share their situations, feelings, struggles, and seek for support. These
groups also help women to improve their knowledge, change their attitudes toward gender stereotypes, and domestic violence. Through art and proactive activities women will gain more selfesteem, and be able to analyze their situation and
make choices for themselves.

• Involving men, particular male abusers, in project activities is challenging. While the project has conducted several communication sessions and events on gender equality and domestic violence, most of participants are women. Many men still have the opinion that domestic violence is a family issue, and they do not need to worry about it. In addition, among those men attending project activities, almost all
of them are nonviolent and they actively participate in many activities. Several abused women expressed that they wished somebody in the project could talk with their husbands or make them attend the communication sessions. It seemed that male abusers have avoided meetings and events where GBV is discussed.

• Last but not least, creating a women-friendly, antiviolence environment is needed. In the cultural and social context of Vietnam, responses of women and men toward violence depend very much on the attitudes of family members, neighbors and staff of the supporting system. When a member of the support system has the attitude of tolerating violence, blaming women, and opposing divorce, women feel reluctant to
speak out and men have more power to use violence. Efforts, such as forums, discussions in media, BBC campaigns, to challenge malefavorable gender roles, norms, stigma and discrimination toward divorce, expand the choices for women.

by Vu Song Ha, MD.MPH, Hoang Tu Anh, MD, MSc., Quach Thu Trang, MA
Consultation of Investment in Health Promotion (CIHP)

The article is published in Health Alert Asia Pacific newsletter (Issue 15) by HAIN. For copies of the newsletter, please write to