The Indigenous World 2022: Vietnam
As a multi-ethnic country, Vietnam has 54 recognised ethnic groups, 53 of which are ethnic minorities (EMs). These groups comprise an estimated 14.1 million people or around 14.7% of the country’s total population of some 96 million. Each EM group has its own distinct language, culture and traditions. The term “ethnic minorities” is often used interchangeably with “Indigenous Peoples” by international agencies working in Vietnam.
All EMs have Vietnamese citizenship and Vietnam’s constitution recognises that all people have equal rights. There is a higher proportion of peoples living in poverty among EM communities. Multidimensional poverty rates in the Northern Mountains and Central Highlands regions, where the majority of EMs live, is more than double the national average. The proportion of people without education certificates in EM groups is twice that of the Kinh and Hoa (Chinese-Vietnamese) peoples. In addition, the gaps in income and expenditure between the EMs and Kinh and Hoa people have widened over recent years.
Vietnam is a member of seven of the nine core international human rights instruments and continues to consider the possibility of acceding to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW). Vietnam has not ratified ILO Convention 169 and, although Vietnam voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), it does not recognise EMs as Indigenous Peoples.
The situation of ethnic minority women in Vietnam
2021 saw the release of two key reports highlighting the situation of women in Vietnam, including one with a special focus on the situation of Indigenous women.
In August, in collaboration with the Institute of Labour Science and Social Affairs (ILSSA) and the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA), UN Women published a report entitled Figures on Ethnic Minority Women and Men in Viet Nam 2015-2019.
The book presents gender statistics by topic: (i) Population; (ii) Access to infrastructure and assets; (iii) Employment and income; (iv) Education and training; (v) Culture and society; (vi) Health and sanitation; and (vii) Ethnic minority cadres and civil servants. It aggregates and analyses data from the findings of the Survey on the 53 ethnic Minorities in 2015 and 2019, the 2019 Viet Nam Population and Housing Census, the Viet Nam Household Living Standards Survey 2018 (VHLSS 2018) and the Labour Force Survey 2019 (LFS 2019).
The report shows outstanding achievements in gender equality in EM areas and mountainous areas. Among these achievements is an overall decrease in child marriage rate among EMs, a massive increase in the proportion of households with Internet connection, an almost doubling of Indigenous households’ incomes between 2014 and 2018, increased school attendance and 93.5% of EMs benefitting from health insurance, with no difference between men and women.
At the same time, the data presented in the publication highlights persistent gender disparities within and between EM groups and the Kinh people in almost all socio-economic domains. It shows that, in ethnic minority communities, women and girls are often the most disadvantaged in terms of their access to opportunities and resources because social norms assign them an inferior status, which is primarily confined to childbirth and unpaid household activities and duties. Multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination on the basis of both gender and ethnicity exert a massive influence.
While the rate of child marriage and inbreeding has decreased in some groups, there has been a worrying increase in others. And while the proportion of EM women aged 10-49 giving birth at a medical facility reached an all-time high of 86.4%, it is still significantly lower than that among Kinh women, for whom it is 99%.
The work situation of EM female workers is less stable than that of EM male workers and Kinh female workers; they are more likely to be engaged in illegal jobs abroad and they are more likely to fall victim to human trafficking. EM women are more disadvantaged than EM men in terms of accessing official credits to develop livelihoods and production-business-service activities.
Organisations behind the publication hope that it will serve to inform the decision-makers as they design intervention policies and programmes to ensure EM women are not left behind in the country's sustainable development process.
A more generic and comprehensive first Country Gender Equality Profile- Viet Nam was released in October. The report concludes that, despite progress in narrowing the gender gap, Vietnam still faces multiple challenges due to deep-rooted gender stereotypes and a “gendered” economy.
The report highlights persistent gaps including, among others, a widening sex ratio at birth due to the preference for sons; stereotypes regarding gender-appropriate fields of study and occupations; unprotected and low paid employment among women; bias against women in leadership; domestic violence; and insufficient support services. The report also highlights lower school enrolment rates among EM girls compared to the Kinh (majority), that EM women are more likely to be the victims of human trafficking to China, and that they are especially marginalised in decision-making processes when it comes to agricultural production.
Among the emerging concerns identified by the report are women’s rebound and recovery from COVID-19 with regard to workforce participation and business; women’s access to skills, qualifications and jobs in an increasingly digitalised economy; gender wage and pension gaps; managing the restructuring of the agricultural sector and transition to new income opportunities for women; and the poor involvement of women in planning and decision-making in relation to climate change resilience. The report is also urging policymakers and practitioners to consider how greater inequalities persist for certain groups of women and girls, including ethnic minority groups, and suggests that analysis of the needs and barriers faced by these groups must be integrated into policy and programme responses.
National Strategy on Gender Equality
In March, the government adopted the National Strategy on Gender Equality for the 2021-2030 period. The new strategy replaced the 2010-2020 version which, the government concluded, had achieved its goals. The strategy aims to foster Vietnam’s gender equality, including raising the population’s awareness of gender and gender equality issues, for example through incorporating these topics into the school curriculum. Special priority is given to encouraging women’s entrepreneurship. The strategy also sets specific goals to address the issue of domestic and gender-based violence, the hugely gendered sex ratio differential at birth, the time spent by women doing unpaid domestic work, and the lower literacy rate among ethnic minority women compared to the rest of the population, etc.
Since the strategy’s approval in March, the government has been executing new policies and initiatives to foster its implementation. For example, in a drive to make national laws and law enforcement gender sensitive, Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính decreed that, by 2030, all village codes and conventions – the code of ethics developed by the community, which has long played an important role in managing social relations in at community level in Vietnam – would have to be amended to reflect principles of gender equality.
Target programme on socio-economic development for the mountainous and ethnic minority areas
In October, Deputy Prime Minister Phạm Bình Minh signed a decision approving the national target programme on socio-economic development for the mountainous and EM areas for the 2021-2030 period. The overall objective is to “exploit the potential and advantages of ethnic minority and mountainous areas, promote economic development, ensure social security, and put in place rapid and sustainable poverty reduction.” For the first time, the programme includes a special allocation for EM women.
In 2021, the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs drew up a capital allocation plan for the Target Programme for 2021-2030. For the 2021-2025 period, the allocation will be over 2.38 trillion VND (104 million USD) and for the 2026-2030 period over 1.35 trillion VND (59 million USD).
Also in 2021, the Prime Minister approved a list of EMs facing multiple and specific difficulties for the period 2021-2025. The list includes 32 minorities facing many difficulties and 14 with specific difficulties. EMs facing many difficulties are ethnic groups meeting one of the following criteria: a poverty rate at least 1.5 times than the average poverty rate among the 53 EMs; a proportion of people aged 15 years and older and unable to read or write in Vietnamese that is 1.5 times higher than the average rate among the 53 EMs; or a mortality rate among children under 1 year old that is 1.5 times higher than the general average among the 53 EMs.
EMs with specific difficulties are those who live stably in communities in area III communes and villages with special difficulties in EM areas and mountainous areas according to the provisions of Decision No. 33/2020/QD-TTg dated 12 November 2020 of the Prime Minister, and whose population is less than 10,000 people.
Inclusion on the list allows EMs to enjoy preferential treatment when it comes to accessing development programmes and public services.
Lương Thị Trường is the director of the Vietnamese NGO Centre for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas (CSDM) and Coordinator of the Vietnam Indigenous Knowledge Network (VTIK). She belongs to the Thai ethnic minority in Vietnam.
This article is part of the 36th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2022 in full here
Notes and references
 United Nations Viet Nam. One UN Results Report 2019: Viet Nam. (Hanoi, Viet Nam: United Nations Viet Nam, 2020). https://vietnam.un.org/en/52299-one-un-results-report-2019
 Ton Hien, Bui, Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy, Nguyen Bao Cuong, Nguyen Khac Tuan, Hoang Thu Hang, Vu Phuong Ly, and Vu Ngoc Chau. Figures on Ethnic Minority Women and Men in Viet Nam 2015-2019. From the Findings of Surveys on the Socio-Economic Situation Amongst 53 Etnic Minority Groups 2015-2019. Hanoi, Viet Nam: United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), 2021. https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/Field%20Office%20ESEAsia/Docs/Publications/2021/10/vn-UNWM_Figures-on-53-EMs_ENGLISH_FINAL.pdf
 General Statistics Office. Completed Results of the 2019 Viet Nam Population and Housing Census. (Ha Noi, Viet Nam: Statistical Publishing House, 2020). https://www.gso.gov.vn/en/data-and-statistics/2020/11/completed-results-of-the-2019-viet-nam-population-and-housing-census/
 General Statistics Office. Result of the Viet Nam Household Living Standards Survey 2018. (Ha Noi, Viet Nam: Statistical Publishing House, 2019). https://www.gso.gov.vn/en/data-and-statistics/2020/05/result-of-the-vietnam-household-living-standards-survey-2018/
 General Statistics Office. Report on Labour Force Survey 2019,. (Ha Noi, Viet Nam: Department of Population and Labor Statistics, 2020). https://www.gso.gov.vn/en/data-and-statistics/2021/05/report-on-labour-force-survey-2019/
 United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). Executive Summary. Country Gender Equality Profile – Viet Nam 2021,. United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), 2021. https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/Field%20Office%20ESEAsia/Docs/Publications/2021/10/vn-CGEP_Executive-Summary-ss.pdf
 LuatVietnam. “Nghị quyết 28/NQ-CP Chiến lược quốc gia về bình đẳng giới giai đoạn 2021-2030.” LuatVietnam, March 3, 2021. https://luatvietnam.vn/chinh-sach/nghi-quyet-28-nq-cp-chien-luoc-quoc-gia-ve-binh-dang-gioi-giai-doan-2021-2030-199301-d1.html
 Tin tức. “Gắn bình đẳng giới vào hương ước, quy ước của cộng đồng.” Tin tức, October 27, 2021. https://baotintuc.vn/xa-hoi/gan-binh-dang-gioi-vao-huong-uoc-quy-uoc-cua-cong-dong-20211027105858757.htm
 Vietnam+ (VietnamPlus). “National target programme on socio-economic development in ethnic minority areas approved,.” Vietnam+ (Vietnam- Plus), October 17, 2021. https://en.vietnamplus.vn/national-target-programme-on-socioeconomic-development-in-ethnic-minority-areas-approved/209866.vnp
 Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA). “Bộ trưởng, Chủ nhiệm Hầu A Lềnh nghe báo cáo tiến độ triển khai Đề án 219 và các dự án, tiểu dự án thuộc Chương trình MTQG 1719.” CEMA, December 10, 2021. http://www.cema.gov.vn/bo-truong-chu-nhiem-hau-a-lenh-nghe-bao-cao-tien-do-trien-khai-de-an-219-va-cac-du-an-tieu-du-an-thuoc-chuong-trinh-mtqg-1719.htm
 Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA). “Thủ tướng Chính phủ phê duyệt danh sách các dân tộc còn gặp nhiều khó khăn, có khó khăn đặc thù giai đoạn 2021 - 2025.” CEMA, July 19, 2021. http://www.cema.gov.vn/tiep-can-thong-tin/phe-duyet-danh-sach-cac-dan-toc-con-nhieu-kho-khan-co-kho-khan-dac-thu.htm
 THƯ VIỆN PHÁP LUẬT. “QUYẾT ĐỊNH: VỀ TIÊU CHÍ PHÂN ĐỊNH VÙNG ĐỒNG BÀO DÂN TỘC THIỂU SỐ VÀ MIỀN NÚI THEO TRÌNH ĐỘ PHÁT TRIỂN GIAI ĐOẠN 2021 – 2025.” THƯ VIỆN PHÁP LUẬT, November 12, 2020. https://thuvienphapluat.vn/van-ban/Van-hoa-Xa-hoi/Quyet-dinh-33-2020-QD-TTg-phan-dinh-vung-dong-bao-dan-toc-thieu-so-va-mien-nui-theo-trinh-do-phat-trien-457448.aspx