There is no law in Vietnam which specifically punishes perpetrators of domestic violence. This is one of the many challenges which the Centre for Women and Development (CWD) is up against, in their fight to increase protection for women in Vietnam.
CWD is part of the central level of the Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU), and its 130 staff are currently led by director Pham Thi Huong Giang.
“Most of our work focuses on social activities,” says Ms Pham. “Awareness-raising campaigns, training social workers and working on consultations.”
The social workers at CWD receive special training on gender-based violence, and learn how to operate at one of CWD’s two specialised women’s shelters.
This training has been helped by funding from the Australian government, in a project which finishes next year. The main intention was to train these specialist social workers, but also provide support and training for the VWU as a whole.
The next major project, which began in December, is funded by the Medical Committee of the Netherlands in Vietnam (MCNV), and is focusing on building and developing visual media products on gender equality and social development.
An Uphill Battle
“We collaborate as much as possible to make sure we’re raising awareness from a grassroots level,” explains Ms Pham.
They target male students across seven universities, as well as officers training at police academies, to encourage young men to join the battle against gender-based violence.
“We also need to change the thinking of policy makers,” says Ms Pham. “They need to understand this is a priority issue.”
Ms Pham and her colleagues lament how often domestic violence is dismissed as a private, family issue. Women are blamed, and the insinuation is that their failure as a wife is the reason they are physically or emotionally abused.
“Actually, research shows that GDP can go down by nearly 4%, if domestic violence goes unchecked,” Ms Pham explains.
She hopes that statistics like these will help their long-term plan to open more women’s shelters and launch a national help hotline, receive approval and government funding.
A Safe Space
CWD currently operates two women’s shelters around Hanoi, under the Peace House Shelter project. One of them helps women who are victims of physical and emotional domestic violence. The other is for women who survive human trafficking.
They receive victims from across Vietnam, and each shelter can accommodate up to 20 women, plus their children.
Some of the victims come to them independently, while others are referred there by police, border guards, the VWU and other NGOs or charities.
In the rare case they find male victims of human trafficking, they are brought directly to the CWD, rather than to the shelters, which are maintained as safe spaces just for women and children.
Each victim will meet with a counsellor, who will conduct a screening procedure to determine what type of help each individual needs.
“We design an action plan, based on each victim’s needs,” explains Le Phuong Thi Thuy, the head of consulting and development support at CWD. “They might need medical treatment, psychological support and immediate safety for themselves and their children.”
Once the initial process is complete, the women are taught how to empower themselves, so that they can help themselves more in the future. The perpetrators of domestic abuse are educated to recognise the intolerable nature of their previous behaviour.
One victim, whom we’ll call H, was brave enough to speak to us about her experience.
“Coming there made me feel loved again, and I felt safe to share the truth,” says H. “I suffered for such a long time, but now I know where I can find the support I need.”
CWD is located at 20 Thuy Khue, Tay Ho, Hanoi, Tel: (04) 3728 0280. For more information do a search on Google for Centre for Women and Development Vietnam. This will lead you to the English language page on the CWD website, cwd.vn
Photos by Teigue John Blokpoel