Education for women: a promising direction to reducing poverty in Vietnam

In college freshman and sophomore years, I wrote plenty of essays for (inter)national essay contests (which sadly never won, by the way. Competition is fierce!)

This following essay sprang from my many trips to my hometown, plus the review of literature and U.N.D.P documents. Its genesis was actually from my watching CNN Hero of the Year, December 2011, which featured Robin Lim, an extraordinary activist in Indonesia. Then I was completely dumbfounded to know of a girl who was “fighting” the Taliban for her education, later she was known to the world as the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2014). A year later, I decided to send this essay to an international contest held in Indonesia, September 2012. I had just turned twenty years old at that time.

The contest’s theme was “Dreaming of a World without Poverty.”  So, what are your dreams for the world without poverty?


Women in developing countries have limited access to basic social services such as primary health care, education, nutrition, shelter, etc. In Indonesia, when giving birth, many women cannot afford sanitary deliveries, leading to a higher possibility of death in the following twelve months. In parts of Pakistan, it is culturally accepted or forced that women stay home; schools for girls are closed down because of the Taliban’s use of violence. These causes deprived women of essential life skills and social services, which brings them to the verge of human rights violation, such as women trafficking, forced labor, or sexual exploitation. According to the United Nations, “poverty” is defined as “not having a school or clinic to go”, “insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities,” and “susceptibility to violence.” From this point of view, these women are not living in poverty; they are living in destitution. These are two cases in the fourth and sixth most populous countries in the world. Let’s have a closer look at the situation in Vietnam.

Unlike Pakistan with an extremely low rate of women employment, Vietnam has done a good job in recent years in improving women’s employment. The Vietnamese government has provided more opportunities for women to access social activities, from governmental jobs, foreign trade activities, to home-based businesses, etc. Many women now become the bread-winners of their families, even leaders in community services. After “Doi Moi” (Vietnamese economic reform in 1986,) Vietnam successfully reduced poverty rate from 60% in 1990 to 18.1% in 2004.1 Nevertheless, serious problems persist, which might prevent Vietnam from eradicating poverty.

Throughout Vietnam, especially in rural areas where 70% of the population lives, boys are favored over girls largely because of their future responsibilities: performing ancestor worship, continuing the family line, taking care of the whole family, etc. Many families that follow strict patrilineal tradition cross the two-child limit, continuing to produce babies until they have a son. This consequently leads to overpopulation, serious sex-ratio imbalance, and gender disparity. Moreover, while educational opportunities for boys are well-provided, girls are often overlooked. Nowadays, girls in vastly agricultural-based areas do not receive adequate education; consequently, they enter the labor force even before reaching the age of sixteen. Their parents are lured to the factories in industrial zones by the prospect of better-paying jobs, working from dawn till dusk, thereby hardly caring for their children’s education. Without standard education, girls and women are vulnerable to a variety of threats. They are at a higher risk of unwanted pregnancies, of having unsafe pregnancy terminations or sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV. In addition, many women are tricked into underground businesses such as forced labor, trafficking and prostitution. Even more dangerously, after being exploited and involved in those businesses, they can be ostracized or discouraged from integrating into the society.

In my dream, a Vietnam without poverty is where everyone receives a quality education. Vietnam is an ethnically diverse country with 54 different ethnic groups, among which the Kinh (Việt) make up nearly 90% of the population. Kinh people have more access to basic services such as public health, education, clean water and electricity; those available to other ethnic groups are extremely limited. It is challenging to bring public resources and facilities to rural areas, not to say remote, mountainous regions. In the meantime, the better way to protect women from the above-mentioned threats is through Education. Being more aware of the threats, they are more likely to be able to protect themselves and one another. Educating women should focus on two directions: one is vocational training; the other is through social empowerment. Both should be at the grass-root level, so that even underprivileged women can participate in.

Firstly, vocational education serves the need of educating women at the grass root level. Currently, Vietnam’s workforce is still largely unskilled with poor education. 22.2% of Vietnamese women are unpaid family workers, compared to 11.8% of men.2 This indicates that a large proportion of women are falling out of micro-businesses and falling back into family-based businesses where the paid income is precarious. Women from less-developed, ethnic communities cannot afford a well-rounded education; as a result, they need vocational skills to earn a living. Jobs like sewing tapestries, making pottery, jewelry, basket weaving, painting, cooking, etc. go a long way in increasing employment, creativity and cohesion in the society. Enhancing agricultural, farming, nursing techniques can actually enable them to support one another in their local communities. Vocational training is practical, easy to understand, and easy to spread out. It creates jobs so that people (including women) will not take part in dangerous, illegal activities such as growing narcotic plants, mineral over-exploitation, deforestation, illegal hunting, gambling, trafficking, etc.

Secondly, women need social empowerment. That women afraid to stand up for their rights is a worldwide phenomenon, particularly in Asian cultures. Girls and women need encouragement and motivation to come out of their comfort zone to stand up against violence, sexual abuse, and discrimination. They need both physical and emotional support from the society to raise their demand for essential health services. For example, Vietnam has the highest rate of abortion in the region and all over the world. The abortion rate among teenagers was 25% in 2010 and is increasing rapidly.3 Lots of young teenagers do not (fully) understand the importance of sexual and reproductive health. Once they have had unwanted pregnancy and been known by the public, many seek secret abortion despite its detrimental complications; some even commit suicide. Communities have been trying to create a welcoming environment for them; but the progress has been slow. Family planning, safe pregnancy and HIV prevention methods are among the programs being multiplied; girls and women should regain their confidence, social status, thus constraining the AIDS epidemic.

Women are one-half of the world, playing a crucial part in maintaining peace and stability. As a result, a women-sensitive society will ensure productive results. Poverty reduction requires international cooperation as well as interdisciplinary measures, among which education’s vital role is undeniable. Education for women will open up a door for prospective changes, helping Vietnam eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in 2015 as part of Millennium Development Goals.



1  United Nations, Vietnam, Vietnam at a glance.

2  United Nations Development Program, Social Services for Human Development: Vietnam Human Development Report 2011, box 2.2, p.31.

3  United Nations, Vietnam, Achieving the MDGs with Equity, MDG 5: Improve maternal health, 2010.


20 thoughts on “Education for women: a promising direction to reducing poverty in Vietnam

  1. From what I’ve read,your statements and opinions in this essay indicate that you lean to the far left on the political spectrum. Someone who believes in the propaganda of feminism, racial equality and socialism. A socialist and potentially a communist in the future. Keep it up my comrade, for the glorious tomorrow of our country.

    Or maybe you don’t even believe in what you say, and are just trying to attract attention and seeking a prestigious scholarship? Maybe I’m a lil bit sensitive . Or am I?


    1. Thang Tran

      That’s exactly why I put the essay here – for discussion. I wrote it when I was 20 years old when so much of my world view was rose-tinted. I don’t care about the “political far left” or far right or anything. Advocating for Racial Equality, for Education at the grass-root level doesn’t make me or anybody like me a “potential communist in the future”-there are plenty of progressive people doing that without defining themselves as “political far left” or far right; and what’s wrong with believing in “the glorious tomorrow of our country”? – there are too many nay-sayers already. I would love to hear your alternative view, perhaps about the “less glorious future of our country”.


    2. Thang Tran

      When in college, I had friends who actually believed that kissing would make them pregnant, would produce babies. One of my uncles allowed his daughter to marry at her 17. What do you mean by “believing in propaganda of feminism and socialism”? We DON’T NEED TO be feminist or socialist or communist to advocate Vocational training (to increase the chance of employment), or basic sex and gender education, maternal healthcare (to reduce the chance of unwanted pregnancy, abortion, HIV & AIDS). Certainly Vietnam has been trying and progressing to keep up with other countries, but it has a long way to go. The last thing I want to do is Politicize this argument. I believe in what I say. Do you?


      1. You defend your opinions in this essay by first admitting that you were a little bit naive at the age of 20, and some of your information could of been a lil bit inaccurate . OK. Next you just get offended by my labeling you as a feminist and a socialist. Just straight up throwing a tantrum. You say you don’t wanna get politics involved with this essay. Nah nah. It is what you believe in that implies your political standpoint, even you don’t associate yourself with these political points of view.

        The paragraph that says “Secondly, women need social empowerment”. Yeah. That is the source of controversies here. OK. I agree with you, providing education for women is the right thing to do. Have we done it? Yep, we have already done it. For a long time. Any positive results? Three-fourth of total VNU students are female (especially ULIS) . Quite an achievement there, isn’t it? Are women still illiterate? Do they still honestly think that kissing gonna give birth to little babies? Is that our fault anymore? Who is to blame for their illiteracy? The government? Society? Their families? Or themselves?

        What have Uncle Ho and the Glorious CPV done for our women? Many many things. Women are allowed to vote. Women don’t have to subject themselves to military conscription. Men die for them. Women are allowed to go to school. Women are sexually liberated.Women are permitted to participate in the workforce.Almost every inventions that are beneficial to women along with the infrastructure that ensures the survival of societies and women in this nation are built by men. Think about roads,gas, electricity, birth control pills, Facebook… The legal system heavily rules in favor of women. The welfare system of this state is also in favor of women. We give them all the rights they possibly need. I believe that if their lives still sucks, it’s because of their personal choices.

        Suggesting social empowerment only for women will lead to the consequence of men being second class citizens.It’s not about gender equality anymore. It’s just pure feminism. And promoting these kind of policies make you a male feminist, my friend.

        Take a look at territories under the rule of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. They are trying to put Sharia Law into effects. The word of a woman is only half valuable as a word of a man before the court. Women who falsely accused men of raping them will enjoy the same punishment as men who actually rape them : getting their arms chopped off…It’s undeniable that Sharia Law is quite beneficial to men as long as they are Muslim.

        Regarding the current gender disparity in Vietnam, I suggest that we should empower women by keeping it this way. Don’t do anything. By keeping it this way, we are making sure that there will be more males than females. And here comes the law of supply and demand. Women will inevitably become more valuable than men. They will be empowered ultimately as you wish. You and I will become second class citizens who will be expendable slaves and sperm donors. Nothing more. Sounds good?

        PS: the paragraph that you wrote about racial equality is really inconsistent with the rest of the essay which is about empowering women. Just saying.


      2. Thang Tran

        Your arguments lack concrete support. “Three-fourth of total VNU students are female (especially ULIS)”-who says that? Any statistics? Or just someone’s probability?

        Secondly, you are defining “Education” too narrowly. Even if “Three-fourth” of VNU/ULIS/Hanoi students are female, the fact that they go to university doesn’t imply that three-fourth of the country enjoy the same privilege of going to university. [Something true for a part might not be true for a whole]. Being “literate” or “illiterate” doesn’t equal understanding maternal health. Even in university, who can guarantee all of them know about pregnancy, safe abortion? The basic things about health were not discussed when they were younger! I think it is a fault in our education system, perhaps our culture also. It’s difficult and unfair to blame anybody.

        I don’t defend Ho Chi Minh or the CPV. The way you talk about them feels very antagonistic and Bitter. Why do you keep Politicizing this argument and distracting it by insisting that I am a socialist/feminist/communist? thinking I am promoting “Policies”? This whole essay appeals for better Vocational training and a more grass-root, decentralized Healthcare Awareness and service. That is my hope. There are so many faults in your arguments.

        My saying “Social empowerment” in this essay DOESN’T mean “right to vote”, “military conscription”. Also, “Men die for them” – FOR WHAT thing? “Infrastructure”, “Inventions by men” (I’m sorry, is Facebook beneficial to only women, and “ensures their SURVIVAL”??), “Sharia Law”—your examples are irrelevant and off-topic.

        Your last argument in favor of gender disparity is sarcastic, distracting and desperate. Are you afraid that “women will inevitably become more valuable than men”, that you will become “second-class citizen”, “expendable slaves”, “sperm donor”? Please, think twice before you advocate for such a dangerous idea.

        P/s. For your information, the paragraph about Racial equality is essential for my argument that education should be FOR EVERYONE, not just Kinh females. Maybe you can count the number of Ethnic minority students at VNU and ULIS. Then come back and argue with me on education, not politics or “law of supply and demand”.


  2. I think that this is a good general overview. The essay would need to be developed with specific cases. The informal sector in which many women work is mentioned but no examples are given. I recently reviewed a book edited by Jeremy Morris and Abel Polese “Informal Economies in Post Socialist Spaces” dealing with the informal sector in what was Yugoslavia and the USSR. It would be interesting to look at the impact on women during the post 1986 period and the end of certain forms of central planning and collective agriculture. The general ideas on the need for education is good, there can be some development about the educational needs in the rural as contrasted with the urban areas . On the whole, this is a good essay.


  3. Well, bý saying “your arguments lack concrete support”, you just completely destroy the logic and credibility behind my arguments. Why would I in my right mind go find some statistics that is inaccessible to me just to go argue with you?

    I’m just trying to help because I believe that you put this essay here for discussion like what you said. However you just ignore all the points that I made and tried to ridicule my beliefs. Well, I won’t waste your time anymore. Thank you for our civic discussion. Wish you all the best. Bye bye.


    1. Thang Tran

      I don’t ridicule your beliefs. I point out that your arguments are emotional and lack credibility. My blog welcomes constructive, to-the-point criticism. I have responded to clarify some parts of my essay that seemed unclear to you. I have no further comments on your proposal to keep gender disparity in Vietnam. Thank you for reading and paying attention.


    2. To Mr. “Lee”
      1/ You seemed to forget one of the most fundamental rules of Debate 101: back up your argument with cold, hard facts and evidence.
      You surely made quite an entrance by calling the author “Someone who believes in the propaganda of feminism, racial equality and socialism. A socialist and potentially a communist in the future.” To be honest, I was expecting you to magnificently dissect his writing to prove your points. Unfortunately, by proceeding with inane comments which clearly conveys a poor personal attack, you completely destroyed your argument. Even if he was doing it for reputation or money, then should I remind you that financial means, and particularly fame, have been the driving force since the dawn of civilization?

      If I were the author, I wouldn’t waste any of my time and effort debating with you for I clearly see how meaningless that would be. Luckily enough, by showing that he actually cared by replying to you, he gave me – or anyone else with a level-headed thinking – an opportunity to see through what kind of a “strange” individual you are.


    3. 2/ Now please let me do a proper analysis – what you should have done with your argument – of your most glaring mistakes.
      “You defend your opinions in this essay by first admitting that you were a little bit naive at the age of 20, and some of your information could of been a lil bit inaccurate.” The author is not defending himself or his opinions, but merely stating the circumstance and origin of the essay. He made no excuse to be sloppy with his provided information, which are thoroughly researched and clearly cited.

      “OK. Next you just get offended by my labeling you as a feminist and a socialist. Just straight up throwing a tantrum. You say you don’t wanna get politics involved with this essay.” The way I see it, it is YOU who raised the ruckus in the first place. I suggest that you take a long, hard look at the definitions of “offended” and “tantrum” then get back to the comments. Do you see the irony? They described you perfectly. While the author was making valid points to elucidate his argument, you – once again – displayed a condescending and unnecessarily hostile attitude, failing to prove or show any relevant information pertaining to your argument.


      1. “You say you don’t wanna get politics involved with this essay. Nah nah. It is what you believe in that implies your political standpoint, even you don’t associate yourself with these political points of view.” You missed the point of the author. When an argument is involved with politics, people are more likely to get sidetracked by political sentiments (e.g. under influence of propaganda, personal/hidden agenda, mob/herd mentality, etc) , whether negative or positive; therefore, it’s the writer’s intention that the discussion on an social issue should be detached from all the politics matter to avoid clouded judgments.

        “The paragraph that says “Secondly, women need social empowerment”. … Have we done it? Yep, we have already done it. For a long time. Any positive results?” Your argument, your data, your research. I see none.


      2. *The missing part of comment 2/
        Assuming that from 2011 to 2015 the enrollment goal is constant, the total number of VNU students would be 16000. To put that into perspective, by Oct 2015 Vietnam has over 1.8 million students in 219 universities and 217 colleges. Even if the WHOLE speculated VNU student population is female, a measly 0.88% sample size speaks volume about your over-generalization ability. There are always some gender-dominant fields, which in turns goes both ways in creating female or male dominance in some universities.


    4. 3/ As for other specific (or not) examples you put forward, they are either misleading or irrelevant, which have also been concisely refuted by the author. (seriously, Sharia Law?! This further confirms that you are just a troll who has too much time on his hand, no offense.)

      Next time when you are trolling, please do it right. You may google “Logical Fallacy 101” to study more deceitful and manipulating methods. Or better yet, stop doing this because it is counterproductive for any participant, including you. There is a fine line between pure B.S and masterful trolling, and reading a poorly done joke and offensive nonsense gets my blood boiling all the time. Your responses are nothing short of extraordinary at doing that (please take this as a compliment). I don’t know which would be more frightening… You are either a miserable troll who loves to dedicate himself to irritating people, or truly an irrational individual with a perversely twisted point of view.


    5. 4/ Your saving grace is that you are very clever and have an excellent command of English, which makes you a seemingly civilized, well-informed, and well-intentioned individual. But… let’s be honest to ourselves here. You know deep down inside your heart, you are just a pseudo-intellectual, narrow-minded, dejected little man. I’ve crossed paths with the likes of you all the time. Believe me, though living and sneering in your own bubble can be wonderfully comforting at first, it will inevitably wear you down before you can even notice it. This path you are treading on will turn you into a vile creature, or better/worse yet, lead to an utter perdition. So I sincerely hope that you have a change of heart and put your capabilities into good use.


    6. *5/ I’ve just read your latest reply. Now I know for sure that you are just an unskilled troll… “Why would I in my right mind go find some statistics that is inaccessible to me just to go argue with you?” actually made me facepalm and internally scream (another compliment for you). Happy trolling and don’t bother replying my lengthy rants! And thank you very much, because writing this reply reminded me why dealing with your kinds had been one of my favorite pastimes, but then “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it”.


  4. Your essay revealed me a useful standpoint that women in Vietnam lack initiative when it comes to voting and standing to against discrimination in workplace. However, what you said lacks evidence that makes me feel like “an unfinished essay”. 🙂


    1. Thang Tran

      Thank you! Yes, an essay entry is limited for these issues. As a college graduate now, I’m going to research and write other pieces of writing in journalistic style, with more details and real-life examples.

      Liked by 1 person

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