HANOI — The country of Vietnam deserves credit for the impressive economic growth it’s experienced in recent years. Unfortunately, poverty, as it relates to gender inequality, remains a significant issue, especially in rural areas — women still earn significantly less than men on average and are severely under-represented in politics and lawmaking.
While there are many factors that contribute to these gender inequalities, such as differences in education and employment opportunities, the ability to own land remains a significant barrier to economic security for rural women.
The introduction of new laws that expanded women’s land rights between 1993 and 2003 demonstrate that Vietnamese officials recognized inequalities of land ownership; however, if laws grant equal access to property regardless of gender, then why do women make up only 15 percent of landowners in Vietnam? More importantly, what can be done to increase equity in land ownership?
Legal knowledge as a means for equality
In their project Land Access for Women in Vietnam, USAID found that less than 50 percent of Vietnamese women they interviewed understood how to legally obtain a land use rights certificate (LURC).
The vast majority of men and women did not have full knowledge of women’s land rights in general. In the two provinces of people that were interviewed for the project, between 20 to 25 percent of male and female respondents did not know that married women could own property separate from their husbands.
Although many Vietnamese women need to know their rights in order to obtain and defend their land, the survey results prove that a lot of Vietnamese men are also unfamiliar with women’s land rights.
Some NGOs and agencies, like USAID, seek to bridge this knowledge gap through various forms of legal rights education. Through individual counseling and community classes, women can ensure that they are not losing their rights to land due to a misunderstanding of the law. Additionally, men will not be able to bar women from their legal property, unintentionally or intentionally.
In some legal cases, obvious instances of gender discrimination and exclusion are not the only barriers between women and their land. Nguyen Thi Nhung, a farmer in southern Vietnam, had her name on an LURC and wished to share the land with her sisters. However, Nhung was not familiar with how to complete the legal process: “I wanted to share the land with my sisters, but I did not know about required documents and procedures. Nor did I know where to find information,” she says in an interview with USAID.
The legal education sessions teach women like Nhung the legal information they need to complete land-dividing processes. After three sessions with a counselor, Nhung was able to give her sisters access to land. As a result of the education of one woman, four more gained land rights in Vietnam.
Legal mitigation reduces gender-based exclusion from LURCs
Since 2003, Vietnamese land laws require that the names of both spouses appear on LURCs. However in 2014, only 35 percent of LURCs in the rural village of Hung Yen contained the names of both spouses. In the village of Long An, the difference was even more striking with only 1 percent of LURCs containing both names.
Unfortunately, land laws in Vietnam do not always hold up against gender-based traditions. Women participants of the project named “pressures from family” and “traditional practices” as the top two barriers to land ownership.
In Vietnam, the acquisition of land most often occurs within families and male family members, or spouses, who are usually the sole landowners. When parents have both sons and daughters, they are more likely to pass the land to a son. If the land is passed on to a daughter with a husband, it is likely that only her husband’s name will appear on the LURC, therefore disregarding Vietnamese law. Single women who are also the only children in their families are the most likely to receive land from their parents and be the sole, rightful owner of the property.
Encouraging families to pass land to their daughters as well as their sons, would require undoing years of tradition and culture. However, programs like USAID’s Land Access for Women project aim to decrease the instances in which the wife’s name is omitted from the LURC by providing access to legal mitigation services. There are very few lawyers in rural Vietnam, and many women in rural areas do not have the means to obtain a lawyer for land disputes.
The presence of a trained legal counselor can limit occurrences of women’s land rights violations within spousal and familial relationships; of the cases resolved by USAID counselors, 91 percent were decided in favor of the USAID client. With support like this, the movement and reclamation of women’s land rights in Vietnam has a bright, prosperous and hopeful future.
– Danielle Poindexter