By Gina Alvarado
Mrs. Nguyen Thao, 61 years old, lives in Long Son, Long An province in Vietnam. She has raised five children with the income she earned as a farmer growing rice. Thao is worried about the future of her family as her children may lose their right to their land when she dies. Unfortunately for Thao and many other families, this is a common problem.
In Vietnam, citizens receive a Land Use Certificate (LURC) when the government gives them rights to use land for farming or for other uses. Thao, however, never obtained an official Land Use Certificate (LURC). And without a LURC, it will be difficult for Thao’s children to prove that they have the right to use their land, should something happen to their mother.
In many communes in the south of Vietnam, most citizens are small holder farmers who cultivate rice. Despite the importance of holding agricultural land to sustain their livelihood, many lack LURCs and other important legal documents that allow them to claim the land as their own. When land officials try to help citizens in rural communities with their land registration, they hit a roadblock, as citizens do not know how to register and obtain birth, death and marriage certificates, which are needed in order to access many services, including land.
Many women in Vietnam do not have a birth certificate because their parents don’t think it is worth registering a daughter’s birth because of prevailing gender norms that do not value girls as they do boys. This is quite common in rural areas around the world and Vietnam is no exception. And because a woman cannot obtain a LURC without a birth certificate, they are less likely to have a land title.
In order to support women who have trouble accessing land, either because they lack documentation or information about how to access land or because they are denied the right to land, the International Research on Women (ICRW) and the Institute of Social Development Studies (ISDS) mobilized community volunteers in the Hung Yen and Long An provinces as part of the Land Access for Women in Vietnam program. This program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has mobilized and trained a network of 57 community volunteers to raise awareness about land rights and how gender influences access to land rights.
The first training workshops for community volunteers took place in March, 2015. For more than a year, community volunteers have been supporting citizens with information and advice to help them obtain LURCs and other associated documents, as well as help them resolve conflicts related to their access to land.
Earlier this year, I visited the community volunteers while they were attending a training workshop to refresh their knowledge of Vietnamese land law. During my visit I met Mr. Diep, a community volunteer for gender equality. He told me, “Some people have lived together for over 30 years without registering their marriage until something bad happens and then widows realize that they need their marriage certificate in order to claim their land use right[s].” However, things are beginning to change as people are starting to realize the importance of registering births, deaths and marriages, thanks in part to a campaign that features loudspeaker announcements about the importance of registrations in connection to land rights.
Volunteers like Mr. Diep are helping women like Thao who lack the necessary documents and are worried about their future and the future of their children’s livelihood. Community volunteers like Mr. Diep also organize functions to call attention to women’s land rights and explain complex requirements to people seeking advice.
ISDS and ICRW facilitated meetings between the networks of community volunteers and commune authorities to present the data about the main challenges their clients had faced during the first six months of the program. Volunteers in each commune held meetings and discussed possible solutions with the authorities. The feedback from participants was positive. For example, in Hung Yen, a land officer praised the community volunteers, stating that he had noticed that clients were coming to his offices prepared with the correct documentation needed in order to register their land. He said since the program began, he has noticed that because people have more information about the law, there are fewer conflicts among neighbors.
In October, ICRW and ISDS will organize a workshop with community volunteers and authorities in Hung Yen and Long An to share the preliminary results of the success of the project and to share ideas about what should be improved in order to increase women’s access to land and effectively implement the laws for gender equality.
Every day, women and girls around the world spend more than
In honor of International Women’s Day, ICRW held a pan