Viet Nam: Meeting Women's Needs And Interests Through An Environmental Improvement Project - 2010

May 2010

Mme Van

Mme Van, an elderly widow and mother of four children received a loan to build a toilet and a drain was constructed alongside her home. She received training from the Women’s Union on sanitation and managing her loan. She said the training improved her understanding of sanitation and how it contributes to good health. Her new toilet has led to improved household sanitation and the drain prevents her backyard from flooding leading to improved living conditions. She is proud of her new toilet and her ability to borrow and successfully repay the loan.

Mme Van was one of the participants of the community based sanitation activities of the Central Region Urban Environmental Improvement Project (CRUEIP), which achieved high levels (90%) of women participation. The project targeted poor and low-income households and promoted community participation in urban environmental infrastructure resulting in women's participation in infrastructure related activities including decision making, changed attitudes and behavior on waste disposal and sanitation practices. 

The Project

The Central Region Urban Environmental Improvement Project (CRUEIP) aimed to improve quality of life and health status and reduce poverty by improving urban environmental conditions in six towns in Vietnam. The Project included five outputs to improve urban environmental conditions in project towns:  (i) awareness and pro-poor sanitation; (ii) drainage and flood protection; (iii) wastewater and public sanitation; (iv) solid waste management; and (v) implementation assistance and institutional strengthening.

The project design included a detailed gender analysis and a comprehensive gender action plan (GAP) that included targets and design features to facilitate women's involvement in all project outputs. The GAP recognized that women were responsible for a variety of tasks relating to sanitation and waste collection at the household and community levels. Hence, a primary strategy to increase women's involvement in project activities was to contract Viet Nam Women’s Union (VWU) for setting up community management committees (CMCs) through women's participation could be facilitated.

The key gender strategies were raising community awareness on sanitation, protecting and improving urban environmental infrastructure, providing grants, mostly to women, in poor and low-income households to build septic tanks, toilets, and/or connect household wastewater to public drainage or sewage systems.

To promote women's involvement and ensure project benefits reached women, the GAP included targets of 50% women's participation for all training activities, for beneficiaries and implementers and community management committees; 75% women beneficiaries of household sanitation program; and 30% female membership in community/neighborhood groups to support decision making on community-based sanitation activities.

Consultations with both men and women was a key feature of the design of the wastewater and public sanitation facilities; building men’s and women’s awareness and practice of solid waste disposal; and improving the conditions for women waste pickers and workers in urban environmental companies (URENCOs). Training on gender awareness was provided to members of community management committees, all implementing partners. In addition, training on project management, operations and maintenance, community participation, and health awareness were provided to VWU.

Benefits for Women

High participation rates of women in project activities. The project was successful at achieving high rates of women’s participation in construction, operation and maintenance of small infrastructure, as well as, decision making and management of CMCs. The VWU was instrumental in mobilizing and ensuring high levels of women’s participation in all project outputs and activities. Through the CMCs, women and men jointly identified priorities for the construction of roads and drainage channels in the community awareness and infrastructure component.  Women made up 90% of the members of the CMCs tasked with implementing the community based infrastructure and awareness activities; all CMC directors were women; and 89% of motivators for this program in urban areas were women. Women were also involved in decision-making regarding large scale infrastructure construction and rehabilitation such as drainage, flood protection, wastewater, public sanitation and solid waste management and in resettlement planning associated with these activities—which are usually seen as the domain for men. Women's participation in most CBS activities exceeded the target of 50% and reached 70%–90% The high level of women's participation led to improved community and household sanitation practices including waste disposal.

Increased and new knowledge and skills. The training provided to women members of CMC and VWU strengthened their planning, project management and monitoring capacity. For the first time, women were managing credit funds and implementing and monitoring civil works. Training included: training in management skills (75% women), management and information, education and communication (IEC) methods (74% women); and gender and sanitation (67% women). Women reported that the training provided them with a range of new skills including: managing revolving loan funds; planning, management, project implementation and review of civil works activities; and improved capacity as trainers. Both male and female staff from urban environmental companies participated in gender, HIV and occupational health and safety training, which was targeted at sweepers, waste collectors, and administration staff.

Access to credit. Over 75% of credit recipients were women from low income households including female-headed households. Credit was provided for household sanitation improvements such as the construction of toilets and septic tanks. For the first time women were managing credit and civil works. The VWU managed the revolving loan fund and all credit workers were women.

Easing women's load. A key practical benefit included the redesign of hand-carts and garbage cans used by waste pickers and garbage collectors to make them lighter and more suitable for women to use. Protective equipment such as gloves for scavengers in land fills sites were also provided.

Empowering women and ensuring their strategic interests. The VWU’s involvement in resettlement committees ensured that women received their entitlements when households were displaced due to the construction of drainage, flood protection, wastewater and public sanitation infrastructure. This ensured women’s needs were considered and resulted in special provisions for female headed households. Relocated female headed households were provided with additional allowances of VND 2 million, allocated land and given assistance to build new houses with a toilet, water and electricity. All female headed households received the land title deed to their new house regardless of whether they previously held the land title.

Changes in women's status and roles at the community level. In project areas, there were signs of strategic changes in gender relations at the community level in the project areas. Not only did women attend meetings and participate in activities; they managed and led activities as community motivators, managers and implementers. This increased the visibility of women in community management positions and led to more opportunities for women to participate in decision making at commune and ward level on other matters. The success of the VWU’s community awareness activities also resulted in more middle-aged men actively participating in public meetings, surveys, trainings and community activities on sanitation. This was an important step towards changes in gender relations as sanitation is usually seen as the role of women at both the household and community levels.

Supporting institutional capacity development and sustainability.  Women’s limited technical knowledge and capacity are often given as reasons for the lack of women’s participation in civil works, sanitation and infrastructure activities. CRUEIP explicitly addressed this issue by having the VWU implement awareness and pro-poor sanitation activities. The capacity building activities included in the project GAP ensured that VWU staff had training to develop plans, undertake project management, manage credit funds and manage civil works activities as well as knowledge on gender issues in health, environment, and sanitation. 

VWU's success of managing project activities and their enhanced capacity to implement small scale civil works resulted in the institutionalizing of VWUs role. Their visibility in the community increased and their role and profile was reinforced. Local community members including men have increased confidence in their ability; they trust the VWU and there is strong support for their activities. As a result, VWU now has increased capacity to manage community-based projects and represent women’s interests in local decision-making forums. VWU gained the respect, trust and confidence of the project team at the Ministry of Construction. Further the success of VWU activities led to increased understanding and willingness of some provincial project managers to consider gender issues.

Challenges and Lessons Learnt

A member of Vietnam Women's Union (VWU) showing a new toilet.

In Vietnam, decision making and management of infrastructure is typically seen as the domain of men, due to prevailing views that women have inadequate skills, technical capacity and experience in prioritizing, managing and supervising civil works. This was explicitly acknowledged as a risk in CRUEIP and as a result the project design included strategies to build women’s capacity in these areas. This had a flow-on effect which reinforced women’s involvement in decision making and monitoring for all project components, including those focused on large infrastructure construction and rehabilitation including monitoring the impacts of resettlement activities.

While it is true that the design and implementation of civil works requires engineering skills, other skills are also important such as identifying and prioritizing infrastructure developments, and managing and monitoring implementation of village and district level infrastructure—such as monitoring the quality of construction and materials (for small civil works), financial management and in some cases the supervision of contractors. These activities do not require engineering skills. Therefore, it is important to include capacity building activities for both men and women to maximize their involvement in managing and monitoring civil work and infrastructure at community level.

Delay and slow disbursements of funds in several locations significantly delayed implementation of community based sanitation activities. In several provinces, this delayed and hampered the work of the VWU’s to carry out the sanitation activities.

Another challenge was that revolving funds for household sanitation activities were not always targeted to the poorest households. While most borrowers were low-income households, they had to demonstrate a good history of credit repayment. Few very poor households could meet these requirements. Further, many poor households were reluctant to borrow and did not consider toilet construction a priority. In addition the cost of toilet construction increased and loans were inadequate to cover construction costs.

While women’s high level of participation is a good result, it had the unintended consequence of increasing women’s workload. This applied both to women involved with the VWU and to women in the community. CMC work was in addition to other VWU duties and there was no salary attached to this work. However, success relied on their willingness to work in their own time and on weekends. While the women from the VWU were happy to do this, it poses risks for the sustainability of some of the results achieved. Future projects need to build in payment for VWU's activities. Also, a better balance between men and women on CMCs and as credit workers may have helped to encourage men’s participation and reduced the burden of responsibility for community and household sanitation on women. This could have contributed to further changes in gender relations.

In Conclusion

CRUEIP was an excellent example of how implementation of the GAP can lead to practical and strategic gender equality results. The project's proactive approach to building women’s decision making ability and capacity to engage in a non traditional sector and implement civil works and infrastructure activities provide good lessons on the importance of ensuring that project analysis and design carefully considers the roles of both men and women, includes strategies to ensure women’s equal participation and benefits and also includes activities to encourage men’s participation in household and community sanitation practices.

Summary of Gender Equality Results

The following table provides a brief summary of the gender strategies/GAP provisions and the results achieved by the project:

Loan Component/ GAP provisions

Gender Equality Results

Project objective: improved urban environment

  • Improved living and environmental conditions due to the success of the Viet Nam Women’s Union (VWU) at creating awareness among women and men about the links between health, the environment and sanitation.

A. Awareness and pro-poor sanitation

  • VWU responsible for implementation.
  • Training on gender roles and environmental sanitation for men and women
  • Training for (URENCO) workers
  • 50% of motivators will be women.
  • Consultation with both men and women
  • 30% of community/neighborhood group members are women.
  • Participatory process for community contribution.
  • Exemption consideration will be given to female headed households (FHHs)
  • High participation of women with targets exceeded in all activities and training (from 67% to 90%).
  • 75% women were trained in management skills (24 women and 8 men).
  • 67% women were trained in gender and sanitation (30 women and 15 men).
  • 74% women were trained on management and propaganda methods (23 women and 8 men).
  • More than 12,000 students were trained in sanitation.
  • 90% of CMC members were women; women participated in CBS boards of management.
  • All directors of community management committees were female and 89% of urban motivators were women.
  • Increased opportunities for women to participate in decision making at commune and ward level.
  • Strengthened planning, project management and monitoring capacity of VWU
  • More middle-aged men actively participating in public meetings and trainings on sanitation.
  • Over 75% of credit recipients for household sanitation improvements were women. Women received loans to build toilets and septic tanks.
  • Exemptions from cost-recovery for CBS operation and maintenance given to female headed households (FHH).

B. Drainage and flood protection
C. Wastewater and public sanitation

  • IEC targeted to men and women
  • Address different needs of men and women in the design and operation and maintenance (O&M) of wastewater and public sanitation.
  • Women participated in consultations about wastewater, public sanitation and solid waste management activities.
  • VWU participated in monitoring the quality of construction activities.
  • VWU involved in resettlement planning meetings and implementation to ensure special consideration for FHH including extra compensation and land titles.

D. Solid waste management

  • IEC to improve men and women’s awareness and practice, and payment of monthly sanitation fees.
  • Women’s concerns addressed in URENCOs
  • Gender training conducted for ward leaders and community members.
  • Re-design of hand-carts and garbage cans and introduction of special transport mechanisms to meet the needs of women garbage collectors.
  • Urban environmental company (URENCO) women garbage collectors participated in gender, HIV and safety training.

E.   Implementation assistance and institutional strengthening

  • Gender awareness training for all staff/partners
  • Use of gender-sensitive indicators for implementation and monitoring.
  • Ensure the resettlement plan is gender responsive.
  • Training on leadership for female URENCO staff.
  • Capacity of VWU increased; reinforcement of VWU’s role and profile in the community and in government institutions.
  • URENCOs, community leaders, program management unit (PMU) and CMCs trained on gender issues; increased understanding by URENCOs, community leaders, PMUs and CMCs of gender issues in urban environmental, sanitation and health.
  • Data on women’s participation collected and reported.