Viet Nam News
By Elisa Fernandez and Astrid Bant*
Last month a Vietnamese woman in Hà Nội was attacked and set on fire by her foreign ex-boyfriend, who allegedly threw petrol at her, leaving her in critical condition with life-threatening burns. This shocking news is a painful reminder of the universality of the issue: there is no safe space from gender-based violence. The #MeToo movement around the world has underscored the widespread prevalence of sexual abuse and violence.
Although a case like this might sound extreme, it reaffirms that violence against women in Việt Nam is also far too common. The national study, conducted in 2010, found that two out of three ever-married women experienced violence in their lifetimes. Roughly 50 per cent of victims did not tell anyone about the violence they endured and 87 per cent did not seek help from public services. In addition, recent small-scale studies show a high prevalence of different forms of violence against women and girls in Việt Nam, including among youth in dating relationships.
Such violence is deeply rooted in gender inequality, discrimination, harmful cultural and social norms, and remains one of the most significant barriers to women’s equality. As we see from the case above, it also causes harmful and lasting consequences for victims, families, and communities. Therefore, addressing the underlying power imbalance is critical to ending the violence. The bottom line is that gender-based violence is not inevitable, and we all must commit to zero tolerance for any form of violence.
Việt Nam and many other countries have legislation to address violence against women and girls, although we know that implementation is often the challenge. Even where services for violence survivors are available, they often fall short of providing meaningful and relevant support. Recent studies, supported by the UN, such as Trial of Rape: Understanding the criminal justice system response to sexual violence in Thailand and Viet Nam, and Women’s Justice Perception Study: Access to criminal justice by women subjected to violence, indicate that survivors find it difficult to seek protection and redress through the current justice response, including having their cases taken seriously and their privacy respected.
Responding to this gap in implementation, the United Nations in Việt Nam launched a new programme last November, with the Vietnamese government, as part of the global Joint Programme on Essential Services for Women and Girls Subject to Violence. This Programme provides technical assistance to develop a holistic, multi-sectoral response mechanism with violence survivors’ rights and safety as its highest priority. It will also look at how the quality and coordination of services across health, justice, policing and social services can be improved, particularly from the user’s point of view. At the same time, the Programme will enhance the justice sector response to hold perpetrators accountable and send a clear message that any violence against women and girls is unacceptable.
The good news is, compared to the cost of inaction, providing essential services to respond to violence against women does not cost much. On the other hand, according to a 2013 study by UN Women, loss of overall productivity, out of pocket expenditures and lost earnings, resulting from violence against women, can add up to as much as 3.2 per cent of Viet Nam’s GDP.
UN Women and UNFPA remain committed to join hands with Việt Nam to move towards implementation of laws and policies to end violence against women once and for all. Each case of violence, like the recent one we’ve all seen in the news, is one case too many. Each is a painful reminder that much work still needs to be done. In line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must all strive for a world that leaves no one behind under the threat of violence.
*Elisa Fernandez is the Head of Office of UN Women and Astrid Bant is the Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Việt Nam.