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Vietnam's Land Law Raises Status, Income and Security for Wives

March 15, 2010

  • Traditional male ownership of land and production assets across EAP keeps women in poverty
  • Joint Land titles give women access to bank loans, protect families from the unilateral action of one spouse and protect women’s rights in a divorce
  • Vietnam’s dramatic land law on joint ownership also presents vast administrative challenges for land agencies who must implement it

Nha Trang, 15 March, 2010: A surveyor has set up his tripod and instruments under a hot tropical sun to measure plots of land in a village where the Dac Kray minority community were settled four years ago. “We used to live on the other side of the hill,” said a young mother with a brood of children around her knees, “ but we were crowded with many generations living under one roof. The government gave us this land four years ago and helped build the houses,” she said, referring to the traditional wooden huts that dotted the unpaved lane.   

Asked if she knew what the land surveyors were doing she said she wasn’t sure but her neighbour had said it was to measure her plot so that one day she would get a red book from the government with her name on it as the joint owner of the land and house. It was something no woman in her family had ever possessed.

Tradition Denies Women Land Assets

Land is a social and an emotional issue, deeply intertwined with personal concerns of security, status and identity. It is also a key economic asset in deciding the status of both men and women. Across the EAP region, land is overwhelmingly owned by men and titles are passed from father to son through a legal framework that has been traditionally unfavorable to women.

A 2007 ASEAN survey on women’s advancement came up with two key findings:

  • Productive assets such as land, capital, labor & technology remain predominantly within the control of men, which therefore deter women’s full participation in society.
  • Weak capacity of existing land administration systems & institutional biases limit the scope of economic, social & political participation of women.

In a dramatic move to address some of these historic inequalities, the Government of Vietnam introduced a Land Law in 2004 making it mandatory for all Land Tenure Certificates (LTCs) to include the name of both husband and wife. The move followed pilot projects, two of which were supported by the World Bank in two communes in the province of Nghe An in 2002 and later in 20 provinces/cities nationwide in 2003-2004.

Access to Credit & Emotional Security

An assessment of the “Impacts of Land Tenure Certificates with Both Husband’s and Wife’s Name” was carried out in 2007-08 by the Institute of Policy, Law & Development with support from the World Bank’s Gender Action Plan and proved the importance of “joint LTC in reducing gender inequality in legal access to land, protecting families against unilateral action by one spouse and protecting women’s right in case of divorce or other land disputes.”  Ethnic women in Vietnam are particularly vulnerable in this regard due to cultural pressures, according to a 1997 Oxfam report.

The government, supported by grassroots organizations, had overturned years of patriarchal monopoly on land resources with the new Law which will have far reaching consequences for women. Among the other findings of the survey:

  • Access to credit with collateral meant women were no longer exploited by loan sharks from informal credit sector
  • Women with joint LTCs had a say in raising credit for family businesses and more joint decision-making on other issues
  • Women also welcomed livelihood security in old age, even if they were dependent on their children. Only 19% of senior women said pensions were their main source of income compared to 33% for men. The ratio of senior women relying on support from their children is also greater than men, at 52 % versus 27 %, respectively.
  • Matters of inheritance and division of land in the event of a divorce would also be more equitably settled.

Multiple Challenges in Modernization

It was no surprise that the women in Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa province were eagerly waiting for their own “red books” i.e. land title certificates: “We have been waiting for a couple of years now,” said one of them impatiently, “and we don’t know how long the process will take.” The government, for its part, has outsourced the surveying and mapping process to a private firm even as it seeks to build capacity to handle the land registration challenge. It is being supported in this massive effort by the US$ 100 million Vietnam Land Administration Project (VLAP) which will cover nine provinces with a focus on land registration and modernization of registration systems. Over five million households will receive legal title once the project is complete.

Implementing the new law however, presents its own challenges: “Some families have no land titles, others have titles which are not registered and others still have titles in the name of one spouse which have to be converted - for which a mechanism needs to be streamlined,” explained Keith Bell, Senior Land Specialist. “We are also supporting modernization of the land administration system so that there will be one title for both the land and the property built on it and there will be one window for owners to get their LTC’s registered.”

Ensuring that women, particularly in rural areas and in ethnic minority communities exercise their right is a challenge. “We need proper dissemination, commitment and active participation of grassroots women’s organizations and community land advisory groups to ensure women participate in this program,’ says Keith. “And then we need to create a system for disaggregating data so we can monitor and evaluate the impact it will have on women’s ownership.”