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Vietnam: Ethnic minority women participate in regular maintenance of rural roads

May 17, 2010

Lao Cai, 17 May 2010 — Morning dew still covers the Upper Mon Nam village, Lao Cai province in northern Vietnam but Vong A Phu – a Tay ethnic minority woman and other 25 female villagers have already walked more than 10 km on foot with shovels and hoes on their shoulders to their workplace.

Dig soil ...

Clear sewers ...

Take out grass ...

Trim the bushes...

They're doing rural road maintenance – a new job for those who previously only knew how to cultivate. They’re tired but its more fun than working in the fields alone.

The road maintenance started in Lao Cai in February 2010 and is expected to last till the end of June under a project entitled Women’s Employment and Road Maintenance in Rural Vietnam funded by Gender Action Plan (GAP). This project is a pilot to train local rural, ethnic minority women in rural road maintenance and then employ them to do the work.

In the past, roads were only repaired after they were damaged. But now, this project focuses on regular maintenance to improve the long term quality of the roads, especially during Feb to May – the rainy season that causes lots of damage to the roads.

This is a new kind of job for ethnic people in this region who are mostly Hmong, Tay and Dao ethnic women, but those women respond greatly.

In charge of a team of 55 people—mostly Tay, Dao, and Mong women undertaking commune road maintenance in Nam Dec commune, Phung Pha Sui is present here very early to lead the work.

"Women like to do this work; they are competing to join. They think that maintaining the road makes the roads nicer, and more convenient for transporting commodities to develop the household economy. During this time of the year, it often rains so maintaining the roads during this time is good," she said.

The maintenance may sound simple but for many of these ethnic minorities who can’t speak the Kinh language (the official language), which poses great challenges for tutors teaching them basic skills.

The Women’s Union have co-operated with Transportation Department at provincial, district and communal levels to provide training. Beside theoretical lessons and materials, hands-on practice is best for ethnic minority women to understand the work.

"They don’t know how to do the leveling or margin of the road. It is the hardest thing to teach them. If tutors allow them to practice, then they understand right away," said Nguyen Manh Lien, Head of the Department of Rural Transportation Lao Cai.

Women participating in the project are paid daily wages, about 100 thousand Vietnam Dong, quite high compared to their income locally. That will be a good source of income for them if the work is prolonged in the future.

Maintaining rural roads has been proven to save costs, and also increase women's rights and improve people's livelihood for their families.

"Regarding efficiency, I think at first the women realize that maintenance is necessary for commuting and serves the local communities that they live in," said Tran Thi Khanh, Vice President of Lao Cai Women's Union.

For Vong A Phu, the work she is doing simply good for those she meets every day.

The road after maintenance activities will be better for villagers going to the market; and more convenient for teachers going to schools," she said.

She and her pals will stay here to work the whole day and she can feel proud when walking past the roads that are better thanks to their "labor and sweat".

This feature story is written by Le Thi Xuan Nghiem - WB.