My Road, My Responsibility: Empowering Women in Vietnam to Maintain Rural Roads

March 7, 2013


The poor condition of roads hinder transportation and mobility in rural Vietnam. A World Bank-supported project trains women to maintain rural roads, allowing them to earn extra income while making the roads last longer, improving access to schools and markets. View slideshow

The World Bank

  • Women in villages are trained and employed to regularly maintain rural roads.
  • Women earn extra income, with economic benefits for communities and authorities.
  • Roads are now more sustainable, providing easy access to schools and to the marketplace.

Sung Di, in her late 20s, leaves her child behind to join 50 other women at a community meeting. This meeting is not about how to raise her child, cook a new dish, or discuss the prices of food in the local market.

These women of H’Mong ethnic group in Cao Son commune, northern mountainous province of Lao Cai come together to discuss and do “men’s work”—maintaining local roads.

Just a short while ago, in this remote village, it was still a widespread belief that a woman’s role is inside the house.

This belief—part of a cultural tradition where women should only take care of children and housework—has also been popular across the different ethnicities of Vietnam, including the Kua people in Minh Hoa district, Quang Binh central province. It also didn’t help that road conditions are bad, making it hard for them to leave their homes and for motor vehicles to pass.

“It was also difficult to go anywhere as the road was rough. It was difficult for children to go to school, for old people to go to the clinic, and for us to go to the market. Our life is enclosed in the house,” said Ho Thi Thanh, of Kua ethnic group from Thuong hamlet, Minh Hoa district.

A project funded by DFID- UK and supported by the World Bank has helped these women “get out” of their house, and break free from tradition. The project has even give them an additional source of livelihood. As part of the Third Rural Transport Project, women receive assistance for doing road maintenance work, an employment opportunity normally given to men or contractors at a high price.

" This is the type of thing I do every day, but so far in my garden and farm. I can do more of this simple task for the village road. It’s my road. "

Ma Thi Xa

60-year old resident of Cao Son commune, Lao Cai province

Benefits to all

“It fits very well with our ongoing campaigns of “clean house, clean kitchen, clean road,” says Pham Thi Han, President of Quang Binh Women’s Union. “I am asking fellow colleagues, women and the communities to join us in maintaining rural roads.”

The project trains women on basic road maintenance skills. “We teach them to clean the drains, trim the trees that block the view of travelers, fill up the potholes, and provide general information about the rural road,” according to Duong Ngoc Canh, trainer from the Quang Binh Department of Transport.

“Simple maintenance of rural road is like maintaining your motorbike. If you don’t fix a loose screw, it may cause your bike to break down,” says Tran Quoc Huy, Director of Quang Binh Rural Roads Project Management Unit.“But we need to do this regularly and no one can do it better than those who live by the road and can spot the problem immediately. Regular maintenance makes the road more sustainable.”

Aside from women earning additional income from doing maintenance work, the project is also economically beneficial for the authorities. It saves them from hiring more expensive civil work contractors who have to move their people and equipment from the city to remote locations for the job.

Strong ownership generated

The local women’s unions established self-maintenance teams to manage the work on their village roads. Women from all walks of life participate in such teams because they understand their importance to the community and also to themselves.

According to 60-year old Ma Thi Xa, who comes from the same village as Di, even old people like her can do the job. “This is the type of thing I do every day, but so far in my garden and farm. I can do more of this simple task for the village road. It’s my road.”

“It’s my road.” This perspective is also a big achievement of this small project—people now have a sense of ownership of the road and they take care of it as if they were taking care of their own homes.

For Sung Di, the meeting day is a festival and she wears her best outfit, because road maintenance work means “my son has a better road to go to school, and it’s easier and quicker for me to go to the market to sell my produce.”