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ethnic minority

Empowering local women to build a more equitable future in Vietnam

Phuong Thi Minh Tran's picture

Vietnam’s economic emergence is perhaps best experienced along its rural roads: more than 175,000 kilometers of pavement, rubble and dirt track extend to two-thirds of the country’s population, including nearly all of the poorest people, who live among its productive farms, lush forests and meandering river valleys.

In recent years, road investments in Vietnam’s rural areas have improved socioeconomic development and promoted gender equity, social participation, improved school attendance, and more inclusive health services to impoverished regions. However, all but a few hundred communes remain off-grid, and infrastructural roadblocks and bureaucratic potholes have delayed the goal of a fully integrated road system.

The World Bank’s Third Rural Transport Project (RTP3) supported a win-win solution: employing ethnic minority women to sustainably manage road maintenance through an innovative participatory approach to local development. This blog entry describes the experience of improving the roads — and women’s lives — in rural Vietnam. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way:

Lesson 1: Solutions can come from unexpected sources.
The RTP3 task team’s investigation showed that up to a third of the population in Vietnam’s Northern Uplands provinces would be expected to contribute up to 10 percent of their total annual household expenditure to ensure safe passage along local roads — too much for most to afford. Furthermore, even when adequate resources are made available for maintenance, contractors have sometimes been unwilling to work in inaccessible regions for fear of mudslides during the rainy season.

Why is ethnic minority poverty persistent in Vietnam?

Gabriel Demombynes's picture
What will it take to end poverty in Vietnam?

A few months ago, I journeyed to Lao Cai, a predominantly ethnic minority area in Vietnam’s Northern Mountains, to supervise a pilot survey. One older man I encountered—typical of many we saw—was a subsistence farmer with minimal education who spoke only his native language and had barely ventured beyond his village.

Members of ethnic minority groups make up 15 percent of the country’s population but account for 70 percent of the extreme poor (measured using a national extreme poverty line). During Vietnam’s two decades of rapid growth, members of ethnic minority groups in the country have experienced overall improvements in their standards of living, but their gains have lagged behind those of the Kinh majority.

Why is ethnic minority poverty persistent? This has been the subject of numerous studies, including a 2009 study on ethnicity and development in Vietnam as well as a chapter in our more recent Vietnam Poverty Assessment. This is also one piece of the research my team is currently pursuing.