Last week on World Population Day, I was thinking of the joy of children and the right of women to decide when to have them. It matters to women, but it matters to society as a whole. There can be no sustainable development without women’s empowerment, and there can be no women’s empowerment without access to comprehensive maternal and reproductive health services. Family planning is part of them.
At the time, the country was still opening up to the outside world, and the Bank had just set up a small office there. I recently returned to Vietnam after 15 years, this time as the Bank’s Global Lead for Land. I saw a completely different country: while the old city charm is still there, Hanoi has transformed to the point that it is really difficult to recognize… as if I had landed in Japan, China, or any other Southeast Asian country.
The airport used to be one gate; now, it is a modern airport not much different from any airport in Western Europe or the United States. I remember that, when I worked in Vietnam in the mid-90s, GDP per capita was averaging US$200, and around 50% of people lived in extreme poverty. Today, GDP per capita has soared to about US$2000, while extreme poverty has dropped to around 3% according to the US$1.9/day extreme poverty line... An impressive achievement in less than 20 years.
My trip to Vietnam had the goal of helping the government modernize and automate the land administration system. In the early 90s, the country launched an ambitious reform program to transform the land use model from communal farming to individual household ownership by breaking up the communal land structure and distributing land to individual households. This reform was then credited with changing Vietnam from a net importer of rice to one of the largest rice exporters in the world in only a few years.
In accordance with the Land Law of 1993, the first Land Use Certificates (LUCs) issued under the program were in the name of the “head of household”, i.e. in the name of men only. Later on, the Vietnamese government, with support from the World Bank, strove to change things around by issuing LUCs bearing both the wife’s and the husband’s names.
International Women’s Day 2013 comes at a time of heightened concerns globally about women’s safety in society—hence the day’s theme: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim addresses the issue in a Huffington Post blog, and invites feedback from the public on ways to accelerate progress for women and girls. You can ask questions and weigh in on the factors driving women’s empowerment in a live chat March 6 in English, French, and Spanish with Sustainable Development Vice President Rachel Kyte, and World Bank gender experts. Find a complete list of World Bank International Women’s Day 2013 resources.
Post questions ahead of the chat for Sustainable Development Vice President Rachel Kyte, Gender and Development Director Jeni Klugman and other experts. Follow on Twitter with hashtag #WBLive.