Ethnic Minority Empowerment

Vietnam’s 53 ethnic minority groups account for 14 percent of the population, with a vibrant diversity of cultures, languages, and livelihoods. Yet ethnic minorities make up as many as 70 percent of those Vietnamese classified as extremely poor. The average income in an ethnic minority household is just one-sixth of the overall country average and ethnic minority children, women and men often find it hard to access basic health and education services.

While many development programmes have tried to reduce ethnic poverty, they have often not consulted ethnic minorities themselves on their concerns and aspirations, and have therefore not been successful in meeting the actual needs and addressing the social, cultural and economic rights of ethnic minority men and women.

Promoting ethnic minority voices

Dak Nong province in the Central Highlands is home to 29 ethnic minority groups. Dak Glong is the poorest district in the province, with more than half of its citizens, mainly ethnic minorities, identified as poor. Since 2013, Oxfam has been working with the Dak Glong Agricultural Department, the Farmers’ Union and the Centre for Community Empowerment (CECEM) to support ethnic minorities in seven communes in Dak Glong to claim their social, cultural and economic rights.

The project creates new opportunities for ethnic minorities to take action, identify solutions to their own problems and to become more active participants in public decision-making. This is one of several Oxfam projects that works to empower ethnic minorities and helps them to raise their voice.

Beginning with support to farmers’ groups and work on livelihoods, Oxfam and partners bring local women and men from different ethnic groups to work together, network, and learn from each other. Art and cultural events promote the value of ethnic minority cultures and enable participants to develop negotiation skills, exercise their influence and their rights, among local authorities and the general public.

Oxfam also organises dialogue sessions between ethnic minorities, research institutes, civil society organisations and local and national authorities, and conducts study tours to other provinces to look at collective action models. Finally, the project helps to raise public awareness and recognition of the rights and capacities of ethnic minorities.

Building capacities of farmers’ groups

So far, more than 13 farmer groups, consisting mainly of ethnic minorities, are operating in Dak Glong district. Farmers in these groups are better able to understand and analyse the context around them, for example in their relationships with traders. They are therefore in a stronger position to negotiate with traders and secure better deals. Ethnic minority farmers are more equipped to request information about policies and issues that affect them, such as land policies or bank loans. Finally, the groups are actively looking at how to improve livelihoods and are confidently identifying innovative solutions. As a result, some families have managed to increase their household incomes.

One H’mong farmer, one Thai farmer, one Mnong farmer and one Tay farmer  have also been selected as heads of local Farmers’ Union branches, giving them an opportunity to represent their community, practice leadership skills and participate in local decision-making processes.

Using art and cultural events to strengthen local identities

The project uses art and cultural events to promote ethnic minorities’ heritage. As part of this, cultural road shows and festivals have been organised with different ethnic minority groups (H’mong, Mnong, Thai, Tay, Nung, Muong, Ma, Dao, Ede, Bana Ro Ngao, Se Dang So Dra, Bru Van Kieu, Kho Me, Paco, Cham, Rac Lay, Ba Then, Day) and generations working and performing together.

In September 2015, a festival celebrating ethnic minority culture was organised in Dak Nong. The event was hosted by the Dak Nong farmer groups, who also participated in designing the event. More than 200 participants from Hanoi and neighbouring provinces joined the festival, including National Assembly members, representatives from the Highland Steering Committee and Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, and provincial authorities. These government stakeholders demonstrated their support for promoting the roles of local farmers and ethnic minorities in indigenous cultural preservation in particular and socio-economic development in general.

These events have helped to strengthen ethnic minority men and women’s awareness of their rights, their sense of ownership of their culture and traditions, and the opportunity to network, cooperate and practice leadership skills. The events have also increased solidarity among different ethnic minorities living in the same area, bringing greater understanding and respect for other groups’ traditions and cultural, social and economic rights.   

Future directions

Building on the achievements of the Dak Nong project, Oxfam is now expanding its focus to supporting a social environment in which ethnic minority people’s rights to culture and identity are respected without stereotyping and discrimination. The aim is to support a nationwide network that can confidently address the discrimination ethnic minorities face in the public and policy spheres, ensure that relevant laws have provisions that prohibit discrimination against ethnic minorities, and help ethnic minority groups influence policy-making processes. As in Dak Nong, Oxfam’s work on social, cultural and economic empowerment will build networks and cooperation among different ethnic minority groups.

Details

Project: Empowering and raising the voice of ethnic minority people in Dak Glong district, Dak Nong province

Location: Dak Nong province, national-level advocacy

Time frame: 2013-2015

Funding: Oxfam core funding