In the scenic green hills of Sapa, a small mountainous town in northern Vietnam popular with tourists, 25-year-old farmer and mother-of-three Vàng Thị Xá dreams of hosting visitors in her home and running her own business. As she tends to her livestock during the day, she strategises what she needs to do to make her dream a reality after she received vocational training for women.
“I cried a lot when my parents asked me to stop studying,” says Xá, who had to stop her schooling at Grade 9 due to poverty. In her community, home to mostly the H’Mong ethnic minority group, poverty often leads girls’ education to be sacrificed in favour of marrying young. “Being a girl, we cannot dream big as our main responsibility is to stay home and take care of the children,” she says. “We need to obey our parents’ wishes and follow the local tradition.”
Vocational training for women
In rural areas such as Xá’s hometown, access to equitable vocational education and career counselling remains largely out of reach for the many ethnic minority populations living there. But, with current vocational training reforms and a new National Gender Equality Strategy announced in Vietnam in 2021, Action Education (formerly Aide et Action) is working to reduce the disparities between rural and urban populations, particularly rural women who remain the lowest educated and most likely to depend on subsistence farming.
While Vietnam’s labour force participation rate was high at 74.4 % in December 2020, only 22.6% of the employed population in 2019 was trained. A General Statistic Office report in 2020 revealed only 12.3% of employed females in rural areas were trained. To address this and equip ethnic minority youth, particularly rural ethnic minority women, with relevant skills for Vietnam’s labour market, Action Education has revised and developed a series of vocational training and career orientation material.
Increasing access to livelihood opportunities for ethnic minority youth
The new material is part of a wider project supported by international Action Education in partnership with The European Union, Standard Chartered Bank and local civil society organisation Northwest Development to address skills gaps and the market needs of youth aged 16 to 30 years old and local industries. Over the course of 2021, vocational training in four subjects – cooking, embroidery, weaving and tour-guiding – was devised in collaboration with the General Department of Vocational Education and the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
In the beginning of 2022, Action Education in collaboration with local vocational training centres ran a mobile training program across rural and remote communities. Xá was one of the participants of the one-month intensive training which taught her technical skills in embroidery and weaving as well as soft skills such as communication, work ethic and responsibility.
The program’s design which included delivering training in very remote locations, providing a stipend to selected students, and welcoming mothers with young children, meant it was accessible to Xá. “The class time was flexible and I could also carry my baby to the class, so my husband always encouraged me to attend this class,” explains Xá.
Before joining the training, Xá was making clothes for her family using the skills her mother taught her and participating in a local embroidery cooperative group run by local artist Mrs Sung. But, Xá wasn’t earning money from the cooperative because her skills were limited. “The sewing skills I learnt during my childhood were helpful for me to produce clothes for my husband and children but it did not work well in the cooperative because I didn’t have any creative ideas to produce beautiful products,” she says. With three young children to raise, Xá was worried about her financial situation and how she could afford to send her eldest to school next year.
Since joining the training her worries have lessened. “I felt free and comfortable to join the course and quickly acquired new knowledge and thought of creative ideas. Now, as a result, I can produce more beautiful products to sell for the cooperative and earn more money for the family”, she says.
A new path forward
As her family’s income is slowly improving, Xà is once again dreaming of the career she imagined as a young girl – running her own homestay business. Before she dropped out of school to marry, Xá’s favourite subject was English. Now, she is studying it again in the hopes that she can soon welcome guests to her home and speak English with them.
“If my situation continues to improve like this, my dream to run a homestay could be realised next year. I hope this training program will continue so I can attend the other training in traditional cooking and hospitality to fulfil the homestay services for my clients.”
Action Education’s focus on providing rural women like Xà with technical know-how and skills aligns with Vietnam’s National Strategy on Gender Equality 2021-2030, which aims to reduce the proportion of female workers in the agricultural sector to below 30% by 2025 and below 25% by 2030.