Young people in Viet Nam organize to end dating violence

The first survey conducted by youth activists on dating violence in Viet Nam shows almost 59 per cent of young women have experienced violence. Presented with the findings, the CEDAW Committee recommends revision of the national law to penalize all forms of violence against women, including dating violence.

Date: 16 November 2016

Members of Y. Change, a group of young women who advocate for gender equality among youth in Viet Nam. Photo: Y.Change
Members of Y. Change, a group of young women who advocate for gender equality among youth in Viet Nam. Photo: Y.Change

"Dating violence among youth is a serious problem in Viet Nam. Young women suffer from physical injuries and emotional stress. Many feel fearful and have low self-esteem; some have even tried to commit suicide,” says Nguyen Kim Anh, 23. She is a leading member of Y.Change, a group of young women advocating for gender equality among youth in Viet Nam.

In 2014, Y.Change conducted the first-ever survey on dating violence in Vietnam. More than 500 young women, aged 18 – 30 years, participated in the survey and the results surprised many. Almost 59 per cent of women reported having experienced as least one form of violence perpetrated by their partner; 41 per cent reported being psychological abused and 11 reported being sexually abused by their dating partners. Some 21 per cent of women reported having suffered physical or mental injuries as a result of the abuse.

“The survey introduced the concept of dating violence, which was alien to many back then,” recalls Nguyen Phuong Thanh, another active member of Y.Change. “The only data available was from the national survey on domestic violence against women in 2010, which revealed that 35 per cent of married Vietnamese women suffered sexual violence. The national survey focused only on physical and sexual violence, for which evidence was available. It didn’t cover economic or psychological violence, or couples in dating relationships.”

Nguyen Kim Anh, leading member of Y.Change. Photo: Truong Viet Hung
Nguyen Kim Anh, leading member of Y.Change. Photo: Truong Viet Hung

“While some violence experienced by women in dating relationships would be punishable by civil and criminal law, most of the young women whom we interviewed did not know about what constituted as dating violence, or that they had the right to be free from violence. They also had no idea where to seek help. Unless there are sufficient efforts to raise public awareness on dating violence, laws and regulations to protect women from violence will not be effective,’ adds Kim Anh.

In July 2015, Nguyen Phuong Thanh, along with other members of Y.Change, presented the findings of the survey to the CEDAW Committee—a group of independent experts who monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Viet Nam has ratified—during its 61st session in Geneva, Switzerland. Their successful advocacy led to the inclusion of dating violence in the Committee’s concluding observations, asking the Government of Viet Nam to review the criminal law and penalize all forms of violence against women, including dating violence.

embers of Y.Change, Le Thi Yen and Trang. Photo: Duong Long
Members of Y.Change, Le Thi Yen and Trang. Photo: Duong Long

The Y.Change survey and advocacy has been supported by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, as part of a project on strengthening the voices of young women as gender equality advocates in Southeast Asia, implemented by International Women Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP) in close cooperation with the Research Center for Gender, Family and Environment in Development (CGFED) in Viet Nam.

"Dating violence is closely linked to gender stereotypes and social norms that normalize and condone controlling behaviors and violence by partners. Often, the same norms also place the blame on the women,” says Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative of UN Women in Viet Nam. “The problem has persisted due to the lack of awareness and limited understanding about this form of violence among young people, the media and local authorities.”

Since presenting to the CEDAW Committee, Y.Change has continued to raise awareness about dating violence and challenge gender stereotypes through gender talks and communications campaigns targeting young audiences. Their latest campaign ‘Who wash dishes today’ with video, songs and cartoons attracted nearly 18,000 followers. This year, with the continued support from UN Women Viet Nam, the group is undertaking another survey with more in-depth analysis about dating violence. The survey is part of a larger effort to monitor CEDAW implementation in Viet Nam by the leading civil society networks.   

“We know that challenging social norms and gender stereotypes is not a simple task. Each of our activity is a single step forward towards a world where there is no violence against women, and both genders have opportunities to fulfill their potential as full and equal members of the society. That’s the world we want,” says Kim Anh.