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Eliminating violence against women towards gender equality in Vietnam

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Promoting gender equality is one of 17 sustainable development goals. However, violence against women (VAW) remains a challenging issue for a nation to achieve this goal. Violence against women has many negative impacts on women’s life. The national study of Vietnam in 2019 indicated that around 63% of women experienced one or more forms of domestic violence such as physical, sexual, emotional, and economic violence in their life. The Vietnamese government has struggled to fight against violence against women by developing the legal framework for handling violent acts. However, due to gender norms and stereotypes, changing men’s attitudes and behavior toward violence remains a challenging issue. Men have played a role as decision-makers in family and community whereas women are responsible for housework and unpaid care work. Consequently, many women still think that they should obey their husband’s demands as a standard of being a good wife. Moreover, sexual harassment or assault have not yet been determined by-laws, as a result, many people have not been aware of that being a victim of violence or even perpetrators. Victim blaming also prevents women from seeking legal protection. Hence, there is a very low percentage of survivors of violence who reported the cases to police and seek legal protection and remedies from the official justice system. Significantly, survivors of violence still face many barriers in process of access to justice, for example, the lack of a comprehensive legal framework on handling violence, the lack of essential support services. How to fight against gender-based violence remains a key question for Vietnam to reach sustainable development goals as well as its commitment to “leave no one behind”. This paper analyzes the current situation of violence in Vietnam based on both legal aspects and practical issues to identify what are solutions to eliminate violence against women in the specific context of Vietnam.

Introduction about violence against women in Vietnam

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but also an essential condition for a country to achieve sustainable development goals. General Recommendation 19 provided the first international definition of gender-based violence (GBV) as follows: “GVB is a form of discrimination; violence that is directed against a woman, because she is a woman or that, affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” 1 .

Violence against women is defined as “ any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.2 . Violence against women is often divided into four types physical, mental, economic, and sexual violence. However, other acts such as human trafficking or child marriage are also considered as violence against women and girls. The form of violence against women and girls is different from country to country due to the legal regulations of each nation. VAW is rooted in discrimination and historically based unequal relations between men and women which established the gender norms since feudal society.

VAW remains a challenging issue in many countries, therefore, ending violence against women has been identified as one key target of the sustainable development goals (SDG No.5). GVB is one of the fundamental social, political, and economic means by which men are more respected whereas women often have a subordinate position in society 3 . There are many publications related to violence against women in the specific context of Vietnam, for example, The report on Ending Violence against Women and Children in Viet Nam – opportunities and challenges for collaborative and integrative approaches 4 . The evolution of domestic violence prevention and control in Vietnam from 2003 to 2018: a case study of policy development and implementation within the health system; 5 . From domestic violence to gender-based violence connecting the dots in Vietnam 6 . Gender-based violence is strongly influenced by gender stereotype that remains unequal position between men and women in society. “Gender norms and attitudes, including norms of masculinity, femininity, gender roles, and expectations as well as a preference for sons provide the structural context for GBV.” [ 6 , p12]. The gender norms, behaviors of men are tough to change. For instance, sexual harassment is not considered a severe problem in the Vietnamese social context because it is resulting from the thought: “women are flowers for men to pick up”, or wives have duties to serve their husbands.

Combating violence against women is a challenging issue that requires a nation not only to develop its legal system but also to raise awareness and build capacity for women and girls. Vietnam has developed a legal framework to eliminate violence against women and girls. In line with the Vietnamese Constitution 2013 guaranteeing substantive equality between men and women, a range of laws have been or are being reviewed and amended to ensure formal and substantive protection for human rights, including women's rights. Viet Nam has endeavoured to establish a comprehensive legal framework to protect women and children's rights, including addressing violence against women and girls. Article 26 of the Constitution 2013 states that: “ Male and female citizens have equal rights in all fields, and gender-based discrimination is strictly prohibited .”

A range of Laws and Decrees have been promulgated as the fundamental legal basis to promote and protect women and children’s rights, including in violence against women and girls, such as Law on Gender Equality (2006); Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control (2007); Penal Code (2015, amended 2017); Criminal Procedure Code (2015); Law on Handling with administrative violation (2012); Children Law (2017); and Ordinance on Prevention of Prostitution (2003).

In addition, National Action Plan on “gender-based violence prevention and response to for the period 2016 – 2020, with a vision for 2030” was enacted in 2015 7 . This Plan aims at effectively implementing gender-based violence prevention and response. Persons at risk of violence and victims of gender-based violence are detected, intervened, and supported promptly to prevent violence and provide opportunities to improve the quality of living and working environments.

Viet Nam's policies on women include “a) supporting women's contribution to the economic development of the country; b) socio-cultural development; and c) political development”. The National Strategy on gender equality determines the overall objective: " continuing to reduce the gender gap, enable women and men to participate in and benefit from equality in all aspects of social lives to contribute to national sustainable development." The National Strategy also set out the specific objectives as follows:

In politics: at least 60% of heads of regulatory agencies and local governments are women by 2025 and at least 75% by 2030.

In economy and employment: (i) Increase percentage of female paid workers to 50% by 2025 and 60% by 2030; (ii) Reduce the percentage of female workers in agricultural sectors in a total number of female workers to lower than 30% by 2025 and lower than 25% by 2030; (iii) Percentage of female directors/owners of enterprises and cooperatives reaches at least 27% by 2025 and at least 30% by 2030.

In family lives and prevention, response to gender-based abuse: (i) Reduce average working hour for unpaid housewife and care positions in families of women to 1.7 times by 2025 and 1.4 times by 2030 compared to that of men; (ii) Percentage of victims of gender-based domestic violence are detected and accessing at least any basic auxiliary service reaches 80% by 2025 and 90% by 2030; percentage of individuals causing gender-based domestic violence who have not been criminally prosecuted receiving advice reaches 50% by 2025 and 70% by 2030; (iii) 100% of returning human trafficking victims receive auxiliary services and community rehabilitation by 2025; (iv) Percentage of public social support facilities provide assistance, prevention and response to gender-based abuse reaches 70% by 2025 and 100% by 2030.

In medical and education, training is determined with the aims at balancing birth rate, providing healthcare for LGBT groups, building capacity for the ethnic minority groups.

However, violence against women and girls remains a challenging issue for a nation to achieve this goal. "Gender norms and attitudes, including norms of masculinity, femininity, gender roles, and expectations as well as a preference for sons provide the structural context for gender-based violence." [ 6 , p12]. In addition, traditional gender norms, distribution of roles between men and women also lead to violence against women. As a result, violence and its consequences have devastating impacts on women’s lives and women’s empowerment. For example, female raped victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological difficulties such as depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts 8 , consequently, they were afraid of getting married or having babies, or in some cases, they left their hometown to escape from victimization.

According to the National Study on Domestic Violence in Vietnam 2010 Report, the rate of ever-married women suffering physical or sexual violence from their husbands in their lifetime is 34 percent 9 . “The national study on violence against women in Vietnam 2019 - Journey for Change” reported that: "nearly two in three (62.9 percent) ever-married/partnered women have experienced physical, sexual, psychological (emotional and controlling behaviors) and/or economic violence by a husband/partner at some point in their life, and 31.6 percent in the last 12 months" 10 , and among that 13.3 % of women were experienced with sexual violence by a husband/partner in their lifetime, and for 5.7 percent of women, this occurred within the last 12 months [10, p xvi]. Significantly, non-partner sexual violence was considerably higher at 9.0 percent in 2019 compared with 2.3 percent in 2010. Children before age 15 were experienced sexual abuse almost twice as often in 2019 (4.4 percent) than indicated in 2010 (2.8 percent) [10, p xx] The study conducted by CARE in 2018 showed that 66.6 percent of women reported having experienced at least one type of violence during the 12 months before the research including 66.6 percent of psychological abuse (66.6 percent), were yelling (35 percent), and threatening and controlling victims (32 percent), sexual violence (23.8 percent) 11 .

The Vietnamese government has established the system from central to the local level to provide support services for victims. This system includes many people such as reconciliation teams, social workers, and lawyers. The National Project on Prevention and Control of Gender-based Violence, 2016-2020 provides some kinds of support services such as healthcare, legal aid. In addition, the model “Safe Cities for Women and Girls” has been carried out in some provinces such as Ho Chi Minh City. This model was developed under the guidance of the Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs, and international organizations in Vietnam. Significantly, the video clip on sexual harassment forms and hotline services have been shown on the buses and some public places to raise public awareness 12 .

However, gender stereotypes remain a root cause of hidden violence against women. Victims of violence do not report a case and seek help because of the community's silence and stigma 13 . Particularly, 49.6 percent of victims of domestic violence (physical and/or sexual violence) had never told anyone about it and 90.4 percent of them did not seek help from official support services or authorities [ 10 , xix]. Many victims did not report GVB cases because of reasons such as the lack of awareness, difficulty in accessing support services, victim-blaming, and performance of supporting staff. In addition, the quality of support services and effectiveness of the prevention model have not yet responded to the needs of victims, for example, up to two-thirds of abused women and girls with disabilities cannot access support from authorities 14 In addition, people still concern about the response measures and remedies, therefore, a high number of violence cases are not reported and prosecuted 15 . Significantly, police, prosecutors, and judges. 's attitudes can influence legal application and victims’ treatment also prevent victims from seeking legal protection through the official justice system 16 . Female victims face significant barriers that impede their ability to seek and obtain a fair and just remedy through formal and informal justice systems and to essential services (health, police, justice, and social services), due to gender stereotyping embedded in traditional, historical, cultural, legislative, and service sector responses. Many survivors do not have access to support services. Judicial and policing support services (police, legal aid officers, public prosecutors, lawyers, judges, etc.) are also available in all the provinces/cities. However, in general, more than 60 percent of people don't know about the availability of services and less than 10 percent of the people utilized part of the services available to them 17 . The services lack a clear process of reception, screening, support, and protection of victims. The facilities also have a shortage of staff, equipment, and amenities to provide quality services to GBV victims. Most of the service providers in all the sectors are unaware of the handling of the GBV related issues in a professional way. They are either new or not oriented on GBV programmatic processes, management, and referral services. The Standard Operating Procedures are also not available to guide on dealing with GBV cases in a friendly, confidential, and sensitive way.

A recent regional study by UN Women, UNODC, and UNDP found that gaps remain in-laws and law enforcement to protect victims of sexual violence. This study revealed that lawmakers, practitioners, and justice providers are influenced by gender stereotypes in interpreting and applying criminal laws. Women and girls faced enormous obstacles when reporting violence and navigating their way through the criminal justice system [ 17 , p13]. Hence, promoting gender equality and access to justice are the key factors to achieving sustainable development goals 18 . Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law. Access to justice emphasizes the right of equal access to justice for all, including women and girls who are victims of sexual violence. However, the question remains why victims of violence do not seek legal protection, and what barriers and challenges prevail preventing victims from accessing justice in Vietnam?

Laws and Policies related to preventing and responding to violence against women in Vietnam

Ending violence against women is one of the most important tasks to protect women as well as promote gender equality in Vietnam. Vietnam has developed a quite comprehensive legal framework for combating GBV. Constitution 2013, Penal Code, Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control are key legal documents to determine violent acts and punishments. Law on Legal Aid (2017) ensures the right to access legal aid services to seek legal protection. In addition, Vietnam has carried out judicial reform such as establishing the Juvenile and Family Court. However, women and girls who are victims of gender-based violence, especially sexual violence, and harassment do not have access to the official justice system to seek legal protection. 90% of victims of GBV did not report the case to the police 10 .

Law on prevention and control of domestic violence (2007): Article 1 (2): Domestic violence is defined as “purposeful acts of certain family members that cause or may cause physical, mental, or economic injuries to other family members”. Article 3 (1) on principles of domestic violence prevention and control: “ Taking combined and integrated measures to prevent and fight domestic violence with preventive measures as key and special attention paid to communication and education on family values, counseling and reconciliation in line with the fine traditional and cultural practices of Viet Nam. ” Integrated measures include raising public awareness through mass mediation and education. Article 9 (1): “ Information and communication on domestic violence prevention and control, are meant to change perception and behavior related to domestic violence acts to gradually eliminate domestic violence as well as to raise awareness of good traditions and morality of the Vietnamese people and families ." According to this provision, the Vietnamese government focuses on changing the perception and behavior of people.

Article 2 of the Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence makes the list of violent acts. The acts of domestic violence consist of:

  • “Corporal beating, ill-treating, torturing or other purposeful acts cause injuries to one's health and life.

  • Insulting or other intended acts meant to offend one's human pride, honor, and dignity.

  • Isolating, shunning, or creating constant psychological pressure on other family members, causing serious consequences.

  • Preventing the exercise of the legal rights and obligations in the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, between parents and children, between husbands and wives as well as among brothers and sisters.

  • Forced sex.

  • Forced child marriage; forced marriage or divorce and obstruction to freewill and progressive marriage.

  • Appropriating, demolishing, destroying, or other purposeful acts to damage the private properties of other family members or the shared properties of family members.

  • Forcing other family members to overwork or to contribute more earnings than they can afford; controlling other family members' incomes to make them financially dependent.

  • Conducting unlawful acts to turn other family members out of their domicile.”

According to this article, domestic violence acts shall also apply to family members in cases of divorcees or living together as husband and wife without marriage registration. Significantly, many victims of domestic violence do not report the case to the police because they always think that domestic violence is the private issue of their family.

However, survivors of GVB are still faced with challenges in seeking legal protection because of the following issues:

Firstly , the Law on Domestic Violence Prevention has a limited interpretation of the concept of GBV. Many forms of violence such as sexual violence aside from intercourse, rape in marriage, incest, and other harmful practices such as child marriage and cyber violence have not been determined by laws. In addition, migrant women who often work as domestic workers do not enjoy the same level of protection as Vietnamese workers. State management agency has undertaken limited inspections and sanctions related to gender equality. The Report on implementation of CEDAW in Vietnam 2007-2015 indicates that the existing measures to respond to domestic violence are not sufficient and cause higher risks for survivors. The penalties prescribed by Decree No.167/2013 dated 12/11/2013 prevent women from reporting domestic violence because women would have to share the financial burden for the fine. In addition, survivors of domestic violence would receive advice from the local social organizations such as grassroots mediation or women unions as such women should play their care role in the family, and divorce is not a good solution to solve violence 19 .

Secondly, not all forms of sexual violence against women and girls are criminalized and prohibited. Although gender-based violence is treated as a prohibited act in the Law on Gender Equality (2006) (Clause 3, Article 10), the Law and other relevant legal documents do not define in detail or provide a description of different types of gender-based violence behaviors that makes it difficult for the competent agencies and individuals to identify and apply the given provisions for the purpose of preventing and controlling violence of this kind. For example, the Labour Code 2019, Article 8, and Decree No.145/2020 dated December 14, 2020, on the elaboration of some Articles of the Labor Code on working conditions and labor relations, only determines that sexual harassment in the workplace is a prohibited act. However, sexual harassment can happen in every public space including public transportation, education institutions, shopping malls, swimming pools, streets, or online (cyber sexual harassment, but those acts are not defined clearly by laws. Under Decree No.167/2013 NĐ-CP regulating the sanctions of administrative violation in social security, order and safety, prevention and fighting of social evils, fine, and domestic violence defines that: if someone commits sexual harassment act, he will be imposed a fine from 100.000 VND to 300.000 VND (around 5 to 15 USD) under Article 5 (1) (a); A caution or a fine of between VND 100,000 and 300,000 shall be imposed for one of the acts as follows: “ Having gestures and words that are rude, provocative, teasing or insulting to the honor and dignity of others20 . According to this article, victims must prove that sexual harassment acts that rule, provocative or insulting to their honor and dignity. It is worth noting that it is very difficult and challenging for victims to submit evidence of sexual harassment in some cases of touching or verbal comments and many forms of sexual harassment have not been prescribed by-laws therefore victims cannot seek legal protection. In addition, the current legal framework of Vietnam provides the narrow definitions of rape and forced sexual intercourse, with no offense covering sexual assault for women 21 . The Penal Code 2015 (amended 2017) does not cover all forms of sexual crimes, for example, marital rape is not stipulated by a specific article. In addition, Law on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control (2007) defines sexual violence means any non-consenting sexual act or behavior. However, sexual intercourse between husband and wife is often considered a private issue, and women are responsible for serving their husband's sexual demands. Therefore, marital rape is not applied in practice because there is a common understanding that consent to marriage is equal to consent to sexual intercourse and this sexual right cannot be revoked until the divorce [ 21 , p45].

Significantly, to cover all forms of sexual violence, Resolution No.06/2019/NQ-HĐTP includes the concept of other sexual activities. According to this Resolution, other sexual activities mean the penetration of a male reproductive organ, one of the other body parts (e.g. finger, toe, tongue, etc.), or a sex aid into a female reproductive organ or the mouth or anus of another person of the same sex or different sex regardless of the depth of penetration” 22 . Hence, there is a gap in determining a child’s age in comparison with the Convention on the Child Rights. Under Vietnamese Children Law (2017), the child is defined as below 16. Therefore, how adolescent girls from 16 to under 18 years old are protected from sexual violence remains an issue. For example, date violence against a girl aged 17 committed by her boyfriend will not be defined as a sexual offense if the physical harm is examined less than 11% 23 . Hence, sexual violence victims from 16 to under 18 years old are treated as adult victims, consequently, they may not have access to specific support services available to child victims [ 21 , p65].

Thirdly, female victims face significant barriers that impede their ability to seek remedy as well as access to essential services (health, police, justice, and social services), due to gender stereotyping embedded in traditional, historical, cultural, legislative, and service sector responses. The criminal justice system is beyond the factors considered for sanctions. Investigations, court proceedings, and custody detention must be adjusted to meet the needs of pregnant women and women caring for children under 36 months. Lawmakers, practitioners, and justice providers are influenced by gender stereotypes in interpreting and applying criminal laws. Women and girls faced enormous obstacles when reporting violence and navigating their way through the criminal justice system [ 21 , p13].

Fourthly, a complaint management process on gender discrimination has not been designed. For example, if a woman is denied being employed because of gender, the employer often takes another reason for not recruitment. The mechanism to protect victims is weak. Victims face difficulty due to the requirement of evidence submission in sexual harassment cases 24 . Victims of sexual violence also have been suffered mental distress since they are required to report their cases several times to many different persons participating in the legal proceedings (police, procuracy, court, attorney). In addition, victims of sexual harassment also faced challenges in providing evidence such as clips, recordings, or witnesses. Significantly, the law has not determined the responsibility of the competent agencies in collecting evidence in a manner that minimizes revictimization and violation of privacy and protects the dignity of victims. In addition, gender biases remain a challenge for women and girls in reporting cases as prosecutors or police may doubt about inconsistent statements of victims then reduce the charges against the perpetrator [ 24 , p75]. In addition, many women and girls face second assault or secondary victimization because of indifferent, insensitive, or harsh treatment by the police, prosecutors, and judges 25 . Hence, these regulations create barriers to reporting acts of sexual harassment and violence.

Finally, Covid 19 – an emerging issue that has caused serious impacts on women's life. “Women are disproportionately affected because they are overrepresented in precarious employment, including in the informal sector, where their benefits and protection are inadequate or lacking 26 .” During Covid 19, the number of the violent case has increased, especially violence against women, girls, and other vulnerable groups because of the social distancing policy that has limited victims to access to support services [ 26 , p16]. Women are already suffering from a rising incidence of gender-based violence. Covid 19 also has a long-term impact on women’s empowerment as well as violation of their rights, especially the right to education and employment 27 . Consequently, women cannot take part effectively in the decision–making process due to the lack of an effective channel for them to raise their opinion. In addition, Covid 19 has created a new issue of inequalities in the existing labor market. Women have faced challenges in the reduction of working hours, unemployment, especially the younger and older women who are holding unstable jobs. As a result, the unemployment rate is higher than caused the income gaps between men and women. In addition, women also must spend more time doing housework and unpaid care. 28 The impact of Covid 19 can be devastating, exacerbating deprivation, inequality, and the feminization of poverty and lagging the efforts of promoting gender equality in Vietnam.

Conclusion and recommendations

Eliminating VAW is crucially important to promote gender equality towards sustainable development goals No.5 “ Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls ”. Vietnam has made a great effort in ending violence against women. However, violence against women remains a challenge to gender equality because women’s rights are not fully protected by laws. In addition, gender discrimination prevents women from political participation. CEDAW recognizes that: “ a change in the traditional role of men as well as the role of women in society and the family is needed to achieve full equality between men and women .” In the Vietnamese context, discrimination against women not only leads to violence against women but also remains a challenging issue in promoting gender equality. Therefore, Vietnam needs to eliminate all forms of violence against women through the following solutions:

Firstly , amending the current laws such as Law on Gender Equality and Law on Domestic Prevention and Control to include all forms of gender-based violence. In addition, the Penal Code should also include the other forms of sexual violence. Criminalizing sexual harassment is essential to protect women's rights as well as promote their participation and empowerment.

Secondly , it is essential to deliver essential support services to survivors of gender-based violence through the development of the "one-stop-shop " model in all provinces. This model will support women to access essential services including healthcare, psychology, legal-aid services, and other economic empowerment programs.

Thirdly , it is essential to develop training programs to educate children to change gender norms, behavior, and attitude related to the role of women and men in society as the key solution to eliminate gender discrimination in society. It is important to implement services to support perpetrators to change perceptions and behaviors and engage men in promoting gender equality and preventing gender-based violence.

Fourthly , Vietnam needs to learn the experiences of other countries to introduce the penalties or measures applying to perpetrators. The current fine penalty does not encourage women to report violence cases, especially domestic violence.

Fifty , promoting access to justice through developing a friendly and gender-sensitive justice system is crucially important to protect women's rights. Women need to seek legal protection and remedies in all violence cases. In addition, developing an effective reporting system to protect women's privacy will enable them to seek legal protection effectively.

Finally , it is necessary to develop a data collection system from the central to local level to monitor and evaluate the national program on prevention and response to GBV. The data collection system must be comprehensive to cover all key elements of the program to prevent GVB in Vietnam. Evidence-based data collection is very important for designing intervention programs to fight again GVB annually effectively.

In brief, violence against women has caused a negative impact on women's life. It prevents women from participating effectively in society and exercising their rights. Ending violence against women is one of the most important solutions to promote gender equality in Vietnam.


The article in this Special Issue of the STDJELM is selected from the International Conference on Feminism, Gender and Law held virtually in October 29, 2021. The publication and the Conference were organized and sponsored by the University of Economics and Law, VNU-HCM, and the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Southeast Asia, Hanoi office.


The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest


- Author Phan Thi Lan Huong is responsible for the content: Laws and Policies are related to preventing and responding to violence against women in Vietnam; Conclusions and Recommendations.

- Author Vu Phuong Ly is responsible for the content: Introduction about violence against women in Vietnam.


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Huong, P. T. L., & Ly, V. P. (2022). Eliminating violence against women towards gender equality in Vietnam. VNUHCM Journal of Economics, Business and Law, 5(SI2), 66-74.

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