Cablegate: Ngos, Vietnam Women's Union Address Domestic Violence

DE RUEHHI #0750/01 1770756
R 250756Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: NGOs, Vietnam Women's Union Address Domestic Violence

REF: A) 07 HANOI 2011, B) HANOI 0749

HANOI 00000750 001.2 OF 003

1. (U) SUMMARY: During her June 9-11 visit to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh
City, Andrea Bottner, Senior Coordinator, Office of International
Women's Issues, participated in roundtable discussions with the
Vietnam Women's Union (VWU) and local and international NGOs,
visited to two women's shelters hotlines for domestic violence and
human trafficking victims. Vietnamese interlocutors provided
extensive background about the challenges of addressing domestic
violence in Vietnam, including the need for shelters for victims and
lack of public awareness. End Summary.

VWU Domestic Violence Shelter

2. (U) The VWU and the National Committee for the Advancement of
Women in Hanoi conducted a lively discussion on the need for an
effective shelter system in Vietnam, as well as the need for trained
social workers to provide counseling and other services. Ms.
Bottner shared the U.S. experience with shelters, noting that these
facilities began as emergency services for women in crisis, but now
offer an expanded array of services based on the needs of the
victims, including health, counseling, legal aid, and employment
services. Today, U.S. shelters are striving to reach isolated
communities and improve service delivery to underserved populations.

3. (U) Ms. Le Thi Thuy, Director of the Center for Women and
Development (CWD), a sub-organization of the VWU, explained that
Vietnam has one pilot shelter in Hanoi - the "Peace House Project."
Peace House has served forty women and children since it first
opened in March 2007 and is an early first step in building a system
of shelters to provide counseling and assistance to victims of
domestic violence. The Peace House slogan, "You are not alone, we
are beside you," is aimed at encouraging women to have the
self-confidence to come forward and seek help when they are being

4. (U) Along with providing free accommodation, access to health
care, legal aid, and group activities for victims of domestic
violence, the project also provides counseling services and
information on the prevention of domestic violence, drug use, human
trafficking, and HIV/AIDS. Peace House residents may choose to work
at the CWD guest house so that they can begin to earn their own
money. Ms. Thuy cited good coordination with the local hospital and
local lawyers, but emphasized that the project is still sensitive
and not publicly known. While access is usually only provided to
donors, Ms. Bottner's group toured the facility and spoke with its
staff and several residents.

5. (U) Ms. Bottner praised these efforts, highlighting that Vietnam
has taken an important first step in providing what women in abusive
situations need - a safe place to go. To the great interest of the
VWU, Ms. Bottner provided a detailed explanation of the Family
Justice Center (FJC) model in the U.S., explaining that an FJC
strives to provide all services a victim might need under one roof,
including to those women who may not be ready to leave an abusive
situation and enter a shelter. Given the cultural importance of
family unity, the VWU suggested this model may work well in
addressing the needs of domestic violence victims who may not be
prepared leave an abusive partner for fear of shaming their family
or community.

6. (U) Ms. Green, a member of Ms. Bottner's party, explained that
Second Chance Employment Services (SCES), the U.S.-based NGO she
leads, seeks to provide services for victims who have moved beyond
the crisis stage by working with businesses and service providers in
the community. The VWU Family Department showed particular interest
in SCES's ability to provide services free of charge (providers work
pro bono). Ms. Green clarified that SCES is mostly privately
funded, but has received USG grant money. She also explained that
SCES's strong working relationship with law enforcement is a key
part of its enduring success.

Engagement with the DV Prevention Network

7. (U) In an animated roundtable discussion hosted by the Center for
Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender-Family-Women and Adolescents
(CSAGA), Ms. Bottner and members Domestic Violence Prevention
Network in Vietnam (DOVIPNET) shared experiences and highlighted
ongoing challenges in combating domestic violence.

8. (U) Background note: CSAGA is a Vietnamese NGO whose mission is
to increase awareness and resolve problems related to gender,
family, women and adolescents by reaching out through counseling,
communication and training. DOVIPNET, established on October 27,
2007 (largely due to the efforts of CSAGA's director, Ms. Nguyen Van

HANOI 00000750 002.2 OF 003

Anh), is a network of individuals, domestic and international NGOs,
and foreign donors, who share experiences and initiatives and work
together on domestic violence issues. End background note.

9. (U) The group discussion initially focused on public awareness,
education, and training. A Project Officer from a local NGO,
Consultation of Investment in Health Promotion, Ms. Quang Thu Trang,
discussed a project in Vietnam's Central highlands, noting their
efforts to convince local authorities that domestic violence is not
a one family problem but an issue for the whole community. Success
in changing attitudes is one of the main factors in evaluating the
success of their projects.

10. (U) ActionAid, an international NGO, conducts training for the
VWU at local levels and local public awareness campaigns. Ms. Tran
Tu Hang, ActionAid Project Officer, highlighted one project wherein
the entire community participated in a creative writing campaign on
the theme of domestic violence. Ms. Van Anh also noted CSAGA's work
to improve mass media coverage of the issue, including trying to
educate and train reporters on domestic violence.

11. (U) Ms. To Thi Bay, Program Officer with the Mennonite Central
Committee, commented that NGO efforts are vital as the GVN often
focuses training efforts on mediation and resolution in an attempt
to keep families together. Ms. Bay criticized this approach, noting
that women facing violence need to leave abusive situations first
and consider reconciliation attempts after they are safe. The
Institute for Social Development Studies representative, Dr. Khuat
Tu Hong, agreed, stating that the goal is a safe family, not just
keeping a family together. She added her criticism of the
reconciliation committees, noting that they sometimes encourage
women to stay in abusive situations in order to keep families
together. The community leaders want harmonious families in order
to keep the peace in the community. "Civil society must be
engaged," stated Dr. Hong, "women have been waiting too long for the
government to do something about this problem."

12. (U) Many participants agreed on the need to provide women a safe
environment, even in the absence of a shelter system. ActionAid,
for example, set up clubs for women to share their experiences and
support each other. Several participants also have similar projects
in rural communities and underscored the importance of establishing
groups that meet regularly to allow victims sufficient time to
become confident enough to speak out. (Note: Following the
discussion, Ms. Bottner's group toured the CSAGA hotline facility,
chatting to volunteers manning the phones. The crisis hotline was
established in 1997 and now has two numbers - one for domestic
violence victims and one for trafficking victims. End note.)

13. (SBU) In HCMC, conflicting opinions regarding cultural attitudes
and family reconciliation were themes in discussions with NGOs. A
HCMC Women's Union official noted that part of their efforts to
prevent domestic violence included classes on beauty and cooking to
"help wives make husbands happier." Several NGOs representatives
emphasized that reconciliation should be the primary goal when
dealing with cases of domestic violence. While admitting that this
complicated the development of a formal shelter system to support
victims of domestic violence who may need to leave their home,
several NGO representatives explained that there is a network of
"Reliable Addresses," where a victim can go to the home of a
community leader, who will help with the reconciliation process, or
call in the authorities as warranted (ref B). Others advocated for
services based on victims needs, including shelters or employment
services, even if it meant the couples would not be reconciled. A
number of NGO leaders agreed with the view of some GVN officials
that domestic violence could be the result of external factors, like
poverty, economic changes, alcoholism and conflicts with in-laws,
rather than recognizing the behavioral issues and putting the
appropriate blame on the abuser. While attitudes are still
evolving, all of the HCMC NGO representatives present voiced a
strong commitment to combat domestic violence and raise public


14. (SBU) Local and international NGOs are clearly rising to the
challenge of domestic violence prevention and in some cases, leading
the charge. However, entrenched cultural attitudes, the low level
of public awareness, challenges associated with coordination between
the the GVN and NGOs, donors, health care professionals, and other
service providers, a lack of resources, and the need for trained
social workers and counselors to build and maintain a viable shelter
system in Vietnam mean that advocacy organizations still have their
work cut out for them. Implementing the DV law will require the
active engagement of NGOs, the Vietnam Women's Union and others in
the advocacy community to effectively combat domestic violence over
the long term. Key NGOs understand the complexity of the problem

HANOI 00000750 003.2 OF 003

sufficiently to educate those driving the legal implementation
process forward. The high level of engagement and interest from the
Vietnam Women's Union and the Center for Women and Development also
bodes well for greater progress on this issue. Ms. Bottner's visit
highlighted the importance to the U.S. of combating domestic
violence and lent significant credibility to those organizations at
the forefront of the issue. End comment.

15. (U) This cable was jointly prepared with ConGen Ho Chi Minh City
and cleared by G/IWI.


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