The Cambridge-Viet Nam Leadership Programme: Empowerment of women in the public sector

"It is the very first time in my life to witness a world in one campus, to listen to people from different countries, cultures and religions share their own creative ways to design and implement sucessful gender-sensitive projects and laws. My eyes have been opened. I can now retell my impressions in the newspaper and also manage human resources in a more gender-senstive way,” says Mrs. Hanh, Editor in Chief of the Viet Nam Women’s Union Newspaper.

Supporting women leaders
Through the Cambridge Viet Nam Leadership Programme, Mrs Hanh was able to attend an ILO Gender Academy training last year, helping to build her capacity to integrate a gender perspective in her work. In Viet Nam, few women in the public sector get the opportunity to participate in overseas training. Providing such opportunities to women and strengthening the capacity of civil servants in gender equality is one of the goals of this empowerment of women project.


  • In preparation for the 2011 elections, 200 women candidates at the provincial and district level were given training on political participation, designing action plans, how to communicate with the media and presentation skills
  • There is a higher proportion of women MPs in Viet Nam than in many other developed countries

Compared to other countries in the region, Viet Nam has a good track record of promoting gender equality. For instance, there is a higher proportion of women MPs in Viet Nam than in many other developed countries, there is an established gender equality policy framework as well as national targets for women decision-makers. But the targets are still not being met, especially at local level and in areas traditionally dominated by men.

The UNDP project aims to help Viet Nam reach these targets by specifically developing the leadership potential of women in the public sector. Since it started in late 2008, the project has actively supported over 1,500 aspiring women leaders from the civil service and political life. These women have benefited from learning and networking opportunities, as well as training on leadership skills and traditionally ‘male’ subjects, such as economics.

Equal political participation
The project uses innovative approaches to ensure women’s equal political participation. For instance, in preparation for the 2011 elections, 200 women candidates at the provincial and district level were given training on political participation, designing action plans, how to communicate with the media and presentation skills. Of those trained, 45 percent were successful in winning a seat. Overall, a small increase in women’s representation was witnessed at the provincial and district level and this movement will be built upon to ensure continued growth in representation in the 2016 election.

Few people are aware of the key documents that uphold gender equality in Viet Nam and few see increasing women’s representation in the public and political sphere as a priority. In the run-up to the 2011 elections, a film was therefore developed with famous Vietnamese actors depicting stories of the positive impact on the community and nation when women are part of the political decisionmaking process.

Promoting policy research
Apart from helping women break through the glass ceiling, the project supports policy work in this area. This includes research on how the different retirement age for women and men (55 for women and 60 for men) has a negative impact on women, their earning potential and their career path. The research findings have been used by numerous gender advocates in discussions held by Viet Nam’s National Assembly Committee of Social Affairs on revisions to the labour code, and a suggested revision of the retirement age.

Through the project, a research grant programme also offers small grants to women to conduct research in the area of women and leadership. In addition to the grant, the women are provided with training, technical support and mentoring during the research and dissemination process. The results are two-fold. First, women are able to improve their skills and confidence in conducting research, disseminating this research and presenting it. Second, through the research there is an increased understanding and knowledge on women and leadership issues specific to Viet Nam. These research studies are now being developed into policy briefs that will be widely disseminated this year.

Mobilizing gender champions
The project differs from a typical women empowerment project because it is not implemented by the government agency responsible for gender equality but rather the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). This means that the Ministry is able to bring together not just gender-responsible agencies but also other line ministries. Due to the strong position of MOFA, the project has wide coverage, acceptance and diverse gender champions who promote the project’s objectives in their numerous ministries. This supports gender mainstreaming.

Implementation by MOFA has also created opportunities for exposure to international best practices and learning experiences between countries on implementation of gender equality strategies. For example, Mr. Dao Viet Trung, Vice Minister of MOFA, recently led a delegation of mainly male, senior level government leaders to India and Korea to have a better understanding of gender policies and programmes in these countries. This experience will contribute to a more effective implementation of Viet Nam’s own National Strategy on Gender Equality.

In addition, the project has identified a number of gender champions, both women and men, who have been able to put the issues related to women and leadership high on the Party and government agenda and have highlighted the need to strengthen women’s voice in decision-making. In the next year, the project will carry out three important studies: a feasibility study on establishing a long-term women’s leadership training programme; research on the impact of women in decision making positions on policies and programmes; and an analysis of the candidate selection, nomination process and election of women representatives in the 2011 election. These studies will provide essential evidence to further support Viet Nam’s current and future women leaders and increase their representation in the public and political sphere.

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