Gender-sensitive flood response in Quang Tri, Vietnam

Flooding has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who are more vulnerable to health risks, disrupted livelihoods, and educational challenges. Ms. Chi, Chairwoman of the Women's Union in Dong Luong Ward, Quang Tri Province reveals the intricate challenges women face after floods.

Vietnamese women using a boat to provide food support to isolated households.
Vietnamese women using a boat to provide food support to isolated households. Credit: Plan International

The impact of flooding on women and girls

As the floodwaters in Quang Tri recede, a deeper, often-overlooked impact on the lives of women and girls emerges. Ms. Lan Chi, Chairwoman of the Women’s Union in Dong Luong Ward, Quang Tri Province (a socio-political organisation that represents and defends the rights and interests of Women in Vietnam), revealed the intricate challenges women face after floods. 

In the immediate aftermath of a flood event, people often do not have access to adequate health care. Worsened hygiene conditions can cause infectious diseases leading to often overlooked gynaecological health risks for young people who menstruate. 

Ms. Lan Chi revealed that when floods occur, many women lose their jobs because they need to prioritise domestic and caregiving responsibilities and the recovery of the community. Women experience this more often than men because of deeply ingrained cultural expectations. This gender disparity is underscored by Vietnam’s current ranking of 72 out of 146 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 2023.

Students, especially girls, are also disproportionately affected by floods, as damaged schools and school closures force young people to stay at home. Ms. Dieu Thuy, Deputy Secretary of the Youth Union in Dong Luong Ward (the largest social-political organisation of Vietnamese youth), explains that parents sometimes cannot afford to send all their children back to school; and often boys are given preference over girls to return to school. This negatively affects the dreams and aspirations of the next generation of women.

Mrs Lan Chi and Ms. Dieu Thuy sharing their experiences through an interview.
Mrs Lan Chi and Ms. Dieu Thuy sharing their experiences through an interview. Credit: Nguyen Bao Ngoc, Plan International Vietnam

Amidst these challenges, women find themselves on the frontline of rebuilding not only their homes, but also the foundations of their communities. This reality underlines the importance of empowering women as the linchpin for an effective and sustainable recovery. This situation prompts a shift in family dynamics, with women assuming additional responsibilities. Ms. Lan Chi highlighted that while men often engage in preventative tasks, it is the women who undertake post-flood remedial activities like regenerating livestock and crops. However, societal norms that prioritise “respecting men over women” persist, creating internal conflicts within families that don’t let women participate in decision-making.

After a single flood, women’s health is clearly affected, and many means of livelihood are also swept away. At the same time, the recovery process takes longer. If there are no pre-emptive measures, women’s ability to cope with floods will be limited and weaker than that of men.

Ms. Lan Chi, Chairwoman of the Women’s Union

Empowering women for resilience

In Quang Tri, many women are primary caregivers and educators, which gives them valuable perspectives in shaping recovery plans that are sensitive to the well-being of community members. For the Women’s Union and the Youth Union, this is fundamental; both are women/youth-led organisations that are pillars of the community response, providing assistance and support on multiple fronts. 

The Women’s Union is involved in facilitating the recovery process for single families and the elderly, mobilising members to provide support and ensuring health checks for those who cannot leave their homes. They also deal with educational disruptions, mobilising families to encourage children to return to school. 

Ms. Lan Chi showing a way to monitor the level of flood in her community
Ms. Lan Chi showing a way to monitor the level of flood in her community, sponsored by Plan. Photo credit: Nguyen Bao Ngoc, Plan International Vietnam

Meanwhile, the Youth Union focuses on mobilising children to resume their education, ensuring their safety while traveling, and providing essential health and nutritional support.  

Plan collaborates with representatives of both organisations to effectively engage communities. For example, Plan has facilitated the establishment of 18 groups, involving over 150 women for widespread dissemination of crucial information related to the project activities, down to the most vulnerable areas.  

The Women’s Union manages 30 Village Saving Loan groups, benefiting nearly 1,000 community members. Plan’s collaboration with the Women’s Union extends to other projects focused on youth empowerment in the areas of youth economic employment and gender-based violence prevention.  

The project aims to achieve a minimum of 40% female membership in the local response committees by the end of 2024. Last year, Plan facilitated seminars and trainings where women in Quang Tri could become active contributors and were able to enhance their skills, including first aid and risk assessments, strengthening their capacity to respond effectively to future floods.

In the aftermath of the floods in Quang Tri, the impact on women underlines the need for a gender-balanced recovery from hazard events. The collaboration between local leaders, Plan International and our local partners signal a collective commitment to build resilient and equitable communities. Recognising the central role of women, challenging norms, and promoting inclusiveness are crucial steps towards resilience.

As a member of the Zurich Flood Resilience AlliancePlan International is working with women in Quang Tri, Vietnam, to bridge this gender gap and empowering them to take on leadership roles within their communities as they work towards a more resilient future.

Emergencies, Climate change, Climate change activism, Disaster relief, Disaster risk management