Planting Trees in Vietnam – When Women Take Responsibility

Vietnam: Hiem is 59 years old and her main job is growing trees in Hoa Binh Province, a remote mountainous province south-west of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. Hiem explains that she and her family are taking care of 10 ha of protected public forest. In addition, they have 8 ha of their own land, where they grow 3ha of acacia trees, and utilize 5 ha for maize, cassava and sweet potatoes and for rearing cows and goats. “Planting trees is contributing 70% of my family’s total income. I am very delighted to talk about my work and the women around me working in this sector,” Hiem says.

A modern work division in the family

Hiem feels that growing trees is a physically hard job  especially for a woman “You are in the field most of the day, with heavy workloads and traditionally apart from planting, women are also responsible for farming, housework and village duties”.

Luckily, in Hiems family growing trees has led to a new division of labour: “I do the field work and my husband does the housework and tends to the cows and goats,” she explains.

When it comes to making decisions in the family, Hiems husband is still seen as the head of the family – at least on the surface: “Whenever my family needs to make a decision related to the plantation or farming work, my husband decides what to do, I just follow and support him. If I do not agree with his decision, I choose a suitable time to softly talk to him, discuss with him until we come to a common agreement, then he again  announces the new decision to the family, and our children follow it,” she explains.

“Growing trees is a hard job especially for a woman. You are in the field most of the day with heavy work loads and traditionally apart from planting, women are also responsible in farming, housework and village duties”

Endurance and eagerness to learn

According to Hiem, women have a number of advantages in forestry. Women have more knowledge about techniques in planting and maintaining trees because they are more patient than men to observe and learn the characteristics of the trees. “Our endurance is also better than men although forestry is a very tough job,” Hiem says. Personally, she is very eager to learn new things and feels happy that her family always supports her when she is offered to go for trainings that has in turn improved her trees. This means that her fellow villagers now come to her for advice.

“Growing trees is closely related to the issue of climate change. Once you grow trees on your land, the air around becomes fresh and you feel cool thanks to the tree shade.”

Hiem feels that she and the other women in the village are doing a fair contribution to combat climate change: “Growing trees is closely related to the issue of climate change. Once you grow trees on your land, the air around becomes fresh and you feel cool thanks to the tree shade. Trees help us to strengthen the land, and erosion and landslides are avoided. Drought also happens less. Women are also taking responsibility of many village duties which gives them the chances to raise awareness among local people about forest protection and sustainable management.”

Discrimination and negotiation skills

Even though Hiem has never felt discriminated against in her own family, she can see that women are discriminated against in society:

“When you negotiate the timber price with the middlemen, the chance for a good price is higher if you are a man. Perhaps men are better at negotiating than women, but I also believe that people respect men more,” she explains and continues to tell that, for that reason, all the selling of goods in her village are undertaken by men.

Personally, she feels that both men and women have an important role to play when it comes to environmental protection:  “Work will go smoothly when both men and women discuss and implement together. Doing this, both sexes can promote their strengths and help others in their weakness,” she concludes.