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Journey for Gender Equality – VinaCapital Foundation’s CEO talks with Portfolio Magazine Vietnam

“We should come together as a united front and cooperate to ensure our goal – equal rights for all.” shared by Mr. Rad Kivette – CEO of VinaCapital Foundation (VCF). He has been spending more than 20 years working in the development sector with a burning enthusiasm to ensure women’s rights and sufficient growth for underprivileged women and children in Vietnam.

What is the impact of economic transformation on the development of status of women in Vietnam?

At the macro level the development benefits of Vietnam’s economic transformation over the last 20 years has been beneficial to all, especially women. Many of Vietnam’s largest companies are owned by women. Also Vietnam is a very respectable 63 out of nearly 200 countries in female representation (27%) in its legislative body, the National Assembly. There is much work needed to continue the progress toward full women’s equality, but Vietnam stands out as an example to the world of a country determined to achieve equality for all genders.

At the micro or community level of analysis, the level at which VinaCapital Foundation (VCF) often operates, Vietnam’s economic progress has had a profound impact on women’s socio-political development. However, because of lacking access to quality education and healthcare services, the women and girls in ethnic rural Vietnam still shoulder the heaviest burdens of poverty as they are always the home caregivers. When VCF intervenes to make sick children healthy, women can work outside the home, contribute to the household income and reduce poverty.

Mr. Rad Kivette And Sponsors At A Rural Outreach Clinic

In your opinion, is there any difference between feminism and women’s empowerment in Vietnam?

There is a big difference between feminism and women’s empowerment. A good analogy that explains the difference is comparing ‘vision’ and ‘mission’- the mission is the way you achieve the vision. For me, the vision is feminism defined as a state where sexes are equal in every way. Women’s empowerment, or women gaining more power, is the mission by which we achieve that equal participation.

Feminism is a movement that promotes a new state of socio-economic and political being for all. It is equality of the sexes in all realms and empowering women is the effort by which we make that happen. I believe that if we empower women, update laws, reconstruct our institutions, change ancient paternalistic cultures, and men admit that we have been unfair to women historically and even more so today in the modern world and agree to right those wrongs, then feminism will have been achieved and the world will be a better place for everyone.

How should men be involved in women’s empowerment activities?

Men will dictate the velocity of change. Since it is men and their cultural mores, institutions and legal constructs that obstruct our way, then the more men we can engage in the movement the faster the necessary requisite changes will occur and the faster feminism becomes reality. In other words, men must understand that what they ‘think’ they must give up for equality with women, they do not give up at all. Making women equal just increases the sum of all things that we count today. Vietnamese men can make world history by listening to what women really want and need and becoming the avant-garde, the force behind the most significant paradigm shift in history.

Mr. Rad Kivette With Miss Universe Vietnam 2017 H’hen Nie And Students Stand Next To A Water Filtration System

What are your concerns in increasing a woman’s access to equal opportunities in the Vietnamese community?

I have always been concerned for our rural ethnic high school girls. They live in cultures that are normally paternalistic and can be misogynistic. If you look at the discrimination and abuse many of these girls face, it is heartbreaking. Discouraged from going to school, dawn to dusk household chores, trafficking, being forced into child marriage, abuse of all kinds, these marginalized girls are vulnerable. When they learn in school that this type of behavior is unacceptable, backward and in many cases illegal in Vietnam it is an epiphany, life-changing.

What goes through your mind when you think of disadvantaged children and women in Vietnam? How does your enthusiasm turn into action in the work at VCF?

Two things go through my mind when I think of disadvantaged children and women. The first feeling is from my intellectual side that believes in the high value of diverse perspectives when injected into decision-making at all levels of every sector. It is clear to me that women’s input as full partners in decision-making would create a quantum jump in decision-making quality. The second thing that goes through my mind is more selfish but probably accounts for my sensitivity to equality for women and commitment to women’s rights. Girls’ higher education was a ‘finishing school that taught them to support their husbands, care for children, develop soft skills and maintain the home. And these abilities are not bad things on their own, but when it is all you know and you need more abilities and training to feed your family, it is a disaster.

Women’s rights are what motivates me and that motivation weaves its way through every program VCF has. Empowering and equipping women and girls is a big part of the foundation of our work. VCF’s programs create opportunities for women and girls to recognize their self-worth and gain more confidence to become game-changers in their communities. These are the building blocks of gender equality.

Mr. Rad Kivette With One Of The Brighter Path Girls

What appropriate measures should be used to indicate the impact of empowerment activities in isolated socially disadvantaged rural communities?

All development activities must be measured and evaluated to determine the impact and effectiveness of empowerment program activities, especially in isolated areas. What you measure of course depends on how you intend to change behavior to achieve your goal. In this case, the VCF goal is to improve women’s equality by empowering ethnic high school girls through education in 4 key areas with the intention of the girls becoming change agents. So VCF measures 2 key activities – how well our girls learn the 4 basic elements of their freedom: sexual and reproductive health, legal support, leadership and financial literacy. The second measurement is the girls’ new knowledge impact on the communities they live in – how often do they share their new knowledge, to how many and how much change occurs as a result of the girls sharing.

Key support activities for the girls are weekly Girls Club meetings during the school year so that they can share their issues and triumphs together and get trained guidance from the club peer leadership, female teacher representative and female Youth Union member. Attendance in club activities is also measured. And all this is encouraged and followed closely by the VCF staff.

Do you have any advice for advocates of empowerment activities?

My advice is that ‘woman to woman’ communication is best, in this case, to help as many women who live in fear or do not understand feminism to be mentored by a feminist. For men, we need men who understand feminism and want to be a feminist. The only other advice is for all advocates to come together as a united front and cooperate to ensure our goal – equality for women and men. I believe we will see solutions to the world’s problems we never dreamed of if we put the whole brain together.

Mr. Rad Kivette With Brighter Path Girls Club’s Members

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