In Ha Giang, Vietnam, a province that runs along the border of China and is home to many indigenous and ethnic minority groups, Plan International is working to remove the barriers that prevent adolescent girls from accessing a lower secondary education.
Unlike other parts of the country, school attendance for secondary school is low, particularly for adolescent girls from minority groups. The high drop-out rate is largely influenced by cultural beliefs and traditions, where girls, at the age of 15 and 16, are expected to marry and support the family by either working on farms or supporting the household with domestic chores.
“We have been doing a lot of advocacy work trying to prevent families from holding their kids back from going to school,” said Vu Thi Hanh, who is one of the few female teachers in the area. “It also helps when the government provides money to support kids.”
Over a four-year period, more than 2,126 adolescent girls, as well as 1,900 parents, will directly benefit from activities and improved conditions made to 16 primary and lower secondary schools. Events and awareness campaigns focused on the value of education and promoting gender equality aim to reach 25,000 community members across two districts in Ha Giang province.
Within the 16 primary and secondary schools, the project will implement a number of activities, including: the construction of girl-friendly latrines and female dormitories; establishing girls’ clubs; raising awareness about positive parenting and gender equality; and developing income-generating activities that would enable families to send their daughters to school.
The majority of the families in Ha Giang rely on agriculture as an income, earning $20 a month planting crops. With approximately 70 percent of Ha Giang living on less than $1 a day, there is often little savings available to support children in their schooling. Children are also seen as valuable labor support for their families.
In addition to financial conditions and cultural norms that undervalue a girls’ right to an education, mobility and access have also prevented many students from attending school.
There are fewer secondary schools in the mountainous, remote areas, requiring girls to travel up to four to five kilometers each way. The perilous monsoons and harsh winters make it even more difficult for students to travel. Without an adequate number of school dormitories to host students, many children, a large percentage of whom were girls, eventually drop out.
In several communes, up to 43 percent of girls drop out of secondary school.
Plan has just completed the construction of several new school dormitories in the area. With the new dorms, one school saw an increase in school attendance from 30 girls to 52 girls. The dormitories enable girls to stay in school and reduce their daily commute. Those extra hours can now be spent on homework and socializing with friends.
Through continued campaigns and awareness raising, the community has started to understand the value of secondary schooling, particularly for girls. Recently, community members supported the construction of water tanks at school and have provided materials for the dormitories. They have also funded parenting groups and orchestrated their own events and campaigns.
Plan’s project aims to tackle the physical, social, and cultural barriers that prevent girls from accessing school. In some cases, even if girls start secondary school, many will eventually drop out: they will be married off and expected to stay at home and help with domestic duties.
To tackle the traditional practices that undermine girls, new community campaigns are starting to focus on the valuable role that women can play in society.
“The girls who do finish school are joining the women’s unions and growing up to become local teachers, nurses and doctors,” said Vu Thi.
These girls, like Vu Thi, are becoming role models and serving as positive examples in their communities.