What are the differential effects of urbanization on men and women, and how can consciousness of these differential effects inform strategies on urban planning? Is participation sufficient, or should participation lead to more structural changes in social relations? Whose perspectives of the issue must one take, and whose voices must be made central, when espousing a rights-based approach? Does strategic action planning really need to be transformative, when it is already SMART?

I and the other participants of the IHS Refresher Course entitled “Mainstreaming Gender Equity and a Rights-Based Approach to Vietnam’s Urban Development Policy: the transformative power of Strategic Action Planning” reflected on these questions against the backdrop of vibrant and happily-chaotic Hanoi – the capital city of a country fraught with many complexities and contradictions, yet imbued with an undeniable energy and a raw kindness.

In twelve fast-paced days, our group of international participants worked through important concepts on gender and rights, governance and participation. Through the steady hand of our course facilitators Ms. Carley Pennink and Mr. Manjunath Sadashiva from IHS, we learned tools that ensured not just logical problem-solving, but also problem-solving with a rights-based and gender lens. By listening to each other’s perspectives and insights and through field work in some local communities within and near Hanoi, we gained a rich source of ideas, inspiration and practices to take home and apply in our specific contexts. More importantly, however, in the course of working with a group that looked intensively at the issue of domestic violence in Vietnam, it became clear to me that formal legal strategies were not enough to address problems with complex social roots, and solutions will only be durable if the root causes of the problem are addressed.


We all applied to the course for different reasons. Owing to my work in the Philippine Senate with a specific portfolio on gender, I came to Hanoi in search of new ideas for gender legislation. I wanted to learn about best practices from around the region that could be adapted to our local context. For example, learning of Vietnam’s 150-day maternity leave policy and its documented social benefits for mother and child, has strengthened my resolve to continue pushing for our own expanded Maternity Leave legislation in the Philippines. But I came back to Manila not simply with ideas for specific legislative interventions, but also mulling over the possibilities of developing a new framework for crafting progressive legislative interventions — one that draws principles of gender-responsive, rights-based strategic action planning and participatory governance into the actual process of bill crafting. Given the political climate in my country wherein misogyny is not just structural but also weaponized to silence dissent, new and innovative tools are both necessary and urgent.

I am grateful for this two-week space to reflect, to learn, to challenge my own thinking processes, to ask larger questions, to re-imagine alternatives, to aspire towards clarity, to draw from the energies of kindred spirits. Coming from the fast-paced world of politics, Hanoi was a space I needed. And well into the future, Hanoi is a space I will constantly come back to.

About the author:

rc6Jaye dela Cruz-Bekema is a lawyer and activist working in the Philippine Senate for a feminist senator. She completed her MA at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and is a PhD candidate at Wageningen University.


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