Watersheds play a vital role in the destiny of a nation. The 53 indigenous communities living in the watershed near the marginal borders of Vietnam are the only groups protecting the forest resources. Supporting sustainable livelihoods for these communities means increasing their awareness of building harmonious lifestyles by their own efforts and based on their own rights to natural resources. Tran Thi Lanh is a unique Vietnamese woman intellectual who has dedicated her life to caring for the vulnerable indigenous women and children who live in the watershed of the Mekong region.
Over the last 14 years, Tran Thi Lanh and 180 colleagues in the three NGOs Towards Ethnic Women (TEW), Center for Human Ecology Study of Highlands (CHESH) and Center for Indigenous Knowledge Research and Development (CIRD) have helped 61,799 women and children regain their self-confidence by making them aware of the need to improve their lives by controlling their natural resources. The certification of the rights to land use for female owners was first implemented by Towards Ethnic Women (TEW) for Sinh Mun women in 1997. The government of Vietnam finally recognized women’s role in natural resources management and included it in the revised Law on Lands in 2003. Because of Tran’s work, 12,401 indigenous women have been officially recognized in land use rights certificates and over 35,000 hectares of forestlands have been allocated to 8,000 households. Tran has worked with networks of indigenous women to find ways of creating space for their right to existence, identifying strategies to decentralize the right to natural resources and ecological diversity, and maintaining traditional cultural values while respecting their distinct social, natural, cultural, political, and ethical features. With thousands of farmers, Tran continues to study the impact and consequences of centralizing natural resources and to come up with economic, social, and political solutions that protect individual rights while preserving cultural values. “Respecting and listening to our natural resources will prevent catastrophes. Solidarity and non-discrimination will nurture a world of peace,” she says. The work done by Tran and affiliated NGOs since 1989 has been vital to the development goals of the government of Vietnam for sustainable development. They are even more vital to the long-term survival of 53 indigenous communities in the watershed areas.
Towards Ethnic Women (TEW) Center for Human Ecology Study of Highlands (CHESH) Center for Indigenous Knowledge Research and Development (CIRD)