On the 14th and 15th of May, The People Participation Working Group (PPWG), Working Group for Public Administration Reform (GPAR) and the Gender and Community Development Network (GENCOMNET), joined forces to organize a seminar in Hanoi. The seminar was aimed at promoting the understanding of civil society and creating an environment for its development in Vietnam. Central to the seminar was the sustainable development of the country, and the protection of rights of all people and different interest groups. The issues were approached through discussion about the relationship between state and civil society.
In all countries, including Vietnam, civil society enables people to act as voluntary, positive and active participants in all areas of their social life. This is necessary since society cannot develop without the positive participation of its people. It is therefore great to observe that Vietnamese have more-and-more become active participants in recent years, as can be seen in the rapid development of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).
CSOs have played, and are still playing, many different roles in many areas: reducing hunger and poverty; opposing gender-based violence; supporting vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, poor women, HIV-positive people, the disabled, homosexuals, transsexuals, migrant workers and children; protecting the environment and fighting climate change; protecting human rights; and fighting discrimination.
Besides the activities of government agencies, public and private sectors, and social activism, non-profit civil society is clearly proving to be one of the most valuable factors in the development of the country.
Even though civil society is developing rapidly and playing a significant role in the development of Vietnam, ‘civil society’ as a concept still hasn’t been widely discussed or sufficiently researched, leading to vastly different discourses on the topic. The lack of a common understanding and the existence of so many different perspectives have troubled efforts to create a more beneficial environment that would allow civil society to develop profitably and organically.
Mr. Lê Quang Bình, chairman of the PPWG said: “Any country that wants to evolve needs to have a free societal space in which people can get together, connect and solve common communal and societal problems, otherwise individuals become weak, vulnerable and unable to protect their personal interests before group interests, and unable to practice agency before the power of the state. A strong civil society not only contributes effectively to sustainable development, it is also a necessary condition for protecting human rights and dignity, as well as for ensuring a healthy balance among interest groups."
At the seminar, representatives of businesses, organizations, research institutes, universities, scientists and experts, came together to discuss the challenges that civil society in Vietnam faces today, especially in regards to the economy, human resources and images. We can extract a sustainable direction from these challenges that allows us to develop a civil society in the context of Vietnam’s growing international integration.
In addition, the seminar also assessed the legal barriers that hinder Vietnam’s civil society and gave recommendations to policy makers regarding the Law on Associations. Freedom of association is vital for the development of civil society.