Interview with Nguyen Thi Nhat Anh by Sonia G. Astudillo and Dan Abril
The Centre for Social Research and Development (CSRD), a self-funded NGO based in Hue Vietnam, works to seek justice for vulnerable communities, especially women. A team of four women with diverse backgrounds from environmental science, economics, and public policy, these women are passionate about seeing other women excel not just in Hue but also in their project sites in adjacent provinces in Central Vietnam and lower Mekong.
GAIA sat down with Nhat Anh, CSRD’s Director and one of the youngest directors in the network, to talk about their work and future plans.
Nhat Anh is a GAIA-BFFP Asia Pacific Communications Officers Fellow whose graduate school thesis on water management motivated her to pursue environmental NGO work and leave her life in Hanoi to join CSRD in Hue city.
What are CSRD’s top priorities?
Top of our list is women waste workers especially those in the informal sector. We conduct action research to identify issues related to them such as a lack of benefit and support from the government. Our focus has always been on women and how they are affected or will be affected by climate change.
Why women? Because while Kinh women in Vietnam are a power within the family, they are almost always the most vulnerable in the community especially in the rural, mountainous areas and in the informal sectors.
What are the main ongoing campaigns?
We are doing research on the current waste direction in Hue city. This will guide us in our projects in the coming years. In this project, we also have some activities to seek sustainable livelihood initiatives whose aim is directed towards a circular economy and supporting waste workers in generating additional income.
In the past, we also conducted trainings on preventing sexual violence for women.
Aside from being one of the few organizations in the network working on women empowerment, what are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?
One is promoting women waste workers’ role in Hue’s waste value chain, especially waste pickers in informal sector in An Dong ward through feminist participatory action research (FPAR). In the FPAR project, we treat our participants (women waste workers) as co-researchers. We try to understand everything about waste from the perspectives of women who are working directly with waste every day. After that, we can understand their demand and capacity to have suitable suggestions or support.
What challenges are you facing? How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?
Last year, COVID delayed our activities and we could not work with the communities. We cannot organize the women and not everyone has gadgets to communicate and coordinate the work. In 2021, the government too became so strict with people’s mobility because of COVID 19. To overcome that, we partnered with the local government to organize the communities and it helped us move our work forward.
What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?
Our landfills are filling up. There are waste treatment facilities near rice fields. Landfills in Vietnam are nearly filled. Because of this, the health of the residents, including women waste workers, are impacted seriously from the waste leakage and smoke from burning waste.
How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next few years?
In the next 5 years, we still focus on climate change and waste management. Our target groups are still vulnerable women, not only women impacted by climate change but also women in waste informal sector. We also want to raise public awareness on the vulnerability of these women. They are strong women, but they still need empathy from others.
Finally, we also want to apply the concept of a circular economy in the Zero Waste communities and see it being applied in people’s livelihood.
What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?
When I participated in the AP Comms Officers Fellowship – it changed my way of thinking. In addressing the waste issue, we can maybe start from consumption but let’s not also forget the importance of the production side. Humans buy a lot in the inevitable trend of modern consumerism and it is not always easy to change their habits but we are trying with the communications campaigns on waste. I think it is necessary to pay attention to companies and how they manufacture their products, and to make them accountable. However, we need to balance both sides, because without demand for unnecessary single-use items, we can lessen our use and production of it.
Education is the key, especially schools in the K-12 system, and even universities. My young brothers see my behaviors and feel quite abnormal in comparison with their friends. But, luckily, they still form some good habits such as refusing unnecessary nylon bags. This is just a small example to demonstrate the importance of education at home and at school. I think to make greater impacts, we need a Zero Waste curriculum embedded in the formal education system. Here, students can gain updated knowledge on sustainable development and global issues like climate change, and they also have chances to practise Zero Waste at class level. I believe in the youngsters, they are the future of our Earth!
Along with this bottom-up approach, we also need to promote appropriate policies at school, district, provincial and national levels from top-down view. Policies pave the way for teachers’ initiatives to be replicated. However if teachers and students themselves don’t want to change, the policy, no matter how good, is difficult to implement effectively. Therefore, we need consensus from stakeholders at all levels.
Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?
We work closely with the local government and the Vietnam Women’s Union, a socio-political organization that represents the voice of women, to promote policies and programs which bring better benefits to vulnerable women. The Union is a mass organization in all levels, from central government to villages, and they play the role of implementer for so many policies related to women.
We also work with other organizations in the region depending on the kind and sector of projects in progress.
How does your work on waste relate to social justice?
Our work with women waste workers is social justice. Women waste pickers are informal employees and receive terrible income without social and health insurance. Women waste pickers contribute to the recycling sector and yet they are usually left to live in poverty.
We work to strengthen their capabilities and enable them to earn more income in a sustainable and circular way. There are lots of solutions all over the world, but the best solution are activities which meet the demand and capacity of local people and can be run by themselves. Therefore, local action is very important in our work.
I believe that waste management is better for women because women are more in touch with the domestic path. Women leading the waste management system can lead to better understanding and then better support to women waste workers in both formal and informal sectors.
Who do you admire most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?
I admire so many people. Everyone has strong points. But it is women waste pickers whom I consider our silent heroes. Not known but they contribute a lot to protect our Mother Gaia. When I organize meetings with them, I feel their positive energy. Women waste workers take pride in their work, and know that this work not only caters for them but also protects the natural environment. Their tasks might seem menial but are for our Earth.
A drop of water makes our ocean so we need small but regular efforts from every individual, especially waste collectors and pickers, to keep our Earth green.
Interested in empowering women waste workers in Vietnam? Check out www.csrd.vn and support their ongoing internal research on waste production to identify the value chain of waste, production, and consumption. More funds can support other sectors that this all-women team want to investigate. CSRD is a member of the Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance (VZWA), a network of organizations and citizens who share a strategy for applying Zero Waste practices to better manage solid waste, reduce plastics, save natural resources, and protect Vietnam’s environment.
Photos courtesy of CSRD-Hue