Monday, February 27, 2006

Insights from my trip to Hanoi

This picture was taken when I was in Viet Nam last week, visiting my daughter who is studying in Hanoi this semester and conducting research with two economics professors on the basket women and the informal economic sector. That's me, kneeling in the front row in the black and the blue shirt. Alyssa is in the back in the red. The other women are from the World Health Organization, Family Health International, Pathfinder, TamsubanTre (a hotline about sexuality for teens in Viet Nam), the Institute for Social Development Studies, and the Consultation of Investment in Health Promotion.

I gave an informal talk on my work helping sexual and reproductive health organizations in the United States reach out to faith communities, and we had a lively discussion about whether this might apply to their work in Viet Nam. Religion plays a very different role in Viet Nam than it does in the U.S., and it coexists uneasily with the government. Pagodas are every where, with a mixed display of Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, Confucian, and native iconography. Almost everyone practices ancestor worship rituals for departed relatives, and one goes to the pagoda and temple to ask for heavenly assistance on health, jobs, children and so on. Although the Vietnamese government guarentees freedom of religion, the SRH people I spoke to shared that they were concerned how the government might respond if moral and religious issues were raised with women in their programs.

And yet, there was a surprising openness about sexuality issues. While I was there, the party newspaper reported that abortion rates had been declining. Family planning billboards dotted the countryside. A museum display in Hanoi included at least twenty very erotic statues. The Women's Museum celebrated the Viet Nam delegation to the Beijing conference. The NGO's are beginning efforts aimed at teenagers. Population growth rates have stabilized, although HIV rates continue to increase.

I went to Viet Nam to visit my daughter; I left with renewed appreciation of how important culture is in definining sexuality and religion. Now, I just need to stop worrying about the potential for bird flu and motorbike accidents.

 Posted by Picasa

No comments: