Coffee Agroforestry

How savings groups have led to greater gender equality among husbands and wives in Vietnam.

Here’s a quote from Vietnam that is more revolutionary than it seems: “[now] I explain why we need one thing first instead of another, and we will set a tentative time in the future when we can potentially afford the other one.”

What makes it transformative? The fact that a woman is working with her husband to plan household finances. Getting men involved in conversations about savings groups gave women a safe way to start talking about changes they wanted to see in their lives.

It’s not just women who see the change. Men are starting to understand more about what women have been doing for years. One man realized he needs to value his wife because, “while housework might not generate income directly, it is important for sustaining the household as a whole.”

From 2017-2021, CARE Vietnam and the Vietnam Women’s Union have been working on the Technologically Enhanced Agriculture Livelihoods project—including a component on coffee agroforestry. With $1.9 million in support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the project reached 2,600 people. At the end of 2019, the team did a specific study to understand what was working for women in savings groups.

What changed?

  • Women have more financial access. Women who were in savings groups were more than twice as likely to have gotten a new bank account than women who weren’t in those groups. Women in savings groups were also twice as likely to have gotten loans from a bank.
  • Women can influence more decisions. Women in savings groups were 40% more likely to have a say in major household purchases at the end of the project than they were at the beginning. Women in savings groups had more power to influence and saw bigger change than women who weren’t in savings groups.
  • Women control more of their income. Women in savings groups were 2.7 times more likely to completely control income from their small businesses, and 34% more likely to control income overall.
  • Women collaborate for better business opportunities. Now, women in savings groups are much more likely to work together to understand market prices and decide which coffee buyers to work with. Savings group women also felt they had stronger negotiating skills. Women without savings groups did not collaborate to improve their chances in the market.
  • Men started to value women’s work. 90% of men said that they realized more about women’s role and how much time women spend on housework, and how important it is. Women are also more likely to ask men for help with their chores now.
  • People are more willing to change their gender stereotypes—and believe it’s possible. Says one man, “I prefer to not maintain these gender expectations … these can be changed but need time. If compared to our grandparents’ generation, things have already changed.”

How did it happen?

  • Work with existing savings groups. Vietnam has been working with savings groups since 2008, and can connect to more than 10,000 members and more than 500 groups.
  • Build in opportunities to learn. The project provided training on financial literacy, negotiation, and coffee agroforestry techniques—all areas that women’s groups prioritized as places they wanted to learn more.
  • Focus on gender equality. The project added couple’s dialogues and focusing on changing harmful gender norms in order to unlock broader change than just finances. That included training specifically for husbands. Combining gender dialogue with savings groups opened safe spaces to start conversations that women might not have been able to broach otherwise.
  • Support connections and solidarity. Women cited that connections with other savings group members and increased collaboration with each other were the biggest benefits of the project.
  • Check in with women who aren’t in savings groups. To get better evidence about what works, the project team looked at not just women in savings groups, but also talked to women outside of savings groups so they could compare results.

Want to learn more?

Check out the evaluation.