Volunteerism as a Vehicle for Preventing Violence

An, standing in the centre, during the programme’s closing workshop with participants and facilitators.

© UN Women Viet Nam


Over the last two years, P4P UN Volunteers have made significant changes in the communities that they serve. Phan Thanh An, a first-time volunteer in the violence prevention sector, shares his experience of working on P4P’s intervention in Da Nang city, Viet Nam.


Before becoming a UN Volunteer, An used to collect items of clothing and school supplies for those living in Viet Nam’s rural mountain area. But volunteering for Partners for Prevention (P4P), a joint programme between UNDP, UNFPA, UN Women and UN Volunteers, has had a particular significance for the 46-year-old father. “The programme approaches men, the perpetrators of violence, rather than women, the victims of violence,” said An, currently the National Coordination Officer for P4P’s Viet Nam programme ‘Engaging the Men in Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls’.


In Viet Nam, prevention of violence against women and girls (VAWG) is much needed. A qualitative study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and P4P has found that the use of violence by men to discipline women is acceptable as long as it occurs in private. Furthermore, over half of the country’s women have reported experiencing violence at some point in their lives [1].


As such, working with men and boys to challenge harmful masculinities and change social norms is a way to stop violence before it happens. Prevention, a relatively new area in VAWG, is the component of the programme which got An interested and awoke his passion for volunteerism.

“The programme emphasizes primary prevention rather than intervention by working to change common conceptions of masculinity. I just wanted to be a normal volunteer like others and contribute my efforts, ability and time for the good of my community and society. Such contributions are naturally related to my passions, interests, abilities and experiences,” he said.


Based in the coastal city of Da Nang city, the third biggest in Viet Nam with over one million citizens, An worked closely with the local Women’s Union – a government agency mandated to promote gender equality. With support from UN Women and P4P, they set up the ‘Male Advocacy Club’ to promote self-awareness of VAWG among the local men.


Every month, club facilitators met with the P4P UN Volunteer to organize meetings for nearly 100 men, where they discussed topics ranging from ‘being a man’ to ‘communicating while angry.’ As the typical challenges of behavior-changing interventions, such as continually sustaining participants’ interest, emerged, An soon found out that the programme’s participatory approach centered on volunteerism, created a space for the club members to take ownership of how they wanted to convey issues of VAWG in their communities and how they wanted to build a safe and vibrant community for all. “Men talking about their feelings and sharing is unusual in Viet Nam, but this programme made me believe that they can change and they can do it by themselves,” he said.


As An got to know club facilitators and coached them in regular feedback sessions, they themselves also grew more confident when leading clubs, and even took the initiative of organising activities promoting volunteerism and preventing violence such as mini soccer tournaments, film screenings, community quiz nights and role-playing exercises. The UN Volunteer recalled his proudest moment through the words of one participant saying, "Previously I thought violence against women was only physical; I did not think my shouting and imposing on my wife was also a form of violence that harmed her and affected my family negatively. Now I've changed a lot thanks to this project. I respect and share more with my wife. I attempt not only to change myself, but also to have more men changing by sharing and convincing them."


Over the course of the programme, many club members have set out on this journey of change. They have become volunteers and activists for VAWG prevention in their own communities and over 400 family members have had the chance of learning about VAWG prevention. Many reported changing their attitudes towards their wives, and educating family members. One 62-year-old participant, said: "I often used to yell at my wife if there was a disagreement between us. After participating in the club, I started sharing housework with her and I can control my anger now. If my son and son-in-law have discriminatory or disrespectful attitudes and behaviours towards their wives, I will give them advice on how to change. I yearn for my family atmosphere to be fun and happy and I can already see change. My family members have become more sympathetic, understanding and respectful towards each other."


In January 2017, An’s volunteerism in the P4P programme was formally recognized by the Government of Da Nang city. Alongside his professional achievement, he too experienced positive transformations and was able to become closer to his wife – who even thanked him for volunteering to prevent VAWG. As he reflected upon the wrapping of the programme, An concluded by saying:

"The important thing that I learned is that volunteerism is always available in each individual and every community, if it is accessed, awoken, exploited and promoted in time. In this project, volunteerism almost dominated all aspects of the project: males volunteered to participate in clubs, club members volunteered to be facilitators, the youth volunteered to support facilitators... All these people are volunteers and work for the project because of their passion and desire to devote themselves."


[1] Research by the Government of Viet Nam and the United Nations’ ‘National Study on Domestic Violence Against Women in Viet Nam’.

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