Vietnam: Resisting Online Gender-Based Violence
Three recent initiatives in Vietnam helped thousands of marginalized women and girls boost their resilience to online violence—in ways that directly supported a national policy push on digital safety.
Online gender-based violence (GBV) profoundly shapes how women and girls experience the Internet. It erodes their confidence, damages mental health, limits activity and often bleeds offline into daily life. It includes everything from harassment to cyberstalking, doxxing, non-consensual image-sharing and blackmail. And women from marginalized communities face the highest risks of being targeted.
Pushing back requires sustained effort on many fronts. With capable guidance, everyone can learn to protect themselves online. They can learn to adopt stronger passwords, to recognize scams, to restrict social media profiles, and so on. They can also learn to recognize and respond to the insidious and evolving tactics of online harassers. These were the objectives of three recent Foundation-supported pilot initiatives for marginalized communities in Vietnam.
One initiative focused on women with disabilities. Two supported ethnic-minority women and girls. And all three supported a higher-level policy push. On June 7, a remarkable workshop brought project leads together with representatives from government, media, industry and civil society. They used that space to advocate for digital safety awareness and training as a national priority—bolstered by their fresh frontline experience.
Supporting people on the ground: 3 initiatives
Initiative #1: Peer education in “Online Safety 4 Girls”
This initiative targeted female students (aged 14-19) at two ethnic-minority boarding schools, in Thai Nguyen and Viet Bac provinces. Alongside the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP), we aimed to help these students recognize digital risks and build new confidence in the face of online GBV. At the outset, 53 percent said they’d experienced at least one incident in the past three months.
Our unique approach was to train 46 peer coaches, through four workshops, to lead student engagement. Across both schools, 1,080 girls and boys joined peer coaching sessions in GBV and “Online Safety 4 Girls.” Nearly 2,400 joined in peer-led learning games, both in-person and online. A social media campaign sparked more dialogue and featured 38 student-produced “Speak Out Louder” videos that drew nearly 200,000 views.
Comparing pre- and post-project surveys showed signs of growth—especially in the girls’ confidence in recognizing and responding to cyberbullying and online GBV. Our highlight was the effectiveness of the 46 peer educators. With their firsthand understanding of what other students do and face online, supported by our ramp-up training, they helped sustain high levels of student engagement at every step.
Initiative #2: Building digital resilience to human traffickers
Along Vietnam’s northern border with China, human traffickers are increasingly targeting ethnic-minority girls online, often by luring them with false promises of legitimate employment. With this pilot initiative, we engaged local youth on staying safe online, via three Facebook videos that drew 100,000+ views. Each video led into a knowledge-testing survey. Some 2,332 youth in border provinces responded to surveys, with encouraging signs of growth compared to earlier surveys:
- 94% understood how frequently people misrepresent themselves on social media
- 85% could recognize the strongest of four passwords (length, complexity)
- 78% understood the risks of sharing personally-identifying details online
- 64% said they were taking steps to be safer on social media, such as keeping profiles private, not friending strangers, and covering webcams.
We implemented this initiative alongside the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which continues to use all three digital-safety videos in school and village events.
Initiative #3: Supporting and learning from women with disabilities
Our third pilot was a partnership with DP Hanoi, an association of people with disabilities. We aimed to strengthen the digital resilience of a cohort of Vietnamese women with disabilities—while using the experience to learn more about the distinct threats they face online. Most came in representing associations and clubs for people with disabilities, ready to share their learning.
A total of 259 women participated in training sessions and workshops in digital safety, privacy protection and online GBV. Post-surveys showed strong improvement in digital resilience: more than 80 percent said they’d already moved on steps like adopting strong passwords, not re-using passwords across accounts, and investigating social media friend requests before accepting them. We were moved by participants’ personal stories—including 24 shared through two storytelling salons and a letter-writing exercise.
Many shared how they are now retroactively recognizing online GBV that they have endured. Like “Hoang,” whose shame at being targeted online was so extreme she contemplate suicide: lacking tools to recognize common tactics of GBV, she believed it reflected a deep personal failing, on top of her disability. Together, these stories offer powerful insight into distinct risks that women with disabilities can face online.
From the ground up: Shaping national policy
On June 7, our primary local partner (Vietnet-ICT) facilitated a workshop in Hanoi to discuss online GBV through the lens of these three ground-level initiatives. The event brought together 76 representatives from media, government, industry and civil society.
In panel discussions, officials from government ministries and a national telecom focussed on protecting marginalized groups from digital threats through technical solutions—such as website content verification and reporting systems. But NGO participants delivered a strong message that investing in digital-safety training and awareness-raising across the country is critical.
By reflecting on their fresh engagement with thousands of women and girls, project leads were able to make a compelling case. In an evolving Internet landscape, safety starts with digital resilience at the personal and community level. With guidance, everyone can become safer and more confident online. When they do, they become stronger digital citizens contributing to social and economic progress. And our capacity-building needs to start with marginalized communities that are most likely to be derailed.
The SecDev Foundation’s SEA Changemakers team promotes digital resilience in three Southeast Asian (SEA) countries: Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. With a focus on youth and civll society, the team works with local partners to deliver tailored digital safety training, public awareness campaigns and research on the evolving Internet landscape.