Taking motherhood into their own hands

By Efrosini Costa

Taking motherhood into their own hands
A female-only village in a very traditional Vietnam is upending centuries-old traditions and redefining parenthood.

It all began 30 years ago in a small village in northern Vietnam.

A group of women, fiercely determined to become mothers, did away with social expectations and had children without husbands.

While their actions may today seem harmless, at the time they endured the hardships that came with rejecting the social norms of 1970s Vietnam, facing all the discrimination and challenges of raising a child alone in a fiercely traditional South-East Asian country.

Come back to the present day and Loi, as uncovered recently in the New York Times, is now an anthropological anomaly. 

As iconic Vietnamese farmers dressed in conical hats wade quietly through their rice paddies – a scene depicted in much of the country – nearby, a group of older women play with their grandchildren; their husbands nowhere to be found.

Following the post-war era, many women in there twenties who had given their time and youth to the war were looked upon by society as ‘qua la’ or ‘past the marriageable age’.

Preferring more youthful brides, returning soldiers served to further exacerbate the dilemma for this group of ‘older’ single women. 

Coupled with a high male mortality rate, a casualty of years of war, there were about 88 men for every 100 women, according to Vietnam Population and Housing Census data.

They were left with the choice to marry older, ‘undesirable’ single men or die alone.

But the war had made these women strong and, determined not to live a solitary life, they rejected their ‘so’ or ‘destiny’ and began to ask men to help them conceive their much-desired children. 

The practice of asking men whom they would have nothing to do with thereafter for a child, became known as ‘xin con’ – a practice which is currently being studied by anthropological researchers on the other side of the world.

A product of postwar society, and also the mother’s bravery, the community of women began to take shape on the outskirts of Loi, having been able to purchase cheap land in an ‘undesirable’ area shared with refugees from the bombings. 

Although their decision angered families and friends, eventually the community garnered the respect of locals who had decided to set aside their prejudices and accept the women’s choices.

But they would only gain legal recognition many years later in 1986, when the government passed the Marriage and Family Law act – which recognised single mothers and their children as legitimate for the first time ever.

While today’s single mothers in the Vietnamese countryside are still subject to discrimination, facing hardships and shame, they benefit from government initiatives that were established by the generation that preceded them.

Only four of the 17 mothers who first founded the community are remaining, some having passed away, others who have left to live with their children, and some who married widowers later in life.

But, their legacy has remained.


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