British Council

British Council support turned a dream to attend the WOW (Women of the World) festival – a series of events in London that honours and shares the problems of women all over the world – a reality for Dr Le Thi Thuy Hoan. Normally based at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, the 2018 trip delivered the ‘wow’ effect with an overwhelmingly inspiring experience.

Dr Le Thi Thuy Hoan, head of communications at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, had a lot to say about her trip to the WOW (Women of the World) festival in London in March 2018. WOW is an annual international event that honours the achievements of women and girls around the world, while also discussing solutions to problems that women encounter. Launched in the UK, it takes place every year on International Women’s Day (March 3) and has now spread across many nations.

Through networking efforts and sponsorship from the British Council, Dr Hoan was invited to the WOW Summit as a representative of Vietnam to give a presentation on museums reaching out to vulnerable women’s groups. The time for preparation was just before the Lunar New Year holiday, when the departure date was nearing. After listening to what she had to say through her concept paper, the British Council took action for Dr Hoan to embark on her WOW trip.

“I have been to workshops in many countries, but I was just blown away when I came to WOW. This was a gender equality event, and tickets were sold out a week in advance,” said Dr Hoan. In the Vietnam context, this is something different “when people have to buy tickets to watch and listen about gender equality”. When she came to the meeting hall where the WOW Summit took place, there were no vacant seats and many people were sitting on the floor. 

After nearly a week “carried away” in WOW activities, she understood why WOW was so engaging. 

At the WOW Summit, the appeal came from touching presentations from a wide range of speakers, including an Ireland presidential candidate and a mother-of-five writing books on gender equality. On to the focal presentation session, the appeal lied in the most “trivial” topics, sometimes things that were “sensitive” but practical, like how public toilets in India might affect women’s learning and career development or why the funnel-shaped sanitary pads was a great invention that relieved burdens on women. The stories helped blow the steam off, moderate preconceptions and drive expedient changes. In Vietnam, however, such occasions are normally held in common ways by sending flowers and presents to guests and giving a speech focused on tradition, Hoan said.

“From WOW, I learned how to choose topics, develop and resolve the story,” she said. Inspired by the festival, she instantly came up with initiatives on where the Women’s Museum should be heading, including reaching out to partners. Concrete results came in November 2018, with the Women’s Museum and UN Women launching an event for students, with children and adults invited (including homosexuals, ethnic minority people and those with disabilities), giving Pecha Kucha-type presentations (story telling through visual slides) on gender equality. Another initiative she is working on with UNESCO is also taking shape, in the form of conversations among students to improve understanding on gender and sex. Many more exciting plans will go live in the near future.

Importantly, the Vietnamese Women’s Museum is in talks with the British Council and other partners to seek a permit for application of the WOW model in Vietnam. She is examining and learning from WOW organisational techniques to create a strong appeal, just like what she received from the trip. “We must empower women to speak, not just inviting them over to listen about the how the Trung sisters started the uprising in the past. Activities need to help them address their needs or issues.” she said. 

Dr Hoan said her trip to WOW was a heart-warming experience, and the follow-on connections with the British Council and other partners were an inspiring way to come up with new strategies. “The museum is affiliated to the Vietnam Women’s Union and has over 16 million members – a force to be reckoned with that can create wide-ranging impacts,” she said.