"Frailty, thy name is woman!" (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene II)
Or so said Hamlet, in the first Act of his eponymous play from 1601. And as similar, damaging, and invidious views continue to thrive across Vietnam four hundred years after Hamlet's angry lament, the British Council Vietnam's Diversity Group chose gender as the focus for this year's Inclusion Week.
'Inclusion Week' is an opportunity for us to celebrate diversity and to consider and assess what we're already doing to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion. It's an opportunity to stimulate discussion and thought with our colleagues, partners, customers, friends and family, raising questions and sharing thoughts and expertise to encourage a wider promotion of, and a greater acceptance of, the importance and benefits of equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Our focus on gender went beyond just looking at women, which it's often equated with. While it's true that in many contexts women have unequal access to education, fair pay and personal freedom, a focus on gender goes far beyond a focus on women only.
A person’s gender is one part of their identity alongside a whole lot of other things that have an impact on how a person experiences the world - things like age, disability, race and ethnicity, religion and belief, sexual orientation and life outside of work.
Our focus on gender highlighted both ways in which different gender stereotypes can empower some people and disempower others, and recognized that gender can't be separated from other aspects of identity, including those aspects we've identified in our inclusion policy. Throughout our Inclusion Week, gender was a lens through which we also explored the other protected characteristics that constitute our diverse identities.
"Be not too tame … Suit the action to the word, the word to the action." (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene II)
Following Hamlet's advice to the Players, we put together an engaging and - we hope! - enjoyable and informative range of activities during the week for our staff, our customers and partners, and external audiences in Hanoi and HCMC. We aimed to provoke, challenge, educate, and inspired through the week's events and activities.
Internally, we invited UNESCO to deliver a talk on gender and education, which highlighted the critical links between the two, and also the influence of government and the media in gender and education. A huge turnout for a workshop on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression led by NextGen/Hanoi Queer and Pride stimulated challenging discussions which colleagues are reflected in current thinking around activity and strategy in the revision of the Country Plan, and a sign-language class for all staff also introduced issues of gender and disability. Our 'Living Libraries' gave personal insight and flavour to the wider issues, and the diversity lunch provided a fitting end to the week, with our budding chefs producing food and drink that reflected their ethnicity which was enjoyed while considering and discussing three thought-provoking gender case studies.
The teaching centres gave full rein to our talented staff to weave gender into the classroom practice, and provide opportunities for our students and their parents to engage with our gender dialogues. A competition to draw a 'superperson' with superpowers elicited an enormous response from primary and secondary students, and was linked to EDI classes for Young Learners which the students thoroughly enjoyed. An EDI soft skills challenge and gender stereotype essay competition engaged secondary learners, while EDI focussed myClub sessions were offered to adult learners.
And our activities went beyond the walls of the British Council with screenings in Hanoi and HCMC of The Danish Girl, and Sarah Frankcom's incredible Hamlet, starring Maxine Peake as the prince. Wrap-around presentations and discussions on LGBT issues, gender and the theatre, and gender and power in Shakespeare inspired enthusiastic debate.
Our staff, our customers, and our audiences enjoyed, envisioned, and engaged with issues around gender. But what does that mean in real terms?
"By and by is easily said." (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene II)
Inclusion Week is not an end in itself, and we don't think it's enough to say that we will act on the learning and inspiration 'soon'. We're going to try, where possible, to translate these words into positive action in our work and life well beyond the week itself - for as Claudius recognises all too well, words without thoughts never achieve anything.