'Fighting for gender equality can be interesting, but I never imagined that people could organise such vibrant, inspirational, charismatic, and penetrating events for this cause. The opening speeches were incredibly moving. There was no music or show-business, only the voices of inspirational women, who frequently had to stop for a few seconds to let the sound of the applause die down', Le Thi Thuy Hoan - Head Department of External Relations and Development of the Vietnam Women's Museum Project on the occasion of participating in the Women of the World Festival and Summit which was held from 9–12 March 2018 in the UK sponsored by the British Council in Vietnam.
Women of the World (WOW)
Year of establishment: 2010
Place of establishment: London, UK
Operation objectives: To show gratitude for women’s achievements; encourage cultural and artistic activities to fight against gender inequality.
Number of participants: over 1.5 million women
The trip to the UK was a surprise gift from the British Council in Vietnam and WOW London on the 25th anniversary of the British Council's presence in Vietnam and the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the UK. Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the staff in the British Council in Vietnam, all preparations went smoothly, from the time I received the notice of sponsorship from the British Council in Vietnam until my departure to England only a few weeks later.
The full six days in London with my busy work and visits schedule filled me with emotions. Worries about snowstorms, the cold and the language barrier quickly evaporated when I arrived. The sunshine, the river Thames, the peaceful parks, the many museums and the art galleries made my heart tighten. Eager to see all the sights, I was also anxious I wouldn’t have time. Of course, the WOW Festival was also exciting, but I did not know if I could express myself and the voice of the museum at the WOW Summit.
Compared with the 16 million members of the Vietnam Women’s Union, the figure of over 1,5 million women worldwide involved in WOW activities is small. But the WOW 2018 Festival was truly epic and highly practical, addressing the real issues of women and attracting the attention of many. Personally, I was overwhelmed by the number of programs within the WOW Festival framework, and its sheer scale.
All tickets to the festival, from 8 March to 12 March, sold out two days before the opening. In the opening session, many had no seats, including those who would be presenting in WOW forums. However, empty space was found for people to sit on the floor. People were cheering throughout the opening speeches with endless applause and there was a great interaction between the speaker and the audience.
Before coming to WOW, I have to confess that I did not know who they were or what they had contributed to the needs of global women. But when I heard them speak, I was really overwhelmed and inspired. WOW's forums involve gratitude, sharing, and respect for women, aiming to bring joy to women and promote creativity in the arts and culture. Focused on empowering women, the WOW model of operation in recent years has been applied in many countries. It is clear that WOW can also be applied effectively in Vietnam.
The activities taking place throughout the week were all well-attended. The WOW organising committee had brought together the most inspirational women in the world, including Jude Kelly - the founder of WOW, Helena Morrissey, Marieme Jamme, and Halla Tomasdottir (who was second in Iceland's presidential campaign).
Out of the hundreds of topics shared at the WOW Festival, I was most interested in hearing about the challenges women and girls face in Vietnam: shame (used for centuries to control women); women-friendly toilets; the menstrual cup; issues hindering gender equality including the preference for male children; and the attitude of society towards the use of contraceptives by women.
Other presentations included the feminist economy, women's role in the war and peace-building in Syria, the issue of pensions, the sharing of a suitable stage for a black mother to start educating her daughter about racial discrimination, environmental protection, and the introduction of useful literature on gender issues.
The content of the programs at the WOW Festival once again confirmed that the fight for gender equality is a war for every individual. However, it is not easy for many women to break their silence or stand up for themselves and fight for equality. The opportunity to speak needs to be given to everyone. Through the performances of the WOW Festival, I also heard the voices of many women from different backgrounds sharing their stories. The stories were personal but touched the hearts of the listeners, helping them find common areas of concern to deepen their understanding and sense of responsibility in the fight for gender equality.
In the short time of the WOW Summit, I was able to share the working practices of the Vietnam Women's Museum as well as the Vietnam Women's Union. It is clear that the Society and the Museum could adopt WOW's operational model towards the goal of gender equality in Vietnam. It was all so much to take in, but obviously the inspiration I got from the trip and the plans I've been putting into practice in my job make me firmly believe that I met the expectations of the British Council in Vietnam, and the museum, as well as the many people who have been enthusiastic to help me enjoy these wonderful experiences.
I hope the bridge between the Vietnamese Women’s Museum and WOW London will be extended and bring practical contributions to the cause of narrowing the gender gap and fighting for gender equality for Vietnamese women.