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2013 • 6 • 17

Women rule the world. That was how I saw the world before I first stepped out of our home. As a child, I was disoriented and quite shocked to learn in school about the struggles that women have faced over time. In our home, women make the rules. My mother was the breadwinner, and she always had the last say on anything. My dad would make decisions sometimes, but he would always need the approval of my mother. My sister was intimidating; she outperformed my brother in almost anything. They painted my very first picture of women, and it was a pretty powerful tandem.

Apparently, the same could not be said for all families. The female lot had endured many a pain — discrimination, on top of the heap. Still, women have proven time and time again that this world is theirs, too, and they are just as capable in doing the things that men could.

In Hanoi, the significance and accomplishments of the women of Vietnam are enshrined in a museum. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum was established by the government and the Women’s Union of Vietnam in 1987 to showcase artifacts and documents that highlight the contributions of women in culture, politics, and nation building.

Vietnamese Women's Museum in Hanoi
Vietnamese Women’s Museum in Hanoi

It took me quite a long while to find the building. The streets of Hanoi can be a bit confusing especially to non-locals. I went out of the hotel thinking all I had to do was get to the area and find a building with a remarkable facade, but it dawned on me very early that most structures in the city are stunning. After an hour’s stroll around the city, I was greeted with a loud, sweet “Hello!” that came from the ticket booth. The woman had a wide smile on her face and had a very positive glow around her. Within the couple of minutes that I secured a ticket, we were able to talk about a lot of things.

Inside, over 25,000 objects spread across 1500 square meters and five stories, shedding more light on the history and culture of Vietnam. Unlike most museums that I had visited before, this one was more about presentation than actual artifacts. Larger than life photos dominated most of the rooms, complete with English captions for foreign visitors. There are three permanent exhibits: Women and Family, Women and Society, and Women’s Fashion. Each exhibit uses a different color and theme.

Women and Family features their role in the family in various indigenous subcultures of Vietnam. Women and Society puts the spotlight on the many famous women and the parts they played in the country’s history and contemporary society.  The top floor houses Women’s Fashion, a vibrant display of both traditional and modern clothing, textile, and jewelry. Special exhibits are also set up inside the museum.

I found myself alone inside. The only time I shared the room with other people was when I was at the Women and Society Exhibit, where two female travelers watched an old film playing in one corner. This part of the museum stole most of my time there and left the deepest imprint on my memory. It was filled with compelling stories about the personalities that made a mark during the wars against France and the US-backed South Vietnam. Girls as young as 14 made significant contributions during the war and the photos on display were nothing short of arresting.

After over an hour, I left the museum and said goodbye to the friendly lady at the ticket booth. “Very nice, right?” she asked confidently.

“Super,” I answered with a smile. I stood by the imposing gate and aimed my camera at the edifice. Its brightly colored windows stood out in the white facade. This building is not just a museum that enlightens, I thought as I looked through my viewfinder. It is an applause, a tribute to the mothers, sisters, and daughters of Vietnam. Something that we also need to have in Manila.

Vietnamese Women’s Museum
36 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hanoi
Telephone Number: +(84)438259937
Entrance Fee: VND 30,000

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Phoebe Nguyen

I am a Vietnamese woman, and I proud of it!