The Vietnamese Women’s Museum (VWM) is located in the centre of Hanoi. It is dedicated to researching, collecting and exhibiting the life stories and experiences of Vietnamese women. It explores the roles of women in contemporary Vietnamese society, and the great contributions they have made throughout history. Recently, the museum has been ranked in the Top 10 of Vietnam’s museums and the Top 25 of Asian museums by TripAdvisor for five consecutive years. In 2015, the VWM was awarded the prestigious “Vietnamese Women Award” by Vietnam’s Vice President for its contribution to the country, in particular for its initiatives and achievements in promoting the country’s development. The award was also for the VWM’s promotion of gender equality and campaign for the advancement of Vietnamese women.
These achievements were gained after a long journey that all staff at the VWM had striven for. They focused on the following overall targets:• Engage the community, especially women, to involve them in VWM’s activities;- Generate a public forum for the discussion of women’s issues;• Create a social agenda for representing contemporary topics.
In order to reach those targets, VWM continues to work creatively in order to produce activities and outcomes. It is committed to working in the following areas:• Applying a gender-specific approach;• Organizing community participatory exhibitions and events;• Focusing on disadvantaged groups of women;• Putting energy into engaging organizations and people with VWM’s work and into gaining access to resources in order to achieve the museum’s targets.A range of activities have been held with the participation of NGOs and foreign embassies such as:• The exhibition Smiling tears – a collaboration between the Vietnam Women’s Union, VWM and GENCOMNET, DEOVIPNET and NEW;• The exhibition Peaceful Place – a collaboration between the Vietnam Women’s Union, Aecid and VWM, in 2011;• The exhibition Singer Mother’s voice - sponsored by the Finnish Embassy, in 2012;• The exhibition Stories of market - sponsored by Health Bridge Vietnam, in 2014;• The project “How the Internet Can Change Rural Women’s Lives’” sponsored by the Finnish Department of Foreign Affairs, in 2014;• The contest and exhibition Gender equality: Picture it! hosted by the Belgium Embassy in Vietnam, with the UN Women Vietnam and VWM, in 2015
These projects and exhibitions have engaged thousands of women in VWM’s work and helped to change the perceptions of hundreds of thousands of visitors. There have been many successes: the voices of women from different social groups have been heard, social issues discussed, a network established, and many job opportunities created for marginalized women. Most importantly, VWM has become a ‘home’ and a ‘forum’ for disadvantaged women to share, to exchange, and to tell their stories, and to make a contribution to preserving the rich cultural heritage of Vietnam.For any redevelopment or project, leadership is crucial. For VWM, the director and the directorial board are pioneers of new ideas and thinking. The director works with the strengths and abilities of the museum staff – who are all passionate about their work. The director and her staff rely on the support of the Vietnam Women’s Union and overseas colleagues who make the VWM what it is today.
Having strong connections with different communities working on redevelopments and projects, the museum maximizes the opportunity to gain financial support. Operational funding from the Government is used for staff salaries and core operations. This is not enough for redevelopments or special project work. However, being strategic and focused in defining important projects, as well as getting professional support for writing funding proposals, the VWM has successfully applied for sponsorship from different NGOs. Moreover, the VWM has received the support of private companies and organizations, not necessarily in terms of finance but in terms of research collaborations.
Throughout our journey, the VWM has kept maintaining the philosophy of ‘making the most effort’ to promote the unique nature of a gender-based museum; to address gender equality; and to contribute to solving gender issues in order to improve women and children’s lives in the community. The expectations and goals of the VWM are closely aligned with EFA (Education for All), MDGs No 3 (Millennium Developments Goals) and SDGs No 5 (Sustainable Development Goals), and national development goals in improving life quality for women. The museum has made significant contribution to the following aspects:• Contribute to the improvement of social awareness of gender equality; raise concerns about the gender gap, and the challenges women face in their current life aspirations;• Contribute to raising the voice of women in the community and getting them heard by the public;• Create jobs for women;• Preserve and promote national cultural heritages.
The “Vietnamese Women Award” was awarded to the VWM for its achievement in engaging communities and for the positive feedback received from the public regarding its social, cultural, and educational fields, and its work on gender equality. The museum is also highly regarded by international and domestic visitors.
Obviously, VWM has its own advantages, in that gender museums or museums that focus on women’s issues are not widespread, nationally or internationally. As a result, the name and its brand, as well as the frame of its activities, are all different, making the VWM unique and appealing to visitors. However, it should be noted that our museum, despite its gender specific focus, is not exclusively about women and only for women; rather it is a museum for everyone, and that is one of the big successes that makes VWM different and worthy of its awards.In term of human resources, the success comes from both the effort of the museum and the effective support of its community. This ‘community’ is broad, and includes a range of partners such as: foreign embassies in Vietnam, NGOs and governmental organizations, consultants, colleagues and especially cultural/historical value bearers who are willing to share their knowledge with the museum. What we have learnt is: keep listening and sharing, keep being eager to learn new things, keep being open to change but keep mastering knowledge together, and then the success and the happiness will be shared and spread to all.
On the journey, the difficulties that we always face are:• Research methodologies and approaches.This obstacle is especially obvious when the VWM works with marginalized groups because they are very sensitive. They lack information and often feel undervalued in society; therefore it is sometimes difficult to reach out to them and conduct research.• The human and financial resources to undertake activities, especially in terms of competence and capacity.
The next step is to develop a focus on gender issues. The Vietnamese Government is committed to promoting and mainstreaming gender equality, however, the VWM still needs to improve this. In order to highlight the gender specific focus of the museum and to expand our success, the VWM intends to mainstream the concept of gender into some activities for the purpose of presenting Vietnamese women’s issues within a gender inequality context. Women’s issues cannot be solved by women alone and must be placed alongside men’s issues. The VWM will also focus on promoting the participation of women in gender equality activities.
In preparation for the new goal, the VWM is making every effort to keep the same pace with its partners in regard to knowledge and skills, and maintain a thorough understanding between the museum and its partners.
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