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Gender norms won’t keep Vietnamese woman from success

Friday, August 09, 2019, 10:15 GMT+7
Gender norms won’t keep Vietnamese woman from success
Vo Thi Thuy Dung (C) poses for a photo with attendees at a Room to Read talk in this supplied photo.

From the time she was little, a young woman from a suburban neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City believed education was the path toward battling the prejudicial view that education is not important for women.

Vo Thi Thuy Dung grew up with the understanding that her father’s job as a xe om (motorcycle taxi) driver made it tough for her family to afford many of life’s basic needs.

As the only girl among the family’s three children, Dung knew it was likely that she would be forced to give up her education in order for the family to pay for her two brothers to attend school. 

Such practices are considered ‘traditional’ by many in Vietnam and are based off a perception held by some that says women do not need education.

However, the young girl from Hoc Mon District used such prejudices as motivation to strive toward success in school and land a spot amongst the best in her class each year.

‘Miracle’ in life

The turning point in Dung’s life came in her sixth grade when she received support from Room to Read, a program that works to help female students pursue education.

“The bike, scholarship, and clothing I received from Room to Read helped me to be just like my classmates,” Dung, now 27, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, describing the program’s help as a ‘miracle.’

“The luckiest thing I had received from the program was the life skill courses which helped me to ‘awaken’ myself.”

The courses changed the young girl’s perceptions of what women could accomplish, ranging from playing key family roles to earning stable incomes after receiving a proper education.

As she entered college, Dung maintained her positive outlook and had no trouble finding a high-paying job at a real estate company following her graduation.

“When Dung told us about her graduation, she also mentioned her wish to join our program to help female students,” Room to Read staffer Vu Thi Bich said.

“I was very touched at the moment knowing her wish to pay it forward; however, I told her not to do so as I knew she had a family to take care of.”

But Bich knew she could not stop Dung, who now joins the Room to Read program in order to help women who wish to contribute both to their families and society.

“People who helped you don’t need you to repay them,” Dung said.

“I joined the program to make myself more responsible to society.”

Besides her job in real estate, Dung also runs a grocery store in District 9 and owns a house in Binh Thanh District.

In October 2018, Dung traveled to Zurich, Switzerland to speak at a fundraising event for underprivileged female students.

“I have tried to prove that women can work like men, and now I believe in a bigger thing that women can be good at everything in the world,” she said at the event.

Female students that receive support from Room to Read are seen in this supplied photo.

Female students that receive support from Room to Read are seen in this supplied photo.

Awareness of own values

Not every female student in the countryside in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta has a will strong enough to change their fate.

“There are so many problems with female students in the countryside, many of which are beyond what we can imagine,” Nguyen Thi Dieu Suong, the coordinator of Room to Read in the southern province of Vinh Long, admitted.

According to Suong, poverty is not the only problem.

The idea that dropping out of school is an option to those young girls is a serious challenge.

“Many people around them drop out of school, matchmakers are everywhere to find them foreign husbands, and stories of those who have changed their life after leaving their hometown for Ho Chi Minh City have won their admiration,” Suong pointed out a few of the reasons for the high dropout rate amongst female students.

According to Suong, supporting material for the girls is not a hard task but the real mission lies in changing the attitudes of those involved with the program.

“Sometimes a girl drops out of school just because she does not like a teacher or because she has to sit next to a classmate whom she does not like", Suong said.

“But they often do not speak about their problems and what we have to do is understand and solve their problem quickly.”

Each girl participating in the Room to Read program receives educational support from the organization from sixth to twelfth grade.

“High school graduation is only the first step, the most important thing for us to do is train them with necessary life skills so that they are aware of their own values and can make important life decisions,” Suong shared.

“Six years is a long journey and during that time we help them to grow up mentally and emotionally.”

The hardest period for Room to Read staff is when the girls enter ninth and tenth grade and can be recruited for sewing workshops in local industrial zones.

The next three years in high school then seems useless in the eyes of those 15-year-old girls because they are already able to find jobs in ninth grade.

For those who do finish high school, Room to Read staff do their best to help participants find college scholarships.

“Globally, our program only sets a goal of helping female students graduate from high school, but poor students struggle in their college life,” Suong explained.

“They are strong girls, but dare not to dream anything bigger than getting rid of poverty, so if they don’t have to worry about their earnings, they may be able to dream for higher goals,” she added.

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