Strength In History: The Vietnamese Women’s Museum

Words: Victoria McEwan

The beauty of travelling is that you are introduced and exposed to environments completely different to that of your own. Whilst travelling through Vietnam, albeit beautiful, I was also exposed to the country’s harrowing history of a fight for independence. The Vietnamese Women’s Museum aims to enhance public knowledge and understanding of history and the cultural heritage of Vietnamese women, thus contributing to promoting gender equality. Whilst browsing the museum I came across stories of certain women who show or have shown incredible strength, determination and courage.

The Guerrillas 

The Guerrillas were a popular war army founded in villages to fight enemy raids and destroy enemy posts. Nationally 980,000 Vietnamese women participated as Guerrilla forces. Hoang Ngan hosted the largest army with over 7,365 women, fighting over 680 battles, destroying 13 enemy posts, 16km of telephone lines and arresting 383 enemy soldiers.

Nguyen Thi Chien was a Guerrilla war chief in Tan Thuat, Thai Binh Province, Chien directed more than 40 battles and killed and captured many enemy soldiers. During a battle in 1951 at the age of 21 and unarmed, she captured four French soldiers including one officer, thus becoming known as the ‘Women who captures the enemy unarmed’. In 1952 she was the first recipient of the title ‘Hero of the People’s Armed Forces’ awarded by the state.

The Civil Resistance 

During resistance mobilisation women undertook many key roles including care of wounded soldiers, supply of troops and financial and food requisitioning. In northern and central Vietnam 1,575,000 tons of rice was collected and 35,730,000 meters of fabric made for the cause between 1951 and 1954. In occupied zones women hid and maintained liaisons with revolutionaries. From 1950 to 1954 in the partly liberated zones, women donated 9,578,000 work days to the transportation of food and arms, 2,381,000 days of which was just for the Dien Bien Phu Campaign.

Ngo Ba Thanh

The Women’s Committee for the Right to Live in Peace and Dignity was created on August 2nd 1970, during the Vietnam War. Thanh, as president of the committee wrote protest pamphlets, letters to Nixon (America’s President in that period) and went on a hunger strike against the war. She became known as the ‘Rose in the Barbed Wire’ by the press. After the war ended in 1975, she became Vice – President of the Vietnamese Women’s Union and President of the National Assembly’s Legislative Commission.

Nguyen Thi Thap

Thap began her involvement in the war effort in 1940 when she participated in the Cochinchina uprising, aged 32. From 1956 to 1974 she was President of the Vietnam Women’s Union and the Vice-President of the National Assembly from 1956 to 1982. She fought for the rights of women and children and encouraged and promoted women’s leadership in the party. She led the ‘Three Responsibilities’ movement which were 1) Fighting the enemy and urging male family members to join the army. 2) Performing well in production and 3) Being attentive to family members and placing a focus on keeping children safe and well. She received the title of ‘Heroic Mother’ and the ‘Golden Star’ Medal, Vietnam’s highest honour.

Huynh Tieu Huong

At birth, Huong was abandoned by her parents, being left to struggle alone through her youth and facing the extremities of homelessness. In 1989 through a stroke of luck, Taiwanese businessman Lai-wang Cao gave her 20 taels of gold to invest in real estate. After years of entrepreneurship she founded the Que Hong charity centre to help educate and protect more 200 abandoned children and homeless orphans, helping to improve children lives and give them a chance at life.

Nguyen Bich Lan 

“Death can knock on your door tomorrow, do not give up” is the motto of Ms Lang who has suffered from muscular dystrophy and cardiac failures from age 14. With wavering health, she does not give up. She taught herself English and translates books which are sold across the country. Her first translation was published when she was 26. She is now 42 and she weighs just 30kg. By the age of 37 she had translated 27 books from English to Vietnamese and she has published hundreds of poems, short stories and her own memoir, Living in Expectation which is one of Vietnam’s best selling books and focuses on the message of making the most of life, whatever your position and situation.

The Vietnamese Women’s Museum is located in Hanoi, Vietnam.