About the Author: Angela Aggeler serves as Assistant Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi.
It takes nerves of steel just to navigate your motorbike through Hanoi’s terrifying traffic scene, let alone struggle to fulfill the accepted role of a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister while trying to expand your new role as a professional and a career person in this wonderful but tradition-bound country. A couple weeks ago, I interviewed a brilliant young female candidate for one of our exchange programs. This 23 year old law student had lost both parents as an infant and been raised by grandparents who struggled to feed themselves. Through sheer determination and hard work, she received scholarships to an elite high school and then university. She described to me the regularity with which she was told – by family, teachers, colleagues and friends – that women shouldn’t be attorneys. But she was having none of that and had committed herself not only to graduating from one of Vietnam’s top law schools at the head of her class, but working to create more legal aid clinics for the underprivileged.
Women of courage abound here. An extraordinary alumnus of our International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) started the Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women, Adolescents (CSAGA.) It’s a cumbersome acronym but an inspiringly efficient and active NGO. CSAGA started Vietnam’s first domestic violence help line and developed a number of programs to support and protect this country’s most vulnerable citizens. As with many countries around the globe, domestic violence is sadly common in Vietnam and crosses all economic and social boundaries. CSAGA was instrumental in pushing the first Vietnamese law ever to combat this scourge, though each day the phones continue to ring on their help line.
So CSAGA’s founder, an active participant in the year-old Vietnam Alumni Association, took advantage of one of the alumni grant opportunities, got a couple other women’s groups together, and drafted a proposal to take this issue further down into the grass roots. The Proposal, which was happily (and unsurprisingly) accepted, includes the organization of a series of provincial workshops and seminars on combating Domestic Violence and – a first for Vietnam – the importance of volunteerism in addressing these issues. The workshops, which started in November 2008 and will continue through this April, will include hundreds of local commune and provincial leaders. The alumni are also working with local television to create a panel discussion on empowering women and protecting all citizens from violence in the home. And there’s a victims’ art exhibition planned, and a new clinic, and more seminars and, as they tell me each time we meet, so much more to do.
In Vietnam, every day is women of courage day.