Apr 14 2011
The Vietnamese Women’s Museum was closed for some time for extensive renovations but opened again recently. It’s well worth a visit for anyone interested in women’s studies or the culture of Vietnam: it gives a broad insight into Vietnam’s population, including its 54 ethnic groups, addressed through a lens of women’s issues.
The positive impression starts from outside the gate: a large white building with colourful windows sits behind imposing gates. Once through the gates — motorbike and pushbike parking is available inside — pay at the ticket booth on the left. It’s currently 30,000 VND. *** Note that entry is free on the 18th May 2011 for International Museum Day ***
Inside you will be directed up a staircase to the left — exhibits are spread over five floors. On the first floor is a small display about street vendors in Hanoi, with a few photos and a simple yet insightful video with vendor interviews. It’s compelling stuff and is liable to make you think twice about haggling over a few thousand dong next time you want a bunch of bananas. That said, one of the things I really liked about this museum was its impartiality: it doesn’t seem to have an agenda. Information is presented factually but with heart, and props — such as videos, photography and relics — are used when appropriate and sufficiently to add interest and variety.
Opposite the street vendors’ room is the marriage and birth exhibition, which starts with some words of wisdom: Wife and Husband are as inseparable as a pair of chopsticks. The section describes marriage for a number of different ethnic groups across both patrilineal and matrilineal societies, supported with costumes, a video of a Black Thai wedding ceremony and even a mocked-up matrimonial bed.
Upstairs, exhibitions include family life and work, fashion, women in history and key women in society today. The section related to women’s role in the country’s battle for independence is a bit too wordy for my liking, but does contain a number of artistic propaganda posters and profiles specific women, which gives it a personal touch.
One exhibition definitely worth a look is the “Single Mother’s Voice”. This has been set up in conjunction with the Finnish embassy, which supports a fund enabling single mothers in Tan Minh commune, Soc Son district — one of the poorest districts in Hanoi — to borrow money to set up their own business. Twenty of these women were given cameras and trained in their use, and took photos of their everyday lives. Some 100 of these photos, along with commentary and details of the women’s lives, now form this fascinating exhibition.
There is also what looks like a temporary exhibition, on the very top floor, about human trafficking. In 2004-5 there were 2,310 cases and 3,019 victims in Vietnam. The exhibition is entitled “Peaceful Place” after a centre for women who have been affected by trafficking, so although it makes difficult reading it’s heartening to see the efforts that are being made to address the issue and support the women.
I’m not a museum buff but I was really impressed with this museum: it’s well-laid out and bright, with quality exhibits, and the content is extensive and well presented with copy in Vietnamese, English and French. I’d put it on a par with the Museum of Ethnology, although of course it lacks the re-created ethnic housing, which is a big feature of the latter.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
36 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Hanoi
T: +84 4 38259937
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