What it means to ‘be a girl’

Through campaigns and events, Lan raises awareness about gender-based violence at school – an issue impacting the lives of many students in Hanoi.

Lan’s* story (in her own words):

I can’t give you a clear answer about who I am. Sometimes I feel I want to become a boy, other times I think I just want to be a stronger version of myself.

I keep hearing ‘A girl should act like this or like that’. I think that appearance does not reflect what is inside me. 

I keep hearing ‘A girl should act like this or like that’.

Teachers admire me for staying true to myself.  I know deep inside that I am just a girl with a strong personality.

I am enjoying the friendships I have made here [through the Youth Team Leaders Club]. Before joining the club, I was very sensitive, even just sharing my story. Now I feel more comfortable and feel encouraged to be myself.

Some people do not understand me, but I hope that after meeting me, they will know that a girl can be many more things.

I am changing the stereotype of what it means to be a girl.

I am changing the stereotype of what it means to be a girl. There is no definition of what it means to be a girl. What a man can do, a woman can do too. I believe life would be better if we didn’t have those stereotypes.

When I grow up, I want to join the police squad.  Whenever I watch movies about the police teams, the only women I see in the films are those working in the police station, doing all the desk work. I want to be in the special forces, working to protect people.

About Lan

Lan*, a grade 10 student from Hanoi, Vietnam, faces immense pressure from her family to be more ‘like a girl’. Though she opposes their views, Lan feels like maybe if she agrees, then her family would start to accept her.

Bullying from her friends was not a big issue, she thought. Lan tolerated it while growing up, but would get uncomfortable reactions from her classmates, presuming it was because she was not like other girls.

What a man can do, a woman can do too

Preferring to play sports and be outside, people, in fact, would tell her that she was more like a boy.

Her perceptions and her insecurities all changed when she joined Plan International Vietnam’s Gender-Responsive School project in 2015. Upon joining the programme, Lan was chosen to serve as a youth leader, mentor and peer resource for her classmates.

When Lan first joined the club, she was apprehensive, but her impressions began to change as people started to accept her. She was shy to share her struggles, but now Lan feels more comfortable, even encouraged to be herself.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual