Women’s Summit 2017: A Long Way Ahead

Forbes Vietnam just announced its list of the Top 50 Vietnam’s Most Influential Women in 2017 at Women’s Summit 2017: Women Bettering The World.

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The awardees who attended the ceremony

According to their Facebook event page, more than 1,000 participants would attend. The line-up of guest speakers would rival any similar high-profile networking event that opens to public participation in Vietnam. Chairwomen, CEOs, entrepreneurs of (seemingly) different fields and ambassadors of several (richer) countries indeed charmed the summit with their presence and insights. The venue was at Gem Center, a game-changer in event organizing and an attractive high-scale space cleverly designed by award-winning Vietnamese architects at a21studĩo. All made it seemed very much promising and powerful of an event that hinted the possibility of changing one’s life. The welcome brochures given out at the beginning of the day for participants to jot down their enlightened moments were named exactly that: The Map of Life.

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Our little red book at the event

However, that access to women empowerment and entrepreneurship is only open to those who could afford it.

While we were lucky and initially excited, the whole-day summit gradually became enervating. Many moments of thoughtful remarks and informed rationalization on women and (in)equality issues were cut short, due to both time constraint between panels and the unwillingness to vanguard a transformative force that the speakers and the VIP guests are capable of bringing.

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Panel: Women’s Development from an International Perspective
From left to right: Ton Nu Thi Ninh, H.E. Cecilia Piccioni, H.E. Ping Kitnikone, H.E. Nienke Trooster, H.E. Meirav Eilon Shahar

Because the event was somewhat intended to inspire young Vietnamese ladies, throughout the day the common questions remained along the lines of “What do you think about Vietnamese women?”; “What advice do you have for them?”; or “What should be the definition of “modern woman”?”

Followed that, the answers would similarly be “Vietnamese women are strong, smart, and hard-working;” “Believe in yourself;” “Follow your passion.”

That’s all lovely to hear. However, it absolutely could be more thought-provoking than that.

We kept sending questions to the event’s website – the only method to communicate to the panelists during panels. Some of the questions got chosen to be briefly discussed. We were, and still are, hoping to get insights into the Vietnamese context of the benefits and challenges men in the male-dominated beauty industry face; the glass ceiling, the sticky floor; improving LGBT rights to improve gender equality and equity; the role of the media in promoting gender equality and equity; and the objectification of women.

It was curious at some points to observe among some speakers and moderators the seemingly limited understanding of the issues that women have faced. When mentioned by writer-activist Trang Ha, the basic definition of feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”* got laughed away by her male moderator as “generous feminism [sic]”.

The CEO of Vietjet, when asked about the Bikini Airlines incident, referred to it as a “career accident” of an attempt to triumph freedom of expression among staff and customers. She pointed out that her airline would attempt to run a similar bikini campaign again when another opportunity arises. Moreover, her panel also managed to end by having her sing Chiều Matxcơva, or Moscow Evenings, captivating many event attendants (and later on, the world wide web) while leaving others baffled in confusion because of the unrealistically impeccable sound quality.

In addition, even though the issue of objectification of women missed these panels, including one with high-profile executives from the entertainment and cosmetics industries, it somehow showed up to work in favor of the event sponsors, who didn’t shy away from turning the panel discussion stage into a catwalk for stereotypical models to showcase their latest glamorous jewellery and fashion collections.

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The summit turned a fashion show

Overall, the summit demonstrated that women’s issues are still issues of concerns, discussions, and debates.

Looking at the cup half full, it is useful to get (or acknowledge of) some realistic take-away wisdom that many established career women shared. Financial independence is important. Groom yourself. And of course, choose the right spouse.

After all, the foods and the coffee were great. Regarding privilege, at least there was Claire Chiang sanely reminding the audience: We are the top 2%.


*See Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/feminism

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