"Some people know that I am a single mother and think I am easily approachable, so they always text me, asking me out in a teasing and discourteous way. As a woman with a physical disability, I was sometimes followed on the street and mocked "Why are you swaying your hips while walking?" or like "Why is one butt bigger than the other?", shared Ms. Tran Thi Nhu Hoa, the 40-year-old vice president of Nghe An Women With Disabilities’ Club, when talking about how people hurted her feelings.
Being a woman with a physical disability and also a single mother, she has constantly suffered gender-based violence, either mildly with disparaging remarks or severely with sexual harassment. Until last year, she could only endure it or walk away when encountering such harmful behavior and comments. Not only she but many other women with disabilities have experienced the same situation as well. However, things are so different now.
She has found herself reformed after joining Nghe An Women With Disabilities’ Club and “Against Gender-based Violence in Women with Disabilities in Nghe An Province” project. "Since joining the training courses and related activities, I have had a better understanding of the rights of persons with disabilities and recognized gender-based violence against persons with disabilities, especially women and girls with disabilities." She vigorously participates in activities of Nghe An Provincial Organization of Persons with Disabilities and Nghe An Women With Disabilities’ Club. In the project, she is not only responsible for key activities as a core team member but also willing to support other members in the organization through tough times. After the training, realizing the need for a place where women with disabilities could interact and exchange knowledge with each other, Ms. Hoa and Nghe An Women With Disabilities’ Club set up a peer group in Vinh City and regularly conducted peer counseling sessions.
Core team members plan for peer counseling sessions
On the first days, it was challenging to implement plans and encourage other women with disabilities to participate due to their shyness and hectic schedule. Therefore, in preparation for each counseling session, the core team members had to ask around to find a meeting time that worked for the majority. In addition, she has improvised approaches in hopes of better supporting women with disabilities in the group. “There is a member who attended two counseling sessions, expressing that she wanted to disclose many things, but there were many people from her neighborhood in the team. Thus, she was afraid that if she told them, they would tell others." Acknowledging the concern, Ms. Hoa took the initiative to connect with the trainers of training on legal information and gender equality in the project. Instead of publicly resolving everything within the counseling session time, she met and supported those suspected of experiencing gender-based violence in private. Before and after each counseling session, Ms. Hoa always receives feedback and suggestions from the trainers and the project team to improve on it. Overcoming her fear of public speaking, now she can confidently share her knowledge with others. With enthusiastic support of Nghe An Provincial Organization of Persons with Disabilities and Nghe An Women With Disabilities’ Club, these counseling sessions are held on a monthly basis, attracting about 20 women with disabilities to participate and boldly share their experiences about gender-based violence and how to prevent and respond when it occurs. About the outcomes of such sessions, Ms. Hoa says: “Almost all women are now capable of recognizing different forms of gender-based violence. They have learned how to address gender-based violence and support other women when it occurs. The counseling sessions have become a place for women to meet up and talk about their private issues.” Despite the worry that the project will no longer financially support peer counseling when it ends, Ms. Hoa and the core team members are still fiercely committed to continuing these sessions.
Ms. Hoa operates a peer counseling session in Vinh City
Having prior experience in this position, Ms. Hoa has always been a trustworthy moderator. Besides leading counseling sessions in Vinh City, she supports women with disabilities in Thai Hoa Town and Thanh Chuong District. As these are two new project sites and the Club has just been established, its members are not fully acquainted with the group activities and management. Prior to several initial sessions, Ms. Hoa and the club's board of core members went to Thai Hoa Town and Thanh Chuong District to support the core team at grassroots level. Ms. T.T., who runs the counseling session in Thanh Chuong District, showed her appreciation: Knowing that we lack experience in organizing such activities, Ms. Hoa has provided tremendous support in terms of conducting needs assessment surveys, developing plans and implementing them in accordance with the actual situation of each locality.
In addition to her enthusiasm in peer counseling, Ms. Hoa is also a coordinator bridging the gap between the collaborators collecting questions in localities and ACDC’s legal counselors. As a result, legal questions of women with disabilities and their caregivers are clearly and thoroughly answered by ACDC’s Law Department. During face-to-face counseling sessions, the counselors always spend time discussing with Ms. Hoa about each case and instructing her how to collect information effectively. Thus, Ms. Hoa has become more confident and polished her information effectively.
Ms. Hoa always accumulates her knowledge of legal information and policies on preventing gender-based violence
Ms. Hoa participated in the Women’s Startup Contest 2020 held by the Vietnam Women’s Union and won three awards of: “Outstanding Clip”, “Golden Swallow”, and “Application of Technology to Adapt to and Protect the Environment”. Ms. Hoa expressed her gratitude: “I would like to thank ACDC for helping me grow in confidence and bravery. With better conditions, I will do my best to support and accompany women with disabilities in the future.”
With her own efforts and the support of Nghe An Provincial Organization of Persons with Disabilities and “Against Gender-based Violence in Women with Disabilities in Nghe An Province” project, Ms. Hoa, formerly a shy and timid woman with a physical disability, has become a confident, enthusiastic and knowledgeable female leader. This change in Ms. Hoa is a great encouragement to local project officers and an example to other women with disabilities who have been fighting against gender-based violence every day.