‘HeForShe has set me free’

Date:: 17 January 2017

Author: Dang Huong Lan

Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam — Pop singer Hoang Bach joined UN Women’s HeForShe campaign because he wanted to change other men’s attitudes towards women. Along the way, he found his own attitudes changed.

Hoang Bach and his son at HeForShe campaign launch ceremony in Viet Nam in 2015. Photo: UN Women Viet Nam

Since becoming HeForShe Champion in Viet Nam in March 2015, the well-known performer has been inspiring young people to respect women. With Bach participating in almost all the events, the HeForShe campaign reached about 700,000 people on social media in Viet Nam that year. HeForShe is a global campaign that engages men and boys for gender equality.

“I started participating in HeForShe because I wanted to promote gender equality and contribute to a better society. However the campaign has changed my life,” Bach said. “It made me realize how gender stereotypes are still negatively governing our lives, and making not only women but also men suffer. In the past, I used to struggle with the thought that I always have to be firm and have to take charge in the family. It is really a heavy burden that not all of us realize.”

Despite the country’s rapid modernization of recent years, young people, both male and female, still hold onto traditional gender stereotypes. There is strong pressure on women to play their roles of preserving family harmony, caring for the children, and subordinating themselves to their husbands. The men must be the breadwinners, and they must stay strong and they cannot cry. In an online survey of 2,500 respondents by the Asia Foundation and two local NGOs in 2013, 81 per cent of Vietnamese women said their perfect partner should be “strong”. And men expected their partners to have “skillfulness” (66 per cent), a “hardworking nature” (63 per cent), and a “self-sacrificing/long-suffering” attitude (33 per cent).

Hoang Bach performs “For Your Smiles”. Photo: UN Women Viet Nam

Bach, 36, was the leader of the boy band AC&M. In addition to singing and composing, he now hosts TV variety shows. He was born into an artists’ family, his father a choreographer and his mother a singer. Bach has two children, a daughter and an 8-year-old son. His wife, a former fashion model, owns a wedding dress shop.

Bach spoke emotionally in a recent 2-hour interview with UN Women at his home in Ho Chi Minh City. He talked about how his mother was a very good singer who had to give up her career to take care of the family.

As HeForShe Champion, Bach talked with experts on gender relations, had new experiences and learned new things.

“It is a whole new perspective. Most important of all, HeForShe has set me free,” he said. “Now I am no longer burdened with the thought, ‘A man must be like this.’ It is no longer ‘a must.’ We both, men and women, can do whatever we want, whatever makes us happy and fulfilled as long as it does not have negative effects on society.”

Bach said change must start with educating young people. He said his “aha” moment came when his son joined him on stage during the launch of the HeforShe campaign.

“After that, he started to have many questions about gender,” Bach said. “I think it was a shock to him, and I truly appreciated the experience.”

Bach is spreading the word on his Facebook page, where he has 160,000 followers, many of them young people and young parents. He tells the men: Do the housework, stop abusing women. At music shows, he has been performing a song he composed for the HeForShe campaign. The song, “For Our Smiles”, is about a man’s promise to a woman. “Giving you love, giving you smiles,” it goes. “Giving you a shoulder and a warm place. Together we overcome all difficulties, together, we create the world.” Fans shared that performance on Facebook and YouTube.

“Looking back, I felt that it has been like an unraveling for my wife and me, and we are now much happier,” Bach said. “So I just want to say to our men that gender equality is not a women’s issue, it is about your life, too. It is about setting you free of the norms and stereotypes so you can be your true self.

“And I wish I could do more, and want to do more, to enable that to happen to as many as possible.”

For further information:

Please contact Hoang Bich Thao
Communications Officer, UN Women Viet Nam
Mobile: 012 0514 3996
Email: Hoang..@unwomen.org