Le Thi Nuong, the teacher at the school in Gia Vien District in Ninh Binh Province, tells the class that Yen is a capable traffic officer, despite the job being traditionally associated with men rather than women.
The kindergarten teacher has been trained through a programme on gender equality launched early last year in the province. It is actually the second phase of an older project run by the Institute for Reproductive and Family Health (RaFH) and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC).
Activities for children aged 4 and 5 have been organised in 14 communes. The teachers integrate gender equality into their daily classes. Toys have also been provided for the children that are useful in exploring gender stereotypes.
"At first, when we started these games, some boys told me that at their home, they only saw the mother cooking," says Nuong. "But after I talked to the children, both boys and girls found the games interesting, and gradually changed their attitudes."
Parents are informed about the games and their children tell them what they have learned when they come home after school. "We are raising awareness not only among the kids, but also in their families."
Little Dung, a boy at the kindergarten, has learnt how to have fun playing with dolls. His mother, Dinh Thi Le Hang, is the vice chairwoman of the Women’s Union in Gia Vien District. She says Dung now plays with his dolls at home as well, and the smashing of traditional gender roles does not stop there: Hang’s husband also helps out with the housework.
But old attitudes are hard to change across an entire community, especially in conservative rural areas. Men are still considered as the breadwinners of the family, and the women as the carers.
That is why the focus of the programme is on kindergartens, where the next generation of families can be taught to be fairer when it comes to gender equality.
"Awareness raising on gender equality needs to start at a very early age," says Hang. "When children form their character, they need to be aware of this issue."
But the work does not stop at kindergarten. In secondary schools, ‘friendly information corners’ have been set up where young people can discuss gender equality issues, women’s rights, children’s rights, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS prevention. At Gia Thinh secondary school, 12 to 14-year-old pupils work as trained peer educators. Each day, five to 10 students drop in to ask questions such as: In a family with two children, a boy and a girl, who has to do the dishes?
"We tell them that whoever is the older sibling should do the dishes, no matter if it is a girl or a boy, and the younger one should help to bring the dishes to the kitchen," says one of the students at the school.
Gabriella Spirli, Deputy Country Director of the Swiss Co-operation Office for the Mekong Region, which is funding the project, says work on ensuring gender equality is a long-term and complex task.
"The biggest challenge is to change people’s behaviour in relation to domestic violence," says Spirli. "We need to redefine gender roles and address a system of values which currently favours men over women."
The Swiss office has been working on domestic violence in Viet Nam since 2002, at both the local and the national level.
"This support will contribute to achieving Millennium Development Goals on promotion of gender equality," says Spirli.
In order to improve the domestic violence situation, clubs have been set up to create a place for men and women to discuss the issues and learn about ways to resolve family conflicts.