Once upon a time the Princess was doing alright on her own, actually. She did have a fair share of problems, as grown-ups typically do, but she hardly needed Prince Charming to come to her rescue on a white horse. Who did this guy think he was, anyway?

Needless to say, this isn’t your conventional beginning to an old-fashioned fairy tale, and in Vietnam in particular the traditional portrayal and perception of women as weak and heavily dependent on men still holds strong in most communities. There are some, however, who are trying to change the narrative – and they’re doing it through the medium of fairy tales.

“Generation Equality – modern fairy tales”, the first Vietnamese children’s picture books on gender equality, have been debuted earlier this week in Hanoi by UN Women, ChildFund Vietnam and Crabit Kidbooks. The books are available for purchase through the publisher’s website (crabit.vn), and twenty percent of the proceeds from their sales will be donated to the Peace House, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual harassment.

A new children’s book promoting gender equality in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Crabit Kidbooks.

All the stories come with colourful illustrations, surprising plot twists as well as some food for thought for the young reader. On the whole, the book set paints a picture of a sustainable future where children of both genders grow up healthy, are respected and free to follow their dreams without being hindered by prejudice and gender stereotypes.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese society remains largely patriarchal and in terms of progress toward gender equality, Vietnam routinely ranks in the bottom half of the world in various studies, such as the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report. 

While young, educated men in urban areas are becoming more flexible and open-minded about gender roles, the grand majority of Vietnamese men still believe that women should prioritize family over career, and a recent study by the Institute for Social Development Studies in Hanoi found that 93 percent of men think that looking after her family is a woman’s “heavenly duty.” 

Vietnam may have started to turn the corner with regard to gender equality, but there’s not much of a modern fairy-tale happy ending in sight just yet.