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home : community : community Wednesday, May 22, 2019

3/21/2017 4:34:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Global Hmong Women's Summit 2016

By Amy Doeun

During the week of December 19-24th over 100 Hmong women from 6 countries: the United States, France, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and China gathered in Thailand to discuss their shared experience and plans to build for the future. Hmong Times spoke with Bo Thao Urabe and Kaying Yang about their experience at the summit.

Urabe said, "This was the first time in history we have come together like this. No one organization sponsored it; there were a lot of individual organizers through a campaign. We felt called to build our future." This network of organizers from across the United States and Southeast Asia was instrumental in planning the summit.

Also there were no planned workshops or significant keynote speakers. "It was a really an opportunity for all of us to learn from each other and discuss how to support each other and move forward, the focus was not only one keynote speaker, everyone that came worked on women's and girl's issue and LBGT issues," continued Urabe. The "workshops" or breakout sessions evolved from their discussions.

Both Urabe and Yang have worked in the non-profit sector for over 20 years. Yang said, "We have been executive directors, we are women as well, my passion is supporting women and ending gender based violence. I have always gravitated towards supporting the women's movement." Yang spent a period of time living in Southeast Asia. She said of the experience, "Having the opportunity to live and work in Southeast Asia over the last 10 years has really helped propel me to do more global organizing. When I returned to the U.S. we talked about how to bring women together."

She added, "I felt there was a shared experience that is impeding progress collectively. We have to be at the table to discuss how to end injustices."

Urabe said, "I have spent my life working on social justice in a variety of communities. In order to build communities that are vibrant, if women and children are not doing well then the community is not doing well. That happens even here in U.S. We need to think that what happens here impacts what happens in other countries."

The summit was also a celebration. "This was the first opportunity for Hmong women from multiple countries to come together, and see the intelligence of Hmong women who weren't thinking only about themselves but their communities and building a future. I felt inspired by that," Urabe went on to say.

Yang added, "I think what is important to know is all of us came from other countries [but] we shared Hmong traditions and practices, many of them are harmful to women. What someone was saying in Vietnam resonated with what was happening in U.S. The dominate culture does not understanding our spirituality and [may] not [be] able to help us deal with gender violence. That was something we all shared at the table. As Hmong women we knew the issues immediately. There is a lack of resources and education. So many of us in the U.S. we don't experience that but as far as the gender experience we all share that. We need to think more about how we can support women and children and ultimately help lift their experiences out of poverty."

"Even without the shared experiences of poverty and lack of resources there are cultural nuances that keep us from reaching our destinies. Even if I am very successful even if I live in the Hmong community there are roles that I am expected to fulfill. We needed that safe space to be able to talk," Yang said.

Urabe shared that the experience of living in a community or village is still very strong in other parts of the world, "People still identify with their Hmongness. That identity means that everyone has a lot of similar experiences. The shared experience is very strong. And that can be a good thing in offering support especially in areas were a dominant culture does not have the infrastructure to provide support and safety. Trafficking is still a form of gender-based violence. Over there they have no infrastructure, we are really trying to change the cultural rules and practices. We learned a lot from each other. The reality is that all over the world very few Hmong women get to go to school."

Yang added, "When the community still lives in close proximity to each other like villages they have the ability to organize. Here the organizing is not as regular, there is more distance."

When asked whether future gatherings were in the works Urabe said, "There is a great desire to see a future gathering but people are also really wanting to go home and support each other and move forward. We want people to be able to do what is needed in their community before we get together again."

Yang said, "Everyone needs time to reflect and process that is the reality. One woman from Vietnam said she felt stronger knowing that there is so many others thinking about what needs to be done."

"It is important to note that the summit was supported by hundreds of Hmong women in this country that supported us. We didn't have to apply for any grants. This is the kind of commitment that we have to each other. This really motivated me." Yang said. Urabe added, "This wouldn't have happened without the support of so many others." In addition to monetary support from women in this country a lot of women from Thailand and Southeast Asia helped organize the event.

St. Paul, MN



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