Herstory: The Trung Sisters – Brave Heroines of Vietnamese History

Perhaps the most significant women in the history of Vietnam are the Trung sisters, who in 40 A.D. became responsible for steering the very first Vietnamese national uprising against Chinese conquerors who had been ruling Vietnam for more than 247 years. Their acts of bravery are so significant that if they had not done what they did then, Vietnam would not be enjoying the liberties it now does and would likely still be under Chinese rule.

trung sisters

Trung sisters atop giant war elephants, image courtesy of http://saigoneer.com/

The two sisters were named Trung Trac, who was the elder and Trung Nhi, the younger. They were born (dates were unaccounted) in the province of Giao Chi, which is now known as Northern Vietnam. They came from a very prominent family, given that their father was General Lac of Me Linh province, and a powerful lord. Living in a military family meant that the Trung sisters were well trained in the martial arts. They spent a good amount of time studying the complicated art of warfare and honed their fighting skills.

The Trung sisters were fortunate enough to experience growing up years that allowed them freedom and certain liberties that were not given to women in the centuries that soon followed their time. These included the right to inherit property that belonged to their mother and they had the freedom to become traders, political leaders, judges and warriors, among others.

A neighboring official came to visit the Me Linh province and brought his son, Thi Sach with him and was introduced to Trung Trac. The two met, fell in love and were soon wed. Thi Sach – a man who was noted for his bravery and fearless disposition, seemed the fitting groom to a fearless and spirited woman such as Trung Trac. For the people in their village, their union symbolized hope as the couple both came from military families and displayed the kind of spirit needed to revolt against the ruling Chinese.

At this time, the Vietnamese were under the rule of To Dinh, a Chinese governor who had made life harsh for everyone. Trung Trac’s husband Thi Sach was also known for being very vocal against the Chinese and had more than once made a stand against their harsh rule. His most significant one is a protest against unjust and increasing tax rates. It has been said that the final straw that spurred the Trung sisters to action was when To Dinh had had Thi Sach killed as a warning to all those who dared stand against the Chinese rulers. Instead of mourning her husband and quietly retreating to their home, his widow was instead moved to do something about the situation of their people. Brave Trung Trac had had enough, and sought to mobilize the people of Vietnam against the Chinese.

Along with her sister Trung Nhi, the two committed acts that were evidence of their bravery and ability to lead the people against the Chinese. These included slaying a people-eating tiger and later on using its skin to compose a proclamation that urged the people of Vietnam to follow their lead in the revolt against the Chinese.

Their acts of bravery inspired 80,000 people to form the Trung sisters’ army. From this number, thirty-six women (including their own mother) were handpicked to become generals. Many have mentioned that this particular piece of information about Vietnam’s history points to the society at that time being a matriarchal one.

Summoning knowledge and experience about the art of warfare from their growing up years, the Trung sisters guided these young, unskilled women through intensive training to become fearless generals that drove the unwanted Chinese conquerors out of Vietnamese territory in 40 A.D. Trung Nhi, in particular, was said to be the better warrior between the two, and led the army to liberate sixty-five fortresses. Trung Tac, on the other hand, was more ideal as a politician and leader – and this soon became a reality when the people ended up proclaiming her as their ruler, with Trung Nhi serving as her co-regent and top advisor.

Trung Trac was renamed “Trung Vuong” (She-king Trung) and established a royal court in the Me Linh area of the Hong River plain. With the good of the people in mind, one of her first mandates included abolishing the much-hated tribute taxes, which was an imposition of the Chinese. Trung Vuong also sought to rid the Vietnamese government of any leftover Chinese influence, making things simpler and more in keeping with their traditional Vietnamese values.

Life for the Trung sisters and for Vietnam did not settle down peacefully after their victory against the Chinese, and the next three years brought about frequent clashes with the government of China in Vietnam. Finally, the Vietnamese army was out-armed by the Chinese and was defeated in 43 A.D.

Legend says that instead of surrendering and accepting defeat, the Trung sisters chose to commit suicide, as is the Vietnamese tradition of keeping one’s honor. Stories circulate about how they came to pass, with some saying they chose to drown in the river and others – more legendary than factual in nature – say that they had disappeared off into the clouds.

trung sis procession

Procession honoring the Trung sisters, image courtesy of http://www.trumanlibrary.org/

Contemporary Vietnam has not forgotten the sacrifices made by the brave Trung sisters, with temples built in their honor scattered around the country, and their memory celebrated every year through a national holiday (Hai Ba Trung Day) in their honor.

The valor of the Trung sisters is a reminder to today’s society of what can be accomplished with passion, bravery and courage. These Vietnamese national heroines are indeed real symbols of resistance and independence and their uncommon story, as female war heroes, should not be forgotten.













Herstory: Ang Sang Suu Kyi, The Face of Nonviolent Revolution in Burma

Ang Sang Suu Kyi is one of the most important contemporary icons of democracy. She is an admirable and fearless woman who set aside everything to fight for the Burmese people’s freedom and human rights. She is an epitome of strength without the need for violence.

aung san suu kyi

Image courtesy of jpaingphoto.wordpress.com

Ang San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon on June 19, 1945, one of three children. Aung San, her father, was the founder of the modern Burmese army and the man who sought to liberate Burma from the British Empire. He was assassinated by his enemies two years later.

In 1960, Ang Sang Suu Kyi went to India to live with her mother, graduating with a political degree in New Delhi. Her further education was obtained at Oxford, where she was awarded her BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1969. Soon after, she moved to New York and worked for three years at the UN, focusing on budget matters. In 1972, she married Dr. Michael Aris. They had two sons together, Alexander and Kim, and lived between the US, England and India during the 70s and 80s.


Aung San Su Kyi’s mother meets her grandson Alexander for the first time, Michael Aris at the back (1974). Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/

Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988 in order to take care of her dying mother. The political situation in Burma at this time saw the resignation of the Burmese dictator U Ne Win. He left the country to be led by a military junta, but was still active in orchestrating violent acts against those who had continued to protest against him. At this time, Burma was renamed as the Union of Myanmar.

Suu Kyi in particular became very vocal against U Ne Win. In August 1988, she spoke in front of 500,000 people at a rally in front of the capital’s Shwedagon Pagoda, appealing for a much-needed democratic government. This had caught the junta’s attention and she was placed under house arrest in 1989. While she had the option to leave the country and be free, she insisted on staying and being part of the struggle. She was determined to see the junta free all political prisoners and return Burma to a civilian government.

Suu Kyi’s first house arrest ended in July 1995, and she remained busy for the next couple of years attending to the founding of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and working to become part of congress – still under military harrassment. In 1998, she set up the representative committee and declared it to be the legitimate ruling body of the country; two years later in September 2000 she was placed under house arrest by the junta for this action.

Her second house arrest ended in May 2002, but a year later she was again placed on house arrest after the NLD clashed with some pro-government demonstrators in a street bout. From then on, her sentence was renewed yearly and even with the international community coming to her assistance each time, she was still not released.

MYANMAR. Rangoon. 1995. Daw Aung San SUU KYI, nonviolent activist and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize

Suu Kyi spent her time reading during her house arrest, image courtesy of http://heroinesofhistory.wikispaces.com/

In May 2009, Suu Kyi was due to be released but ended up being arrested again because of a violation of her house arrest terms when she allowed an intruder to stay two nights in her house.

The UN declared Suu Kyi’s detention to be illegal, based on Myanmar’s law, that same year. But despite this, Suu Kyi still went to trial and received a three year prison sentence, which was later reduced to eighteen months. Many had believed that such ruling was only made to keep her from running in the upcoming multiparty parliamentary elections.

To show their support for Suu Kyi, the NLD disbanded as a result of their refusal to re-register their party. Because of this, there was no opposition on the government parties that ran and won most of the legislative seats, subsequently receiving fraud charges soon after. Six days after this election, Suu Kyi was again released from her house arrest.

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is freed

Suu Kyi’s first move as a free woman was to greet thousands of supporters and photographers who were gathered outside her house (November 2010), image courtesy of http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

During her two decade long stay in Burma, Suu Kyi had to endure the pain of separation from her family – her husband and her two sons. It was a difficult decision she had made to put her country first and family second. Even more tragic was not being present when her husband Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and died two years later. She rarely saw her sons during the period of her house arrests.

The NLD announced that they would re-register as a political party in November 2011, and two months later Suu Kyi formally registered to run for a parliament seat. After a long and exhausting campaign, they announced that Suu Kyi victoriously won a seat in April 2012. On May 2 of the same year, she took her oath as a member of parliament and assumed office.

aung san oath

(May 2, 2012) Ang San Suu Kyi taking her oath together with the elected members of the parliament, Image courtesy of www.asianews.it

Suu Kyi won several awards in recognition of her fight for peace and democracy. In 1990, she was the recipient of the Rafto prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In 1991, she was given the Nobel Prize for Peace, with her two sons accepting the award on her behalf. She used the 1.3 million dollar prize money to form a health and educational trust for the people of Myanmar.

The following two years she gained two more awards: the International Simon Bolivar Prize and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award, among other honors and accolades. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in December 2007 by the US House of Representatives, following an impressive 400-0 voting. In May of 2008, then president George Bush had signed this vote into law, thus making Suu Kyi the first person to ever receive such a prize even while imprisoned.

Aung San Suu Kyi visit to Berlin, Germany - 10 Apr 2014

Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/

Now at the age of 69, Ang Sang Suu Kyi is still very much involved in Myammar politics as opposition leader in the present parliament. While there is still much to do in Myanmar’s journey towards full democracy, Ang Sang Suu Kyi has done more – and continues to do more than her part in a noble mission that benefits the people of Myanmar today and tomorrow.

Through it all, she has demonstrated power and the ability to make a radical change even in the most unfortunate circumstances – the mark of a truly inspiring woman.




Herstory: Corazon C. Aquino, A Leadership of Love and Democracy

As the first female president of the Republic of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino – or Cory, as she is fondly called – is best known for leading the Filipino people into the 1986 People Power Revolution and eventually restoring democracy in the country.


Image courtesy of junglekey.com

Born the sixth of eight children on January 25, 1933 in the province of Tarlac, Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco hailed from a wealthy family of Chinese, Spanish and Filipino descent that was known in both the banking and political spheres of that time.

The young Cory was said to be very shy, studious and a devout faithful of the Catholic Church. She lived in Manila until the age of thirteen when she moved to the United States, eventually earning her bachelor’s degrees in French and Mathematics from the New York-based College of Mount St. Vincent in 1953. She returned to Manila and had started a law degree when she met Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, who, like Cory, hailed from a family that was considerably wealthy. The ambitious journalist caught her eye, and Cory abandoned her law school plans to instead get married.

Ninoy’s career path switched from being a journalist to being a politician, and within the span of two decades he rose up the ranks of politics until he eventually became a senator. Throughout these times, Cory remained staunchly supportive of her husband’s political career but preferred to stay out of the limelight. In the background she was raising their large family of five children and raising funds for her husband’s campaign, which had made things very tight financially for them.


Ninoy and Cory Aquino’s union bore 1 son and 4 daughters, image courtesy of president.gov.ph

Ninoy challenged the dictatorship of then president Ferdinand Marcos frequently and was eventually imprisoned for eight years by Marcos. In 1980 he was permitted to go to the US for medical treatment on agreement to never return. During this time abroad, Cory stepped into the limelight more, passing on Ninoy’s messages to the media for the people.

In 1983, on the day he arrived back in the Philippines, he was assassinated.

Ninoy’s assassination was the last straw for the Filipino people, who had been suffering in a deteriorating country under the rule of the Marcos regime. With a government neck-deep in debt and the desire for a candidate to finally depose Marcos, Cory assumed her husband’s place as opposition leader and ran in a snap election which Marcos himself had initiated. At first, Cory showed reluctance in running, but with the support of one million signatures that was the evidence of the Filipino people’s trust in her, she agreed to run against Marcos for the presidency.

The election period saw Marcos resorting to degrading remarks to ridicule Cory’s campaign, using sexist statements to put her down. But while Marcos stated that Cory was “just a woman” and had a place in the bedroom and not in politics, Cory simply answered with “May the better woman win in this election.” Not only was her gender attacked; her lack of political experience was also scoffed at. To this, the young widow responded with honesty: that unlike Marcos, she admittedly had no experience in lying to the people, cheating, stealing money and having political opponents assassinated.

The snap elections of February 1986 declared Marcos as the winner, and the entire country was outraged at the fraud. As she never believed in violence being the solution, Cory still called for peaceful civil disobedience protests and mass boycotts as well as organized strikes against the media and various businesses owned by the Marcos family.

Through these acts of peaceful and effective demonstrations, the Filipino people all the more supported Cory and eventually gathered together for the People Power Revolution. This peaceful demonstration was comprised of thousands of people from all walks of life and religious orders. Despite sending out tanks and armed troops, noone was harmed and many of the troops eventually came to side with the peaceful demonstrators. By the end of the month, Marcos fled to Hawaii and Cory was installed as the first female president of the Philippines on February 25, 1986. This same year, Cory also became TIME magazine’s choice for Woman of the Year.


The Peaceful People Power Revolution (1986), image courtesy of manilaspeak.com

At the onset, Cory’s presidency was all about helping the country recover from the trials borne out of the Marcos dictatorship years. She had a new constitution drafted and created the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG), a unit assigned to go after the ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the Marcos family. Her presidency had a strong emphasis on human rights and civil liberties; she and her cabinet had numerous peace talks with a number of Muslim secessionists and communist insurgents. The economy also experienced a bit of breathing space as the Aquino government was able to pay off US $4 billion worth of debts. Her time as president was not an easy one, with so many things to repair and numerous Marcos supporters that made coup attempts on her governance, but she remained faithful to her promise of serving the Filipino people.

When her term came to end in 1992, there was much clamor for the popular president to run for a reelection. However, Cory strongly declined all requests for her to extend her term. She was a true model when she opted to show her capability to be both a good president and citizen, unlike Marcos who wanted to remain in power indefinitely. She graciously and willingly stepped down and made way for her successor Fidel Ramos, who also happened to be her defense secretary during her administration. But despite the end of her term and return to normal citizen life, she still remained to be vocal and opinionated about important political issues that came to rise after her term.

In 2009, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino passed away due to colon cancer. Her passing drew global attention, and thousands were present at her wake and funeral. Global figures had their share of acclaims for Cory, including Hillary Clinton and Pope Benedict XVI giving their own words about Cory’s bravery, steadfast commitment to freedom, strong rejection of violence and overall love for her countrymen and women.


Philippines at the funeral of the Mother of Democracy, image courtesy of foreignpolicy.com

Cory served with sincerity, and a love for the Filipino people. Her journey from being a homemaker to becoming an advocate of democracy and respected politician represents an extraordinary metamorphosis and she remains a powerful icon in the Philippines, Asia and around the world as a leader who brought forth momentous and radical change in this world.


There are also great articles documenting her life on the following websites:




Check Corazon Aquino’s life in photos:


To read inspirational quotes by Corazon Aquino:


Sorry, but could you possibly, when you have a minute, read this blog post?


Read This.

Which sounds better?


The other day I sent my sister an SMS. This is my sister, not a work colleague, a boss, or a stranger – my sister. It read-

“When you get a chance can you please send me the height and width of that bookcase and I’ll try to sort out a pick-up xx”

I sent it. While I waited for a reply I scanned my message again. Hang on, I’ve done it again, I thought.

I struggle with passive, weak language. It slips out of my mouth without warning, it hides in my smses and emails. I’ve actively tried, in the last few years, to be more direct and firm. To simply state what I want without apologizing. I am getting better, but obviously still have a way to go. So why didn’t I send her a message more like this:

“Hey sis, send me those bookcase dimensions and I’ll organize a pick up. Thanks.” ?

Still polite and friendly, but direct and clear. There’s a few reasons. And its common to many women. Judith Baxter, author of The Language of Female Leadership researched women in UK board rooms over an 18 month timeframe and discovered women are four times more likely than men to use weak language and to second guess themselves. Why do we do this?

  • To avoid conflict
  • To downplay our own power
  • To be liked

Who do men not feel the need to gain approval from their audience? Why do they feel comfortable with their own power?

My guess its that it is years of practice and habit. These things are inculcated over years of watching our mothers, fathers and teachers. They are learnt as teenagers, reading magazines and watching movies. As teens we love to copy, to play roles and we pick up language nuances subconsciously. Eventually those roles become part of our persona. We daren’t be the bossy, brash one; we are terrified of being cast out of the group.

To be an effective leader, business owner and role model to my daughter and son, I am making a commitment to change these habits. To stand strong with my own power and to believe in myself and my needs. I am not a teenager playing roles, I am my own person and my words have value and power. I want my daughter to see this strength.


So whats my action plan?

To start by observing:

Listen to myself and others. Be hyperaware of language.

Re-read my SMSes and emails closely.

And then edit.

Edit myself – think before speaking.

Edit my emails and SMSes – scan each and every one and remove passive, meaningless words.

There are a few usual suspects. Words that slip easily into the conversation, words that belittle and reduce our own power without us even realizing it:


“I’m just going to pop down to the shops.”

“I’d just like to thank everyone for coming today.”

Why just? Why not be direct?

“I’m off to the shops.”

“Thank you for coming today.”

Doesn’t it sounds more confident, more credible?



It’s nice to apologize if you’ve made a mistake or arrived late to a meeting. But sometimes we apologize for no reason whatsoever.

This is from Jessica Bennett’s article on Time.com:

“Once, I was my trying to leave a bookstore and my way was blocked by a woman who was sitting on the floor,” screenwriter Nell Scovell tells me. “I hesitated and was about to turn around when she noticed and started to get up. ‘Sorry,’ she said, because she’d been blocking my path. ‘Sorry,’ I said, because I made her move. Then she bumped another woman who turned around and said, you guessed it, ‘Sorry.’ Three grown women all apologizing to each other for no reason in under five seconds.



I use ‘maybe’ all the time:

“Maybe we should go out to dinner this weekend.”

“Maybe I’ll go and have a shower quickly before we leave.”

Remove those ‘maybe’s’ from the beginning of the sentence and the words sing out clear and true – I want to go out to dinner, I want to have a shower, so why add those unnecessary words?!



As above – a really unnecessary power stealer that sits at the beginning of our sentences.

“I think I need to get a haircut.”

“I think we need to relook at the financials before making a decision.”

Take out ‘I think’ and these sentences are strong and direct.


The small changes we make can have large effects when they ripple out. Small changes in language can help you feel stronger and more confident.

Since I’ve made the transition to full time working mum, from stay at home mum, I’ve had to force myself to put MY needs first. If I have to stay late or go to a function – the household is going to have to deal with that.

Since I have started being more direct I have discovered it is easier to put myself first, to feel confident in my power and my journey – and to realize my value as a nourished, working mother to my kids.

I hope that as I continue with my conscious observation and editing, this confidence will continue to grow and take roots in all other aspects of my life.


What is your experience with passivity and weak words?

Take time to observe your language for a couple of days and see where you can improve.

Let me know how it goes!


Further reading:





Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – esp. pages 26 – 30