The Empowering Phụ Nữ (EPN) Photovoice Project was a pilot project that engaged Vietnamese and womxn-identifying participants (aged 18-29), residing in Tkaronto (Toronto) over seven bi-weekly sessions in photovoice storytelling to discuss cultural identities, gender, and leadership. The project was co-facilitated by Linda Bùi, Julia Huỳnh, and Michelle Nguyễn and our cohort included Monika Lê, Anna Nguyễn, Linda Pham, Vivi To, and Jennifer Trương. Read more about the cohort here!

Project illustrations by Monika Lê and photography by Anna Nguyễn taken at Junto Studio 

Why empowering phụ nữ?

As three young Vietnamese womxn, we’ve experienced firsthand the challenges of navigating life as daughters of the diaspora. We often weren’t taught or encouraged to share our feelings, including within our families. As a result, we have had few spaces where we can safely discuss and process the burdens of patriarchal values. Our lived experiences, therefore, are often underrepresented or even left unheard. 

Furthermore, in popular media, our community is often depicted as victims and Vietnamese womxn especially, are portrayed as both victims and sexualized beings (Phu, 2017). For instance, a Vietnamese womxn is portrayed as a prostitute in the movie Full Metal Jacket from the late 80’s, spewing the infamous quote: “Me love you long time.” Even recent Viet Nam War films continue to perpetuate these stereotypes of  Vietnamese people, including in spring 2020, when author Viet Thanh Nguyen reviewed Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. Nguyen notes that “the Vietnamese appear as the tour guide, the sidekick, the “whore,” the mixed-race child, the beggar and the faceless enemy, all of whom play to American [and Canadian] desires and fears” (Nguyen, 2020).

So, we used photography and storytelling to take back our narratives and empower each other throughout this project. We chose the medium of photography because, in this digital age, it is the most accessible art form where images can be created through one’s phone, tablet, screenshots, and digital collages. 

Screenshot of a slide from our orientation 

What is photovoice?

Watch this mini trailer below created by Linda Pham:

Photovoice is a community-based participatory research action method developed by Caroline Wang and Mary-Ann Burris (1997). It's also described as "ethical photography for social change" ( One of its goals is to empower people to document and tell their own community's stories by putting the camera directly in their hands. In our program, participants learned how to use photovoice and the power of storytelling to explore their Vietnamese identities.

Project Recap & Outcomes

In fall 2021, we shared our call for applications to the Empowering Phụ Nữ Photovoice Project and launched our Instagram @empowered.phunu where we highlighted our cohort! 

Over the course of 6 months, we met virtually via Zoom engaging in photovoice to discuss our cultural and gendered identities through photography and the power of storytelling. 

We trained the cohort in the principles of photovoice, the basics of photography, and held multiple discussions on the power & ethics of storytelling with a focus on informed consent.

We also invited Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyễn, Jessica Nguyễn, King Kimbit, Phuong Nguyễn and Dr. Nhung Trần-Davies as guest speakers to share about their various art practices and life experiences in leadership and activism!

As a final component of the project, we worked together to creatively share our reflections with the community. This culminated into Beyond the Lens, a photo book (physical & digital) that was co-created by the Empowering Phụ Nữ (EPN) Photovoice Project cohort alongside project co-facilitators.

Additionally, a short film was created by Linda Pham to highlight some of our photographs, stories, and reflections (full video is available for viewing below).

To celebrate our collective efforts and stories, we hosted an online launch event on May 25, 2022 during Asian Heritage Month to celebrate the co-created photobook, Beyond the Lens! We were joined by over 40 attendees as we introduced our project, shared some of our photographs, and screened the short film followed by a Q&A. 

A recording of our event is available to watch below:

Beyond the Lens in the community!

Copies of Beyond the Lens have been donated to Tam Restaurant, the Southeast Asian Archive at the University of California Irvine, Friends of Little Saigon Seattle, and purchased by librarians and educators from Metropolitan State University St. Paul, Pitzer College and California State University Long Beach.

An online version of our book is available to read here.

 Impact quotes from the community:

"I love your project and the empowerment of Vietnamese womxn's voices. I hear you about the pains the we as Vietnamese womxn struggled with due to our inability to express, being raised on patriarchal values, etc. and I've myself have worked through this from the healing angle as that is my work now."

- Instagram message from community member

"I read over the website and it is so amazing to learn from Vietnamese womxn youth's perspectives. Kudos to you all for initiating the project.

I'm looking forward to seeing more and more Vietnamese womxn being empowered."

-email exchange with community member

"Congratulations! This is such inspiring and soul lifting work and thank you for sharing this with all of us!"

- community member's message during the launch of Beyond the Lens

"You guys are such an amazing, accomplished group of individuals. Thank you for your vulnerability and openness to share your stories and experiences. I am [a] big sister proud of everyone here! <3"

- community member's message during the launch of Beyond the Lens

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Cảm ơn to ArtReach Toronto and Toronto Arts Council for funding and supporting this program!

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