Lan faces immense pressure from her family to be more “like a girl.” She is told that she needs long hair and should wear dresses.
“I can’t give you a clear answer about who I am,” she said. “Sometimes I feel I want to become a boy. Other times I think I just want to be a stronger version of myself.
“I kept hearing: ‘A girl should act like this or like that.’ I think that appearance does not reflect what is inside me. Appearance does not mean much, but I have received comments since I was young.”
Bullying from her friends was not a big issue, she thought. As she grew up, it was tolerable.
Dressed in baggy jeans, wearing no makeup, and keeping her hair in a tight ponytail, Lan would frequently hear about how different she was. Preferring to play sports and be outside, people would tell her she was more like a boy than a girl.
Everything changed when she joined Plan International’s Gender-Responsive School Project in 2015.
Lan was chosen to serve as a youth leader, mentor, and peer resource for her classmates. With her peers in the Youth Team Leaders Club, Lan raises awareness about gender-based violence at school, reports incidents of violence, holds debates, and performs in the theater. Issues like discrimination, harassment, and violence are common topics through school-wide communication events and initiatives.
“I am enjoying the friendships I have made here,” she said. “Before joining the club, I was very sensitive about even just sharing my story. Now I feel more comfortable and feel encouraged to be myself.
“I am changing the stereotype of what it means to be a girl. There is no definition of what it means to be a girl. What a man can do, a woman can do, too. I believe life would be better if we didn’t have those stereotypes."
When she gets older, she will continue to break the mold and do what makes her happy.
She will be a police officer.
“When I grow up, I want to join the police squad,” she said. “Whenever I watch movies about the police teams, the only women I see in the films are those working in the police station, doing all the desk work. I want to be in the Special Forces, working to protect people.”