Granted there is excellent golf and even memorable hat making contests at Morgan Run, this month the event to remember was called Women in China: Equality, Power and Change. A delegation of scholars and community leaders joined us all the way from China invited by a nimble non-profit called the Overseas Young Chinese Forum (OYCF.net), founded in 1999 by a group of bright academics including San Diego State University professor Lei Guang who is also the director of the 21st Century China Center based at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy. The goal of this meeting of minds was to share knowledge, exchange ideas, connect communities, identify problems and explore solutions. Here to welcome the OYCF was Anne Hoiberg, President of the Women’s Museum of California, Donna Lilly from the American Association of University Women, and myself from the Women’s International Center, among many others.
When I received my initial invitation I was not sure I would be able to attend the whole conference because it would be mostly in Chinese, but fortunately, like the UNESCO conferences I have been to, there was an excellent translator and listening devices provided to help English speakers when talks were in Chinese, and to help Chinese speakers when we spoke English. To my delight, I was able follow the careful research presented in each talk. It was enlightening to learn about the MeToo movement in China taken up by young feminists in China who have garnered enough attention that even the heavily censored internet there could no longer ignore the thousands of posts about sexual harassment. In recent months, about 40 cases were shared publicly and predictably some were met with push back. As in the US or Europe, the proverbial cat is out of the bag and the former silence surrounding harassment is being chased away internationally: everyone is listening, reacting, and cannot help but reform.
Editor of Women’s Voice Lyu Ping, University of Michigan Professor of Women’s Studies and History Wang Zheng and UC Berkeley Professor Long Yan all did an excellent job reminding us that anyone engaging in a MeToo struggle is not alone. Among other takeaways from this inspiring conference was a sense of unity and common purpose when it comes to addressing gender based injustice. We were all pleased to see half the room filled with enthusiastic gentlemen taking up our cause with lively questions and ideas, this was definitely and fortunately not a women-only event. The case for gender justice and equality can only be made and championed when both genders are fully on board.
Photo: Junling Ma, Bridget McDonald Women’s Int’l Ctr, Women’s Studies Professor Wang Zheng, Anne Hoiberg Women’s Museum
Another compelling draw of this conference was the range of ages and professional disciplines all interacting and freely exchanging ideas. Distinguished senior scholars listened intently to presentations made by participants in the 2019 OYCF Social Innovation Contest which brought together innovators in social reform. Three organizations made their case to our group and we got to vote for a winner. I was so impressed by all three, I hoped they could share the prize equally and then learned that in fact each organization goes home rewarded. One of my favorites was the Shenzhen U Nature Project on Male Participation in Gender Equality which created the “Men’s Monologues” play about the need for more male involvement – yes! Another organization called Xitao is doing a great job through online education to address sexual violence and gender discrimination. There was also the Gay and Lesbian Campus Association of China which has taken on bullying head on with helpful colorful illustrated anti-bullying guidebooks for students and faculty alike.
Finally there was a moving presentation by attorney Lyu Xiaoquan who has worked tirelessly to help rural women protect their land rights. He and his firm are facing traditions that go back thousands of years and when it comes to progress including updating laws, even if there is reform, often in the countryside it is difficult for change to actually happen, just like in the US. I, for one, remain hopeful that despite a slow pace of change sometimes in some places, when there is change that benefits the community — when women are protected, the community is protected — eventually laws are upheld. Laws are only as good as the people who uphold them and ultimately people want a stable society.
After a delicious dinner and a day of doing my best to talk with as many people as I could, I was happy to have a pocket full of business cards and felt a sense of calm yet exhilarated equanimity having spent time with a room full of so many forward-looking committed people. At least with this group, China has never felt closer geographically when it comes to striving for the greater good.
by Bridget McDonald, Ph.D., President Women’s International Center