A Week With Taiwan’s Most Inspiring Eco-feminists

Last month, I represented the Women’s Environment and Development Organization at a regional conference on women’s empowerment and climate change hosted and facilitated by the Homemakers United Foundation (HUF) in Taipei, Taiwan. Apart from delivering a keynote speech at the conference, I also participated in local preparatory meetings, breakout sessions on energy transition, panels on women’s human rights in the context of climate change, and site visits to feminist led environmental initiatives. The four days spent in Taipei resulted in an invaluable experience filled with learning and knowledge sharing, as well as alliance and movement building. Read below to learn more about the inspiring Eco-feminists that are leading the environmental movement in Taiwan.

In times of great uncertainty — when women’s rights, indigenous peoples rights, and the integrity of the environment are constantly under attack — it can be difficult to tirelessly resist, imagine alternatives, and find silver linings. My trip to Taiwan was timely, to say the least, as I had the privileged opportunity to spend four days with fierce and incredible Eco-feminists that not only inspired me but restored hope. Through interactive sessions, individual conversations, and informative site visits, HUF and partners reminded me that positive, transformational change can happen and is happening — from small scale projects and community owned cooperatives to massive national mobilizations and progressive policies.

Our cohort for the duration of the trip consisted of Soyoung Leeahn from the Korean Women’s Environmental Network (KWEN) and Edward Chan from Partnerships for Community Development (PCD) as well as partners and members of the HUF team. The first day was spent getting to know each other in terms of our work and experience and learning about HUF’s rich history (over 30 years). The organization has an impressive, current reach of over 70,000 active citizens.

Each member in our group brought forth a different perspective that allowed for deep and holistic dialogue on issues such as adaptation in urban and rural areas, feminist driven green lifestyles, and gender responsive climate policy. We also had the opportunity to visit the Foundation for Women’s Rights Promotion and Development at the Taiwan Women’s Center as well as participate in a Women’s Rights and Empowerment Forum. Although Taiwan is often ranked high in terms of women’s political participation, there is a clear gender gap in terms of societal norms, pressures and expectations (household roles and unpaid care work) and education and employment rates. This helped to frame why many local Eco-feminists focus on empowering women to lead on environmental issues starting from the angle of livelihoods and households. Familiarizing ourselves with the landscape in terms of women’s rights issues in Taiwan really set the stage for the actual conference the following day where we delved into the topic at the intersection of the environment and climate change.

HUF volunteers preparing for the conference | Photo credit: HUF

The conference was invaluable — from start to finish — there were constant interactions among panelists, decision-makers, media, participants, advocates and activists. The auditorium was packed, questions posed were complex and the breakout sessions resulted in concrete recommendations on next steps and the way forward. The sessions were balanced in terms of global views and regional and national examples and included conversations on:

Low Carbon Living: how to cut carbon emissions in daily lives through behavior change

Public Involvement in Energy Transition: How to engage the public in the transition

Building Green Communities: How to support low carbon community based initiatives

Breakout session on how to engage the public in energy transtion | Photo credit: HUF

During the energy transition panel, I was invited to explain the concept of a just transition and highlighted the importance of achieving the transition in an effective manner while ensuring that the process is safe, sound and “people-centered” (rights and community). Among many aspects highlighted from a WEDO perspective, the inputs that people resonated with most, were the importance of ensuring an intersectional lens as well as upholding human rights and social justice in all climate actions and policies. The day wrapped up by an impromptu conversation with local indigenous leaders, Nabu Husungan Istanda and Panai Kusui as well as documentary filmmaker Mayaw Biho, who were leading a protest against the newly announced guidelines on the delineation of traditional indigenous territories. The guidelines specify that private land should not be considered or recognized as traditional indigenous territory. The group was demonstrating a sit-in protest in front of the Presidential Office on Ketagalan Boulevard and had been there for more than 10 days. Throughout the demonstration, they were also joined by over 200 indigenous community members as well as members of the Indigenous Youth Front. We spent the evening learning from the leaders and supporting the community and their message through actions of solidarity.

Panai Kusui and allies explaining the demonstration and issues affecting local indigenous peoples

The national context was evident throughout the presentations and interventions and especially during the last day at the Environmental Activist Forum and during the site visits to the food, energy coops, and the low carbon emission community. In the past decade, the number and intensity of typhoons has escalated in Taiwan and has threatened among many things, the food supply. In addition, in a given year, Taiwan experiences only 23 days of clean air so as you can imagine, this is one of the main challenges that Eco-feminists are tackling in addition to the interlinked, continuous battles on 1) nuclear use and expansion 2) waste and plastic reduction and 3) elimination of GMO products. There has been progress on some of these issues, slowly but surely. For example, HUF leaders worked tirelessly on a now approved law that eliminates the use of GMO products in all school lunches across the country. In addition to this impressive initiative, HUF is implementing educational workshops on sustainable food production in primary and secondary schools. Similarly, in Taipei, HUF and their partners have successfully started a renewable energy cooperative. The cooperative consists of installing solar panels, producing energy that then is sold, and the money made is then used to expand the cooperative. The cooperative functions with the participation of shareholders which are mostly women and some youth. HUF hopes that the model will prove to be successful and be replicated in other urban communities.

Presentations by feminist led initiatives at the Environmental Activist Forum
Site visit to a local feminist led food cooperative

Particularly striking was the focus on awareness raising and education for children and youth on issues like climate change, sustainable food production and alternative forms of energy. Nearly every organization encountered during the event had published a children’s book or series on one of the issues mentioned and many were accompanied by interactive workshops and curricula for schools. The other trend I noticed was the use of “Eco-maps” (grid street maps), which visually outline where individuals can support locally owned sustainable stores, food cooperatives, energy cooperatives; a very practical tool that is being used by multiple organizations. Another observation was the intentional / conscious effort and consistency in modeling the principles of sustainability and feminism across every event that we participated in. In other words, everything was reusable, Eco-friendly and there was no use of plastic and very minimal waste. Lastly, it was inspiring to see the use of creative campaigns and the combination of art and activism in every aspect of the conference and forums and by almost every organization and individual.

Needless to say, HUF, partners and Eco-feminists across Taiwan are making positive strides towards a more healthy and peaceful planet and setting an example, not only for fellow citizens but other countries and communities. There is an immense opportunity for continued relationship building, collaboration and mobilization with similar initiatives across many regions. You can find out more about the work of these groups here and here.

2017 Women’s Empowerment & Climate Change Conference — Taipei, Taiwan | Photo credit: HUF
Environmental Activist Forum — Taipei, Taiwan | Photo credit: HUF

Juliana Vélez Uribe

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Juliana Vélez Uribe is currently Advocacy and Projects Associate at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO).