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YWCA Goes Global: Lessons from YWCA of Taiwan

Published on 19/07/2019 by Sydney Piggott

YWCA Canada’s Manager of Programs & Projects, Sydney Piggott, was one of 30 young leaders selected for the 2019 Mosaic Taiwan Fellowship – an international diplomacy program for Canadian and American students and young professionals offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Taiwan’s Vibrant Democracy

From June 10 to 21, I was honoured with the opportunity to explore the vibrant culture and democracy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a Mosaic Taiwan fellow. Although I was brimming with excitement, having never been to Taiwan before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did some digging before I got on my 14-hour flight from Toronto to Taipei to expand my knowledge on the language, society, and political structure of the region. But no amount of research could have predicted the transformative experience I had learning from colleagues, experts, and peers.

Source: Mosaic Taiwan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Republic of China

Throughout the fellowship, I met with business leaders, university professors, non-government organizations, and political leaders who each shared their unique perspective on Taiwan’s evolution into an open and democratic society that supports human rights and gender equality. Exploring areas of shared values and challenges between the two regions was particularly valuable. For example, Taiwan recently became the first place in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage after thousands of protestors and activists spent years advocating for further recognition of LGBTQIA+ communities; however, I heard from many organizations that there is still a lot of work to be done to shift homophobic cultural norms in the region. Additionally, the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been making efforts to improve relationships with Indigenous communities, but many are seeking greater action – especially as it relates to land rights.

Source: Mosaic Taiwan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Republic of China

One of the biggest highlights from the trip was meeting Vice President Chen Chien-jen (pictured below) and learning about his leadership journey from Minister of Health to Vice President, as well as that of President Tsai Ing-wen, the first woman elected to the office in Taiwan’s short democratic history. While there is still a long way to go to advance the rights of all women and gender and sexual minorities, it’s great to see Taiwan emerge as a leader on these issues in Asia. Everything from the delicious food, to the beautiful landscapes, to the remarkable kindness of every person I met made this fellowship an experience that will impact my life and work for years to come.

Source: Mosaic Taiwan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Republic of China

 

Sharing Experiences with YWCA of Taiwan

Being part of the YWCA is like being part of a global family and I couldn’t leave without paying a visit to my colleagues at YWCA of Taiwan. Ping Lee, General Secretary of YWCA of Taiwan (pictured below, left), graciously invited me to present YWCA Canada’s work to a group of colleagues from across the island. Over the course of a few hours, I was able to share our work to support women, girls, and non-binary people across Canada and learn from the innovative work being done in Taiwan. I shared best practices and strategies for engaging young women and non-binary youth through YWCA Canada initiatives like the Think Big! Lead Now! Young Women’s National Leadership Program and the Think Big <Look Back> Start Small project that supports youth councils in 14 communities across the country. We also explored common advocacy objectives such as ending gender-based violence and supporting the economic empowerment of women furthest from opportunity.

I had the pleasure of learning about the diverse initiatives offered by YWCAs across Taiwan including programs to support newcomer women from Southeast Asia, wellness programs for youth and seniors, and conferences and training sessions to build capacity for the women’s movement regionally and globally. It’s clear that YWCA has a significant impact of the lives of women and girls in Taiwan and has been at the forefront of social change for decades.

A Global Movement

The opportunity to connect with a YWCA on the other side of the world was incredible. Despite working in very different contexts, we were able to connect around the common themes of our work from young women’s leadership to gender-based violence to women’s economic empowerment. It’s very grounding to be able to feel a connection to a larger global movement – in fact, YWCA is the largest women’s movement in the world! It impressed upon me that the work that we do at YWCA Canada is contributing to gender equity on an international scale and I’m so proud to play a small role creating positive change for women and girls.

I’m looking forward to further collaboration with colleagues across the globe at World YWCA Council in November 2019 and continue to support young women transforming power structures.

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