Wonder Women

I am truly in awe of the women working in China NGOs. Much of the vocabulary I learned this week revolved around adjectives I could use to describe the work these women do: “tai4hao3le,” (very good), or “ling4ren2zhen4fen4” (inspiring), for example. But, unlike the wonder that stems from the brazen acts of their box office, Amazonian counterpart, the wonder these women engender stems entirely from their inconspicuous acts.

Perhaps drawing parallels with comic book heroes seems hyperbolic, but it’s the best way to describe the acts these women perform in China. Peony is the editor and project manager of the Disabled Association of Women’s Support Group (DAWS). With the recent change in China’s NGO laws and the lack of funding for their project, the DAWS staff members have worked incredibly hard to procure resources to aid women with disabilities who are victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.

As an emblem for women with disabilities, DAWS abandons the gold lasso of truth for empowerment. Their mission is to help women with disabilities feel confident with their bodies and their place in society. This week, Peony and I visited several other NGOs, many of which are working for gender equality or disability rights. I felt a great sense of solidarity amongst these organizations. I met with one Parents’ Federation for Children with Disabilities; the mothers working at the organization promote inclusive education, special needs training for educators, and employment opportunities after graduation. They have successfully placed almost 20 people with disabilities in full-time positions. 

Beijing has made some great innovations to assist those with physical disabilities; last week, I witnessed a successful start-up of an accessibility taxi service. This week, I learned almost all public sidewalks have a grated/textured strip that runs along the inside of the pavement to help guide the blind or visually impaired.

Each time Peony and I left the office to visit other NGOs, we received a lot of attention. I imagine the picture of the two of us walking down the street – a woman with disabilities (many people with disabilities avoid the public eye) and a blonde-haired foreigner –  was quite striking. But, instead of shrinking from the constant stares and not-always-so-subtle pictures, Peony proposed a research project. Therefore, next week, I will begin a research project about staring culture and how it affects people with disabilities – especially their autonomy and bodily confidence. I look forward to the opportunity to really dig into comparative law and the sociology of staring.

Now for a cultural detour: Dancing ayīs! China is incredibly family-oriented. Sons and daughters care for their elderly parents. In turn, instead of daycare services, grandparents help to raise young children while the parents are at work. To sustain the familial culture, China rather cleverly designed living districts that encourage community and friendship. Even though I’ve only been here a couple weeks, I already recognize the same grandparents and the same adorable babies on their stroller strolls around the neighborhood in the morning and afternoon. In the evening, many neighborhood grandmothers (ayīs) get together to dance in common areas. Dancing keeps the ayīs active, but it also provides a fun environment for the entire community. Families come out to watch their ayīs perform a beautiful dance to traditional music, or to kick it into high gear with more modern tunes – young children often wriggle in-between ayīs trying to join in.

Next week on Lo’s blog (this is feeling episodic, no?), I will provide some insight on my research project; and Dorronda and I will carve out major calf muscles climbing the Great Wall! I promise plentiful pictures and maybe a subtle Nike ad placement.