Empowering women: Wang Xingjuan’s 35-year journey

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Wang Xingjuan, the founder of the Red Maple Center, embarked on an extraordinary journey at the age of 59, dedicating the next 35 years of her life to empowering women and advocating for gender equality.

In September 2023, Wang addressed the 2023 AWDPI Asian Women’s International Development Forum and the 2nd Avoice Chinese Women’s Global Development Forum. In her impassioned speech, she highlighted the legacy of the first generation of female NGO founders, emphasizing their role as trailblazers in grassroots women’s movements. They carved paths through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, driven by an unwavering sense of mission and volunteerism.

However, Wang recognized that every generation has its mission, and hers had now largely stepped back from the frontlines, having achieved its historical tasks. With an earnest plea, she urged the younger generation to carry the torch forward with a strong sense of social responsibility and mission, championing gender equality and women’s empowerment as ideals and pursuits.

At 94 years old, Wang’s dedication to her cause remains as unwavering as ever. A glance at her 2023 calendar reveals a whirlwind of engagements, from attending the Red Maple Volunteer Annual Meeting to delivering speeches and participating in various activities. Her relentless commitment is a testament to her unceasing resolve to effect change.

A voice for women: founding the women’s hotline

Wang Xingjuan’s remarkable journey began with the establishment of China’s first women’s hotline in 1992. Her vision was clear: to provide a direct channel for women to share their experiences, receive support, and make their voices heard. She understood the power of a simple act, like extending a helping hand to someone in despair.

This women’s hotline became a window into the challenges faced by women, offering a deeper understanding of their living conditions. It quickly revealed the struggles of vulnerable groups, such as single mothers.

Empowering women and advocating for change

Wang’s mission expanded to address issues like workplace sexual harassment. She recognized the need for legal and policy changes and initiated dialogue with legislative bodies. Her efforts resulted in the “Anti-Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Proposal”. This initiative marked a significant step toward acknowledging and addressing a critical issue that affects many women in the workplace.

The fight against domestic violence also became a cornerstone of her work. The Women’s Hotline, from its inception, received calls from women facing domestic abuse. In response, she compiled and highlighted mainland China’s first domestic violence case collection, titled “Violence Inside the Castle Walls – Wife Beating”, which received accolades.

In 1998, she extended her support by establishing the Ark Family Center to provide psychological and social services to single-parent families. Her organization’s work has enabled these families to participate in group counselling and various therapeutic workshops, leading to positive changes in their social interactions and parent-child relationships.

Sharing knowledge and making a lasting impact

Wang didn’t stop at offering direct help to women. She believed in the power of knowledge sharing. Under her guidance, her team authored numerous publications, including “Feminism and Psychological Counselling”, a comprehensive guide that has helped hundreds of thousands of women in China.

Beyond that, she has used her considerable experience and insight to drive policy changes. She advocated for women’s psychological health and its integration into the broader fight against domestic violence. She consistently hosted seminars and forums to highlight these issues, making them part of the national conversation.

Her influence extended beyond women’s rights to the education of migrant workers’ children. Wang started various initiatives that have garnered national and international recognition. These initiatives have played a pivotal role in addressing the challenges faced by disadvantaged groups, particularly migrant workers and their families.