Chinese Women in Environmental Protection

May 27, 2014
By Zhang YUan, Zhang Jiamin and An YiEditor: Frank Zhao

Women's desire to live in an ecologically sound environment all but ensures they will pay greater attention — compared with men — to environmental protection. Many women, either individually or as members of organizations, are engaged in environmental protection efforts in China. Their goal? To protect the country's ecology.

Throughout history, women the world over have played important roles in protecting the environment. Silent Spring, a book written by Rachel Carson, an outstanding biologist in the United States, was published in 1962. The concept of environmental protection was born out of that book. Carson explained how pesticides had harmed people, and she suggested the world might undergo an ecological crisis. After the book was published, governments of various countries enacted environmental-protection laws and several environmental-protection organizations — both governmental and nongovernmental (NGO) — were established.

A decade later, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, capital of Sweden. Barbara Ward, a British economist, delivered a report, entitled "Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet," during which she said the Earth was the only planet on which people lived. Fifteen years later, Gro Harlem Brundtland, then-prime minister of Norway (1981-1996), submitted a report — "Our Common Future" — to the United Nations. She was the first person to define "sustainable development" (contained in that report), which has come to be universally acknowledged.

Within 25 years, three women — Carson, Ward and Brundtland — advanced innovative ideas and changed people's thinking about environmental protection. In so doing, they left indelible marks on the world's history.

Since then, the relationship between women and the environment has been maintained, due in part to initiatives such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (NUCED, in 1992), the World Conference on Human Rights (1993), the International Conference on Population and Development (1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995).

In China, many passionate women, either individually or as members of organizations, are engaged in environmental-protection efforts. They are spreading the concept of "green civilization," and they are doing whatever they can to protect China's ecology.

Motivate Women, Motivate the World

Sun Liping is president of Green China Consumption Union (GCCU), an NGO dedicated to protecting the environment.

Chinese Women in Environmental Protection
Sun Liping with the wife of an ambassador to China during an event organized by Green Angel Fund [Women of China English Monthly]

Zhen Yan, Vice-President and Member of the Secretariat of the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), once said of Sun, "[She] not only has a sense of responsibility and urgency, but she also takes action … The aims of Sun's 16-year pursuit have been to promote environmental protection and the development of an ecological civilization, and to improve people's quality of life. Our society needs such dedicated people."

Sun often traveled throughout China after she founded Harbin Haixia Travel Agency in 1993. She was distressed when she saw — in many regions of the country — the overly exploited and polluted mountains and rivers. Sun began to shuttle between Beijing and Harbin, and she consulted experts about ways to protect the environment. In 1996, Sun gave up her high-paying job to devote her life to the protection of China's environment.

Sun believes teaching environmental protection in schools is the key to long-term preservation of the ecology. In 2000, at Sun's urging, and with her input, Harbin First Governmental Kindergarten became the only national "green kindergarten" of Heilongjiang Province. Sun donated 8,000 yuan (US $1,311) worth of environmental-protection equipment to the kindergarten.

In 2009, GCCU implemented the Green Angel Action, a public-benefit environmental-protection activity sponsored by China Women's Development Foundation (CWDF). As part of the project, women and teenagers publicized the idea of "green consumption," sold environmental-protection gift boxes, helped women and their children develop a sense (including appropriate behavior) of environmental protection, and promoted the concept of "ecological civilization." A copy of a book, entitled The Cost of Life, which was written about Sun's thoughts and her efforts to protect the environment, was included in each gift box.

"Women have their own gender characteristics. Perhaps women are more suitable (to protect the environment) than men, to some extent. Men may pursue instant effects, but pay less attention to minor details. But environmental protection requires long-term efforts, so women are more suitable," Sun says. "The maternal instinct is another important point. The current food-safety problems can affect the growth of children, and no mother can neglect this issue. Protecting the 'home' is in every woman's nature … A family is a cell of society. Only when every cell in society is healthy, will the Earth be healthy."

Sun believes a woman will increase her wisdom simply by working to protect the environment. Based on that belief, Sun has organized the Skilled Hands and Women Cooks competitions for the past several years. "If women have the wisdom of daily life, and if they know how to live in a green way, their children will grow up with healthy and environmentally friendly values … So, motivating a woman can motivate a family, and motivating all women can motivate the whole world."

Play an Important Role

Chinese Women in Environmental Protection
Sun Liping, president of Green China Consumption Union [Women of China English Monthly]

Ma Tiannan is the founder and Deputy Director of Xiamen GreenCross Association, an NGO dedicated to cleaning up the environment and protecting the ecology.

Each morning, she uses the water that has dripped — a byproduct from use — from her air conditioner to wash her face, brush her teeth and flush the toilet. To reduce carbon emissions, she walks to work every day. There are labeled boxes, for the collection and recycling of scrap paper and plastics, in her office. Instead of having food delivered to the office, Ma eats lunch with her colleagues in a restaurant, and they never use disposable chopsticks. When she travels downtown, Ma rides the buses. She will only use a taxi in an emergency.

It is hard to imagine that Ma, the "low-carbon expert," had virtually no understanding of environmental protection prior to 1999. In October of that year, Xiamen was devastated by a typhoon; more than 70,000 trees, which lined the city's streets, were damaged or felled, and approximately 95 percent of the advertising boards were destroyed and scattered about the city. More than 200 houses were destroyed. The typhoon resulted in 1.937 billion yuan (US $318 million) in losses.

"When I talked with some friends, at that time, we all regretted the losses. As a result of environmental deterioration, such good trees were destroyed by the typhoon," Ma says. She and her friends organized a performance to raise the money needed to replace the trees.

On May 27, 2000, Ma, with several friends, organized "Island Care Day," and they called on 1,000 people to pick up rubbish along Huandao Road. They have since organized the activity annually, to strengthen the public's awareness of environmental protection. They have also organized other activities, including "Jiulong River Protection," "Concerned about Coastal Wetlands" and "Protecting the Mangrove."

Xiamen GreenCross Association was approved by Xiamen's bureau of civil affairs and registered as an NGO on August 9, 2007. Ma and her colleagues believe the NGO's greatest success to date has been its role in publishing the Manual for Law-based Environmental Advocacy in China. Says Ma: "I can understand the difficulties (that arise) in the development of all NGOs in China. I want to share my experiences with others. This book reflects the transformation of our organization; that is, to take part in environmental protection in China in a more professional way."

She believes that women tend to pay greater attention to environmental protection. "Some project leaders in our organization are women volunteers, and (they are) mothers. They participate in the environmental-protection activities with their husbands and children, and they influence the people around them," Ma says. "I know some female workers in other environmental-protection organizations. Most of them are the leaders of core projects, or the directors of the organizations. I think women (collectively) play an important role in China's environmental protection."

Ma's short-term objective is to encourage all environmental-protection organizations to become more inclusive. Over the longer term, she hopes to encourage more people, from all walks of life, to support and participate in environmental protection.

A Green Dream

Li Meihe is president of Mashan Forest and Fruit Scientific Research Base, which is located in Xianyou County, Putian, Fujian Province. Li has been planting trees on the farm (and its

Chinese Women in Environmental Protection
Li Meihe and her husband Li Yuming discuss the growth of seedlings. [Women of China English Monthly]

forerunner) since she was 16.

Li Jinyao, a farmer and member of Lianjing production brigade of Gaiwei People's Commune, in Xianyou County, contracted 1,200 mu (80 hectares) of barren hills on Ma Mountain in 1979, when he was well into his 50s. That was the first "hill contract" signed in China. After he signed the contract, Li Jinyao established Gaiwei Lianjing Forest Farm, the first family owned tree plantation in China.

Mere days after Li Jinyao had contracted the land, Li Meihe began helping her father plant trees on Ma Mountain. Within a few years, they had planted more than 400,000 trees. After Li Jinyao passed away, Li Meihe became head of the farm.

The once-barren hill, which was susceptible to water runoff and soil erosion, has since been covered with trees. Li Meihe established, and became president of, Mashan Forest and Fruit Scientific Research Base on her father's former farm. Over time, she expanded the base on land adjacent to the farm.

To expand the farm, Li Meihe signed contracts to use the barren hills around Laidian County. To date, the base's employees have planted trees on nearly 4,300 mu (283 hectares) of land. The base has provided more than 10 million high-quality seedlings to other farms in Xianyou and surrounding counties.

Li Meihe has received several awards throughout the years; for example, she has been named "National Woman Pace-setter," "National Model Worker in Forestry" and "National Pioneer of Youth Entrepreneurship." The base, meanwhile, has been designated a "National Women's Pilot Base of Green Project"

Says Li Meihe: "I also have a green dream, which is bigger than that of my father. That (dream) is to develop ecological tourism, and to call it 'Forest Home,' to help the locals become rich," Li says.

Women and Environment Network

Chinese Women in Environmental Protection
Staff of Women and Environment Network [Women of China English Monthly]

The Women and Environment Network (WEN) is an NGO that was established in Beijing in 1999. At that time, China and Canada worked together to establish the "China-Canada Cleaner Production Project," to help industrial departments, at all levels throughout China, to reduce pollution by promoting cleaner production methods. As raising awareness about gender equality was part of the project, six women volunteers, who were working with the project in Beijing, established WEN.

The organization has conducted various environmental-protection activities — including cultivating women's awareness of environmental protection, seminars on environmental protection, handing out books and other items to raise awareness about environmental protection, and disseminating environmental-protection information in communities and schools — throughout the years.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian influenza virus (AIV) broke out, virtually simultaneously, in China in the spring of 2003. Since then, Chinese have paid greater attention to both their health and environmental protection. Also, the Chinese Government has enhanced efforts to cultivate people's awareness of both health and environmental protection. But, in rural areas, there were limited sources of communication. WEN decided to help teenagers who were living in rural areas. The organization published 2,000 copies of a colorful book, entitled Environmental Protection and Preventing and Curing Diseases of Teenagers in Rural Areas. The copies were distributed among rural children.

When referring to women's participation in environmental protection, Liang Boping, leader of WEN, says, "Because they worry about the living environment of children, women pay a lot of attention to environmental protection. Women are pioneers, and the main force, in environmental protection. As for the structure of Chinese families, women … decide how a family lives its daily life. Women also make a commitment to educate their children. If we motivate the women, they will surely have an influence on their husbands and children. So, we choose women … (to help motivate) society to participate in environmental protection."

The China-Canada Cleaner Production Project was completed in 2004. Volunteers from WEN have continued to organize various environmental-protection events. In 2008, some of the volunteers registered their own charity, Beijing Lülan Culture Communication Center.

The previous year, the child-education project, "Environmental Protection from the Children," was established by WEN and the Publicity and Education Center under China's Ministry of Environmental Protection. With the help of the preschool office of the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, the volunteers designed and published Environmental Protection from Childhood, a series of illustrated books to be used when teaching environmental protection. The books have been used as part of the environmental education experiment in a few kindergartens in Beijing, Qingdao and Qinhuangdao.

In 2008, WEN established the Environmental Protection Children's Troupe, to encourage children to participate in environmental protection. "Children are our hope and our future. If we (teach) them about environmental protection when they are young, it will have unexpected effects. The experiences of participating in environmental protection as a child are important, especially when it comes to raising awareness about environmental protection," Liang says.

"We help cultivate children's sense of social responsibility when they are young. The words and actions of the children will also have an influence on adults, and will help motivate a family, a community and even society," Liang adds.

Over the years, members of the troupe have rehearsed several dramas, and they have performed in the Great Hall of the People, the Water Cube, China National Children's Center and in various communities and schools in Beijing. Their performances have included "A Diary of Birds on Finding Home," "Story of a Dustbin" and "Low-carbon Lifestyle Around Us."

Says Liang: "In the early days after the network was set up, many people regarded environmental protection as 'cleaning,' and 95 percent of the people did not know what an NGO was. Now, more and more people take part in environmental protection … In fact, the low-carbon lifestyle is not far from us. If we change some things about our lifestyles, we can help realize energy conservation and emission reduction. Surely, it is not easy for people to change their habits, and what we need to do is to take more time and more energy to advance, step by step."

(Source: Women of China English Monthly November 2013 Issue)

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