The Taiwanese Women's Movement and the Awakening Foundation

By Peiying Chen

In the late 1940's when Taiwan split off from Mainland China, Taiwan forged an alliance with the US. As a consequence, many of Taiwan’s western educated women became feminist activists following in the footsteps of the US movements. These Taiwanese women formally initiated their struggle for women’s rights in the early 1980s and formed the leading women’s feminist movement organization, the Awakening Foundation (AF). Currently, the president is Dr. Chien-ling Su of Min-Chuan College, who has volunteered her services to the AF for more than 10 years. She is very proud of the Taiwanese women’s movement and has witnessed the entire struggle of the AF during both non-receptive and receptive political climates. The AF, "embarrassing to say" she admitted, is still seen as the leader among women’s organizations although the AF’s members prefer more egalitarian relationships among different women’s groups.

In the early 1980's, the AF had founded the Awakening Magazine. However, due to Martial Law and the government's prohibition on civil groups devoted to freedom of speech, a formal group was not founded until the government's formal ban was lifted in 1987. Awakening Magazine provided the foundation and ideology for the new organization, which enacted the already established mission and goals set forth by the magazine.

Their organizational goals focused primarily on raising women’s consciousness and awareness. This strategy engaged the organization in the struggle for women’s legal, educational, political, and social rights. "We are a full-blown organization that is different from issue-based women’s organizations." Su emphasized, "since many women’s issues had not been addressed during 1980s, women’s awareness needed to be aroused, so they would pay attention to structural injustice as well as gender inequities in their daily lives and relations." This tactic was employed during the AF’s first stage (1982-1990).

During the second stage (1991-1999), the AF produced alternative discourses, participated in social movements, drafted legal reforms and engaged in political lobbying. After the Martial Law was lifted, Taiwan’s society underwent an intensive mass mobilization that decried for a more democratic society. The AF activists took every opportunity to voice their opinions on legal, educational, and political conditions directly responsible for Taiwanese women’s subordinated statuses. They engaged in many public forums and social movements echoing women’s voices throughout all spheres of the social reform movement. In doing this, they created social and political spaces where women developed an organizing identity. All these actions made it possible to pressure for legal reforms and women’s seats at all levels of the Taiwanese government.

There are three main legal reforms that were submitted to the government by the AF: the Family Law Act, Equal Pay Act, and the Draft of a Gender Equity in Education initiative. To date, the Family Law and Equal Pay Act have been discussed and lobbied in the Legislative Yuan (law-making body) for years but have not yet been enacted. However, some gains have been made. As of January 2001, rape can now be investigated even when a victim does not want to press charges. AF activists hope this reform will reduce the number of rape cases over the next five years. AF activists initiated a draft for a gender education equity act last year. Su hopes that this draft will receive support from legislators of different parties to increase its visibility, so it can be successfully enacted into law.

The current phase will continue to emphasize ongoing implementation of policies and legal reforms. Staff education on relevant issues and legal practices has proved critical in producing alternative discourses for lobbying, mobilizing, and raising the awareness of the public, especially the mass media. However, recently, these staff activities have become even more crucial since the AF now also relies upon their activists to advise women on law practices covering domestic violence, marriage crises, discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. A "train the trainers" program is expanding the efforts of the AF in outlying communities. Advocating women’s services and increasing AF's impact in local communities is one of their current goals.

For its survival, the AF receives yearly donations to support its staff and operations. The AF has 18 members on the board of directors, who serve on a voluntary basis. All the board members must raise a predetermined amount of money and if their donations do not match the assigned amount, the board members have to donate money from their personal funds to make up the difference. Currently, the AF relies on one-third of its revenue from individual donations, another third from businesses, and the remainder from government projects. So far, it has worked quite well as they have expanded their operations and full-time staff from 3 in 1987 to 7 in 2001.

According to Su, the majority of AF activists come from urban, middle class families, and they are well educated. "We have been criticized for being too middle-class for years." Yet, Su feels the critique unfair and defends the group by stating, "these women’s activists have spent their free time to promote women’s rights whose benefits are given to all women, not only the middle-class." But she admits that the AF must move beyond class boundaries and address issues and concerns that are relevant to less-advantaged groups of women. Last year, the AF launched new activities that targeted aboriginal girls and women. In doing this, they hope to begin a dialogue based upon class differences, making their efforts more inclusive of all Taiwanese women.

Recently, the Taiwanese women's NGO's including the Awakening Foundation, have been denied recognition by the UN. To read more on this issue, go to


Other Taiwanese women's NGO's for grassroot advocacy:

Awakening Foundation

Garden of Hope Foundation

Taiwan Women Web