What you need to know
MOWES offers fitness, art, and language classes. However, the community space has been struggling with lower attendance rates and postponed grants under Covid-19.
Taiwan’s gender equality performance ranks ninth globally, and first in Asia, based on the United Nations Development Program’s Gender Inequality Index.
The country’s arrival at this position is inseparable from the work of women’s advocacy groups. MOWES, short for Moving Women Establishment, is one of them.
Established in 2018, MOWES is a donation-based community space in Taipei’s Shida district that offers fitness, art, and language classes. With classes instructed and attended by locals and foreigners, MOWES aims to connect Taiwan with the world.
As a non-profit organization, MOWES relies on volunteers for social media marketing and events. However, the community space has been struggling with lower attendance rates and postponed grants under Covid-19.
Although most attendees at MOWES are women, most of their classes are open to all genders.
"There is something very unique about connecting people from all ages and all backgrounds here, and seeing them finding out that they are so different but also have a lot of similarities," said Maja Ho, 27, the founder of MOWES.
Kai Hsieh, 34, joined her three months into the opening of the space. They both work full time for MOWES but have kept several side jobs, like movement coach or English teacher, to make a steady income.
Ho and Hsieh run MOWES based on the belief that “through learning new skills and empowering yourself, you empower others.”
Born and raised in Denmark by Taiwanese parents, Ho saw the cultural differences between her growing up in Copenhagen and annual family visits to Taiwan. In Denmark, Ho said, her personal success wasn’t evaluated by her appearance or weight, whereas in Taiwan the expectations for women were jarring.
“Here, it was all about being the smartest, prettiest, and most well-behaved kid. The problem with this is, that you are rarely number one, which in the long run makes you less confident and less likely to allow yourself to go after your dreams and hopes because you don’t believe you deserve it,” said Ho.
Before coming to Taiwan and starting MOWES, Ho worked as a dancer, model, and actress in New York, but she was not proud of what she was doing. "It was always about being sexy and cute. I feel like I was working in an industry that makes it harder for women to feel good about themselves," she said.
Two years ago, Ho moved back to Taiwan for her father who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Before her father passed away, he rebuilt his hometown village. Ho felt that she had to stay in Taiwan and honor her father by making a contribution to her community, just as he rebuilt his village. A few months later, she opened MOWES in Taipei.
Hsieh was born in the United States. She used to work for the United Nations in Washington D.C., as a paralegal on Capitol Hill doing lobbying work, and eventually moved to Taiwan.
After taking a class at MOWES, Hsieh was impressed with what Ho was doing and decided to join her in running the community.
Some might call advocates like Ho and Hsieh feminists, but they think the feminism label is too narrow.
“Nowadays, there’s a lot of different types of feminists and stigmas associated with each one. I believe in equal rights for all,” Hsieh said.
MOWES receives part of its funding from government grants and the StartUp@Taipei program from Taipei City.
It is always hard to start something from scratch. “We’ve faced a lot,” Ho and Hsieh said. In the beginning, they had to learn everything, including how to start an organization, how to get funding, how to manage instructors and volunteers, and also some really uncomfortable lessons in dealing with people who actively try to diminish their work.
Nevertheless, Ho and Hsieh have not lost their passion amid these challenges; they believe that challenges exist in running any kind of organization or business. “We’re here to overcome them and grow,” they said.
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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