Leading ladies: Women's organizations in Beijing

Groups for women, from roller derby to professional development

Jay Latarche
In honour of Women’s Day on Saturday 8, Time Out looks at four fierce ladies whose organisations are improving the lives of women in Beijing.

Jay Latarche

Founder and Director, Beijing Roller Derby (BRD)
Age 22
Job Speaker and teacher at the LGBT Center
Why she’s a badass In addition to helping start Beijing’s first roller derby team at the ripe old age of 20, Latarche is a bit of a maverick. In fact, when we catch up with her, she’s in the middle of a ten-day longboarding trip from Chengdu to Kunming. ‘My final goal one day is to skate from one end of China to the other, so this was a good test.’
About BRD Originally launched in the 1930s, roller derby has since gained a reputation as the pro wrestling of women’s sports – a bunch of tattooed ladies engaging in scripted brawls for the titillation of a viewing audience. But in the last decade or so, roller derby has returned to its roots, becoming a popular amateur sport among athletes who like wearing sassy outfits and knocking each other over. Though BRD is still in its infancy – it was only started just over a year ago – the group has grown quickly, and has big plans for this spring, including an overseas boot camp, the launch of a mixed gender and men’s team and possible participation in Australia’s Outgames, an LGBT sporting event.
Why it’s awesome ‘Outwardly, roller derby is showing the world that women and younger women are strong, tough and athletic – and in some teams, playing right alongside men,’ says Latarche. ‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say that roller derby is a “feminist sport”, but I would say that it empowers, brings together and encourages women, and that many feminists play the sport, myself included.’
Best for Ladies who aren’t afraid to roughhouse on wheels, and who want to make like-minded friends. ‘It is a social group, sport and a support network,’ Latarche says. ‘I have made friends who will stay with me for life, gotten fitter than ever before and been looked after through tough times by my teammates.’

Beijing Roller Derby practise every Saturday from 11am-1.30pm at Tuanjiehu Park. Starting soon, they will also meet 6.30-8pm every Tuesday. For more info, visit www.beijingrollerderby.com.

Willa Dong

Organiser, Beijing Feminists Forever (BFF)
Age 26
Job Research fellow at the China CDC
Why she’s a badass Dong is an academic powerhouse and a strong advocate of women’s sexual health. After graduating from university, Dong, an American, headed straight to China on a Fulbright Scholarship to study maternal health in Jinan. After that, she spent two years doing fieldwork on sex workers and mental health, before moving to Beijing to work for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, where she researches HIV prevention. ‘A lot of the things I’ve been involved in since college – like queer student organising or sexual assault prevention – or currently work on, like sex workers’ health, are heavily tied to gender inequality,’ says Dong, ‘so I engage with it in several areas of my life.’
About BFF Started in 2012, Beijing Feminists Forever is an informal, women’s only discussion group that meets once or twice a month to converse about topical feminist issues. Each meeting, which is held over dinner and attended by roughly a dozen members, has its own topic and readings, chosen by that month’s volunteer discussion leader. ‘Some of the topics we’ve discussed in the past include violence against women, Miley Cyrus, race and intersectionality, NSA surveillance and Chinese feminism. For example, for the discussion I hosted on the stigma against sex workers, the readings I chose included articles by Chinese and Canadian sex worker rights activists, a blog post from an anti-feminist sex worker and a New York Times article.’ But it isn’t all stuffy academics – Dong says every discussion incorporates people’s personal thoughts and experiences.
Why it’s awesome ‘The most rewarding part is definitely being able to get to know a lot of people I otherwise might not have been able to meet. It’s great to find other people who also care about things like sex workers’ rights or Beyonce sampling [Nigerian female author] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.’
Best for Self-identified feminists who have a basic knowledge of feminist thought, are interested in talking about women’s issues and aren’t averse to leading discussions.

BFF meet once or twice a month. For info on their next meeting, contact dong.wmc@gmail.com or

Emily Remillard

Manager, Starfish
Age 29
Job HR and Volunteer Coordinator at Starfish
Why she’s a badass Emily Remillard moved to Beijing in 2011 to work at Starfish – an NGO that sells jewellery made by migrant women. As manager of the group’s shelter, she was immediately thrown into the deep end. ‘It was kind of sink or swim as far as figuring things out,’ says Remillard, who arrived with little more than a semester of Chinese language study under her belt. ‘I learned a lot of Chinese just from talking with the women and because I had to – if there was a maintenance problem I needed to figure out the right words quickly.’
About Starfish Starfish was launched in 2006 as a way of providing alternative employment to disenfranchised migrant women who had become trapped in situations of sexual exploitation. The group makes contact with these women and invites them to join Starfish, where in addition to a paying job and free housing, they are provided with training classes, counselling sessions and the chance to advance into management positions. ‘We really try to find out what each of these women is gifted at, and to see if there’s any way that we can help her move on to another opportunity,’ Remillard says.
Why it’s awesome ‘One of the things that really stands out about Starfish is that it has a real sense of excellence, and you can see that in the jewellery. It isn’t just charity – it’s about empowering women and giving them work that is meaningful and brings something beautiful to the world.’
Best for Volunteers who are interested in selling jewellery and teaching workshops or classes – in addition to English, the classes cover accounting, maths, web design, computing and more.

For more on Starfish, its jewellery or volunteer opportunities, visit www.starfish-project.com.

Jennifer Mao-Jones

Chairwoman, 85 Broads
Age Undisclosed
Job Asia Manager at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP
Why she’s a badass The child of two entrepreneurs (her mother was one of the first women on Wall Street), Mao-Jones says she was ‘raised in offices’, doing everything from cleaning to accounts collection. So it’s no wonder that just a year into her stay in China – where she travelled after university to complete a fellowship – Mao-Jones was headhunted by Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft (one of the oldest law firms in the US) to help set up their China offices.
About 85 Broads Like Mao-Jones herself, 85 Broads represents serious business. The group was started in 1997 by Goldman Sachs ’first female sales manager, and soon grew into a worldwide network for high-achieving women. The Beijing chapter contains 300 members working in fields like business, law, international development, education, NGOs and more. The perks go beyond networking: each month, 85 Broads holds one or two events aimed at encouraging professional growth, ranging from meetings with mentors to their regular speaker series. ‘These are women who want to meet other women of their calibre,’ says Mao-Jones. ‘Women who are honest, of high integrity, who want to help each other and their communities. Because we’re all trying to do something with our lives – we’re all trying to go somewhere, we’re all trying to build something.’
Why it’s awesome ‘This is a network of women who are committed to women’s interests,’ says Mao-Jones. ‘Committed to women’s empowerment, committed to educating one another, to providing opportunities, resources, knowledge and support – when you walk into 85 Broads, you’re walking into a room of people who want to help.’
Best for Both young and established professionals are encouraged to apply, so long as they adhere to 85’s values: ‘We really want people who are welcoming, supportive, helpful and ready to listen and to speak up.’

For information on how to apply to 85 Broads or attend their events, visit www.85broadsbeijing.com.
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