Women and Girls Living the Change, Leading the Change

National Headquarters  |  January 15, 2020

Op-Ed by Yee Siang Yong
Edited by Dilber Shatursun

Tzu Chi USA in partnership with Living the Change will be bringing you stories of real-life journeys and struggles in reducing our everyday impact on the climate. You’ll find these accounts inspired by honesty, sincerity, faith, a deep love for the Earth, and the desire to embrace compassion – the way Living the Change seeks to engage every individual.

Being the only daughter in my family, my mother always told me that I have to be stronger and more independent than my brothers. She also instilled the notion that I am capable of achieving all my dreams and goals.

Growing up in an environment seemingly free of gender inequality and harms, I always thought that the prosperity, rights, security, and basic services I enjoyed were shared by all other girls in the world, too. However, things were not what I thought.

There are many women and girls in every corner of the world facing gender-based violence, discrimination, underpaid jobs, as well as other gender-related issues- not to mention the fact that women and girls are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change than other populations.

Inequality between men and women is very much saddening and disappointing. However, I have not lost hope because I believe in what my mother taught me, and I believe in my potential and experience in my life. I can still be as strong, capable, and successful as my brothers, or even better than them. I know I have the capabilities to make a change, to make the world better, more equal, and safer for all.

After meeting my spiritual teacher, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, when I was 15, I gained more faith and confidence in what I believed. She is a Buddhist nun that runs an international organization with more than 10 million volunteers around the globe. Master Cheng Yen leads the actions of charitable work, medical missions, disaster relief, environmental protection, and other good deeds that have brought so much hope and social benefits to the people around 100 countries.

Among Master’s work, I am very impressed and touched with the climate action and environmental movement that she has initiated since 1990. Upholding the concept of “purification from the start,” she encouraged her disciples and followers to reduce the use of plastic, our carbon footprint, as well as the desire to shop and buy.

The problems with plastic pollution and excessive garbage mountains are derived from the unsustainable and irresponsible patterns of consumption and lifestyle of human beings. Therefore. we should tackle the problem from the root cause.

Amazingly, most of the environmental initiatives encouraged by Dharma Master Cheng Yen are led and followed by women volunteers, as well as young women volunteers in the organization and the community.

So, I thought if the Master- a Buddhist nun- can lead more than 10 million volunteers to do the right thing for our Mother Earth, why can’t I do my part and lead my friends and family as well?

Transforming my lifestyle and personal behavior hasn’t been easy, but my determination and will are stronger than the challenges and difficulties. Switching to a plant-based diet, eliminating as many single-use plastics in my life as I can, participating in beach cleanups, joining recycling activities, and promoting environmental education and sustainable lifestyle tips: they were not as difficult as I first thought. Yet, it’s been the most right decision I’ve made since 2018.

I never thought I could make it, but I know that this is my responsibility: my responsibility as a citizen of this planet. Now, I want more. I want more of my friends and families to join my journey towards a greener, more environmentally-friendly, and more sustainable lifestyle; but how can I do it? Where should I start?

Acknowledging the fact that women and girls often tend to show more concern and care to environmental issues, I know that I can start from my friends and families that are women and girls.

In the beginning, I always made sure I brought extra reusable food utensils, straws, and shopping bags when I hung out with my friends so that they would not use single-use items. I also share my plant-based food with them so that they can realize vegetarian meals can taste good, too. As time went by, those friends started to bring their own reusable items and even starting eating plant-based foods, too! They also started participating in beach cleanups and recycling activities with me.

Seeing this inspired me a lot. It proved that every action we take, like waves, will ripple out to influence the people around us. Imagine ripples extending out from those you have influenced, too. More and more people can gradually join in this journey of doing good deeds.

I am very thankful and grateful to the teachings and concepts that my mother and my spiritual teacher, Master Cheng Yen, taught me.

As a young woman, they have inspired me to become a leader, who can initiate and lead the true action that can combat the issues I care about.

Realizing the urgency of the climate and environmental issues that the world is facing, it is very important for us to walk the talk, and to take every single action we can before it is too late. Women and girls might be more vulnerable to the crisis, but we also own the strength and power to stand together with the rest of the world to save our planet.

Learn more about Ethical Eating Day and Living the Change to see how you can make a difference.


Yee Siang Yong – Contributor

Yee Siang Yong represents Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation at the United Nations, particularly in the circle of women and girls, as well as youth. Focusing on issues including climate action, gender equality, and women empowerment, Yee Siang aims to raise awareness and create actionable commitments to make the world a better place.

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