Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Women’s rights key to Xi’s dream

By Shirley Chang 張林秀菊

In September 1995, then-US first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton led a US delegation to the UN Women’s Conference in Beijing, where she played a prominent role in her advocacy of the rights of women, poor people and those who are disadvantaged. She delivered a speech that strongly criticized discrimination against women by Chinese authorities and declared: “Women’s rights are human rights” — a credo that many women and human rights advocates have often repeated.

Much to the chagrin of her Chinese hosts, Clinton also took the initiative to organize a public forum on women’s rights and invited a dozen or so prominent female activists to discuss the problems women face in China. Many made bold statements about Chinese women’s rights and authorities’ failure to address sexual harassment, domestic violence and professional discrimination, as well as HIV/AIDS and other health issues.

The unscripted expose embarrassed Chinese officials, but the media had a field day with the lively event.

Almost 20 years have elapsed since Clinton’s crusade, discrimination against women in China continues and the gaps in gender equality remain wide.

Whereas Mao Zedong (毛澤東) said: “Women hold up half of the sky,” and Chinese women were “liberated” from their household chores to labor in the fields and factories like men to speed up China’s economic development, by all measures women in China have been subordinated to men.

Typically, in the 25-member Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, just two members are women, and in the Politburo Standing Committee, the regime’s top policymaking body, all seven members, including Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), are men.

Despite the efforts by the increasing number of brave Chinese feminists to campaign for gender equality and search for solutions to pay gaps, inadequate legal protection and insufficient healthcare, as well as the improvement of women’s opportunities in the workplace, “traditional ideas” are hard to change and progress has been slow.

Domestic violence was first outlawed in 2001, but the prohibition has not been regularly enforced.

In this context, it seems like a “big leap forward” for the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) to draft a landmark domestic violence law to protect China’s battered women on the eve of International Women’s Day on March 8. The new law provides legal protections for victims of domestic violence, including children, and mandates actions by local governments.

It is due for its first reading by the NPC’s Standing Committee in August.

Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying (傅瑩) said candidly that domestic violence is society’s “secret anguish,” which all modern governments must face.

Most surveys show that between 25 and 40 percent of women in China experience domestic violence, and the proportion could be much higher in rural areas.

To make things worse, police officials often look the other way and are reluctant to intervene, men are rarely prosecuted and violence is almost never acknowledged as grounds for divorce.

Ironically, it was up to Kim Lee, a US woman with a Chinese celebrity husband, to challenge Chinese male chauvinism, win popular support and shame the male-dominated NPC into taking legislative action.

Lee said she was often kicked, slapped and abused by her husband. After a long and savage beating in August 2011, she took her daughter and walked to the nearest police station, bruised and bloody.

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