Recently, a Chinese mother of eight was found chained in Xuzhou, East China’s Jiangsu province, sparking outrage across the country. The suffering of this woman, who had been abducted and abused, has crossed a line with the public and has brought shame to every honest Chinese citizen.
The incident is one of the reasons for all the recent attention paid to proposed amendments to the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests. The revised draft of the law received more than 420,000 comments while it was available for public review from Dec. 24 to Jan. 22. That’s 100 times more than the number of comments about the revised draft of the Company Law over the same period.
The widespread interest in the revisions in part mirrors China’s weaknesses in protecting women’s rights, even though the law has been in effect for three decades.
After China’s “reform and opening-up” began in the late 1970s, the social status of women has improved significantly. Hundreds of millions of women have made great strides and proven their value to society. However, it is undeniable that women’s rights continue to be violated. Both visible and invisible discrimination continues to stand between many women and better access to opportunity.
When it comes to the protection of women’s rights, it is vital for women to win the right to seek what they want, but more importantly, the right to refuse what they don’t want. They must be protected from fear and persecution.
The protection of women’s rights and interests is a shared responsibility of society. The first order of business is to rid society of the things that cause women to be afraid. In this regard, the legislation is significant, but its implementation will be even more important. We expect that the revised law will help eliminate the breeding ground for discrimination and abuse against women and create necessary conditions for them to thrive.
The legislation amends 48 of the current law’s 61 articles. It retains 12 others, while adding 24 and deleting one. The changes aim to address painful and difficult issues such as sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the job market, offering detailed provisions for the protection of women.
However, we should also recognize that there is still a long way to go before the law can truly ensure women’s personal rights, property rights, labor rights, and social security rights. The current law clearly prohibits drowning, abandoning or mutilating female infants; discrimination against or maltreatment of infertile women or women who give birth to girls; abducting, trafficking or kidnapping women; or purchasing abducted women. However, the law has clearly not been strictly implemented, and has not taken root in people’s hearts.
Traditional Chinese culture has long favored males over females, leading to destructive behavior that has been passed on from generation to generation. Although things have gotten significantly better for women in contemporary China, the shackles that impede the protection of women’s rights remain. Cases of abducted or trafficked women keep cropping up, with several major cases involving hundreds of people. Cases of domestic violence that end with the murder of women occur frequently. Sexual harassment can be found almost everywhere. Discrimination and the objectification of women remain problems in many workplaces across the country.
Whether through legislation, policymaking or the judicial system, the end goal is to eliminate the rotten ideas about women that remain in the minds of some. At present, some women strive to ensure the protection of their rights and have publicly expressed their appeals. Some might not agree with this. Some others like to highlight the words or actions of a few extreme individuals in order to make it seem as if the end goal of protecting women’s rights is to make women more privileged than men — so that men are the ones facing discrimination. This point of view ignores reality. Efforts to protect women’s right have not gone too far, but rather have not gone far enough. This is the reality that society must understand.
The protection of women’s rights needs to be supported by laws and regulations.
The law provides the foundation for protecting women’s legitimate rights. Actually ensuring those rights hinges on the joint efforts related to other laws and regulations, such as the refinement of women’s labor rights and interests in the Labor Law, and the severity of the punishment for the crime of purchasing abducted women and children, something that has received widespread attention recently. The spirit of protecting women’s rights should run through all related laws. We also need to be careful because “superficial equal treatment” may actually lead to inequality between men and women. For example, according to the relevant legal provision, the right of women to inherit property should be equal to that of men. However, without specific, detailed measures, this reasonable provision will be difficult to implement, especially in rural areas.
Protecting women’s rights touches on many aspects of society. Take fertility as an example. As a natural consequence of encouraging more woman to have children, the work pressure on women is growing. Raising China’s birthrate should not end with simply encouraging more women to have babies. The state should provide necessary support on multiple levels, so as not to put all the responsibility on companies and individuals. Otherwise, women will find themselves at a disadvantage where they work. Extra attention should be given to women with physical and intellectual disabilities to help protect them from being used as devices for bearing children. More importantly, addressing the problems facing these vulnerable groups requires the earnest work of local governments and relevant organizations, and there is a need for capital investment.
Bolstering accountability is also essential for protecting women’s rights. Some local officials think nothing of protecting women’s rights, regard acts of domestic violence as private family matters, and even obstruct law enforcement from rescuing abducted or trafficked women. The revised draft clearly states that government agencies and officials who fail to perform their duties under the law, fail to stop violations of women’s rights in a timely matter, or fail to give necessary assistance to victimized women that results in serious consequences, will be punished. Fair and open punishment and accountability for dereliction of duty is the best barometer for the protection of women’s rights, and the next step is to ensure they are implemented.
The first law enacted in the People’s Republic of China was the Marriage Law. The Chinese government has used its vast administrative powers and ability to mobilize public resources to strive for the advancement of women. However, due to complex economic and societal factors, it’s impossible for China to succeed in protecting women’s rights with a single piece of legislation. China is building itself into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful. Allowing women’s rights to continue to be violated runs counter to these lofty goals. How far it goes in protecting women’s rights shows how far it has advanced as a society. The tragedy of the woman in Xuzhou, again, speaks volumes for making the protection of woman’s rights a priority.
This article was originally published by Caixin Global. It has been republished here with permission.
(Header image: Prakasit Khuansuwan/500px/People Visual)