“Women hold up half the sky” is a famous manifesto by Mao Zedong which aimed at celebrating gender equality and the importance of women in modern society. However, almost fifty years after the end of Mao Zedong’s government, women are still facing discrimination in Chinese society. Moreover the feminist movements, born with the aim of fighting for women’s rights, are more and more repressed.
Women’s rights in China
In Western Countries, China is known as having one of the strictest dictatorships. The Government enforces a strong thought control over the population, which results in the denial of fundamental rights such as freedom of opinion and expression. This kind of behavior is rather common, and we frequently hear about it, but what does not have enough coverage is the fact that the restrictions to the fundamental rights imposed by the Chinese Government affect more the women than the men of the Country.
It is not a novelty that a male son is preferred to a female daughter in China. As a matter of fact, with the one-child policy, introduced in the late ‘70s-early ‘80s, and ended in 2016, the Government had started to encourage mothers to have male children rather than females. As the gender of a child is not something that a woman can control the number of abortions, in the cases in which the child was a daughter, increased dramatically, also and with the confiscation of the child by the authorities, as the Chinese journalist Mei Fong stated. As absurd as it may sound, this was a large-scale phenomenon: researches show that the “missing girls” – the term used to refer to the unborn, or kidnapped, daughters – are more than 30 million, a number that reveals that women’s right in China is a topic that can no longer be ignored. Although the one-child policy is not in force anymore, the gender disparity created by over thirty years of forcing families to have only one – preferably male – child is still obvius, and people are getting more and more concerned about it. Studies show that, today, in China the percentage of the female population is 48.71 %, compared to the 51.29 % of the male population and has the second most biased child sex ratio worldwide, only second to India.
The one-child policy had constituted for many years one of the strictest restrictions to women’s right, as the Government controlled the body of women, which became a mere machine with the aim of increasing the number of men in the Country.
Nowadays, women can decide regarding their body but they are still facing serious discrimination on the workplace and in everyday life in general. The now president Xi Jinping is showing his will to return to the original organization of the Chinese society, where men are responsible for the progress of the Country and are the only ones able to carry out important roles in the Country. On the other hand, women should stay at home and manage the children and the house. Women are more and more discouraged to find a job, this is obvious by the fact that employers, during interviews, have a tendency to ask the former uncomfortable questions such as whether they are married, have children or are planning on doing so. The companies often offer women the job only if the answer to the last question in “no”, and they also specify that it is a fundamental condition for the women who want those work. The New York Time reports the experience of Ms. Wang, 32, married without children, who was offered to sign a “special agreement promising not to get pregnant for two years”, had she broken, she would have been fired without compensation. This behavior is clearly illegal, as it constitutes a threat to women’s rights which, from a theoretical point of view, should be equal to men’s. Also, in the private sphere women often experience sexual harassment and domestic violence but the Government does not assure them the right protection and this often results in a denial of justice. The problem probably finds its roots in the fact that men are not properly educated to respect women, as they grow believing that they are the “strong gender”, and that they can have total control over women’s bodies. This is testified by the great number of aggressions that women experience in everyday life, events that are so common to be considered normal. The New Yorker recounted one of these many stories, involving Wang, a thirty-one-year-old who was victim of an aggression perpetrated by a man while she was in a restaurant eating with her friends. The situation worsened for the whole female group when Wang tried to defend herself and other men attacked her and her friends.
The feminists’ response
The event involving Wang had a great echo in the feminist community in China which started to share the video of the violence on Weboo – the Chinese social media – denouncing the lack of legal protection towards women. Feminists’ movements in China developed at the beginning of the twentieth century, but they have had a great grown in the last years, on the heels of the Western movements, especially #MeToo. However, being a feminist in China is extremely complicated due to censorship which constitutes a great obstacle to the voice of feminists. Social media are the only way for women to express their views and to advocate for their rights, as physical protests are a great risk for women, and many social movements are still forbidden in the Country. As Ms Guo told to ABC, feminist activists during the years have organized many protests, “but they have also been greatly suppressed”.
The situation became worse with the Government of Xi Jinping, under which there has been a crackdown on feminist activism. Terms like “feminism” and “MeToo”, for example, rapidly disappearing from the internet, feminists are being shut down and banned from the main social media. This behavior has been justified by the Chinese authorities by claiming that the feminists’ activities “would disrupt the social order”.
The Government repression over feminists’ movement is much stronger than the general restrictions to the freedom of thought and expression imposed to Chinese society in general, which is testified by the fact that men can insult women on social media without facing any legal issues. This profound difference between men and women in Chinese society clearly shows the willingness of the Government to consider women as being inferior to men despite the various policies adopted by Chinese authorities aimed at promoting gender equality, like the Bejing Declaration and the Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women. Indeed, the initiative of the Chinese Government seems to only be a shell created to demonstrate to the rest of the World that China is making progress, while they want to hide the reality, which is much different.
Although Western Countries cannot always know what is really happening in China, due to the existing censorship, which acts not only in the Country, but also outside of it, they should pay more attention to the voice of Chinese feminists who are struggling in order to be heard, at the cost of being excluded by society. Western Countries should help Chinese women to gain the fundamental rights that they deserve by putting some pressure on China, for example by talking about what women in China are facing, and especially by supporting feminists movements.