On her blog China Law and Policy, Elizabeth Lynch interviews Leta Hong Fincher about her book “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (Asian Arguments).” In Part One of the interview, Lynch and Hong Fincher discuss the underlying issues behind the “leftover women” campaign, which discriminates against women who are not married by their late 20s:
EL: I guess in reading your book, that was the hardest part for me to understand, that you have these very well-educated women. Most the of the women you interview are at least college educated if not PhDs. Very urban and sophisticated. They seem like this modern woman. It just seems so hard to comprehend that you have so many so willing to give up their equal economic rights in a relationship because of this concept. Is it just this media campaign – I guess if you can talk more about how strong this media campaign is. Or is it also something with the education system itself, that women aren’t questioning this propaganda. I just think if you were in a Western country, there would be more questioning of it.
LHF: Well it’s certainly not just [media]. I talk about the leftover women campaign. But when it comes to home buying, that’s simply one factor that’s shutting women out of property ownership. The fact that homes are so expensive is a huge factor as well. If homes were not so expensive then these women would be able to save up enough money on their own. Most of the women I interviewed wanted their own homes. So if they were able to afford it on their own, they would buy their own homes.
So part of it is China’s privatization in housing and the subsequent real estate boom has created these tremendous new pressures on everybody in Chinese society: on the parents, on men and women. Even if the woman actually transfers her life savings over to the man to finance this loan [to buy the house], usually the man’s family ends up putting in more money than she does simply because the man’s parents have been saving all their lives. So then it may come down to the fact that the man’s family says: “well we put in more money therefore you have no right to put your name on the deed.” It may be the man’s parents who are really fighting with her and maybe her boyfriend would support adding her name to the deed. But it’s a very complicated transaction involving extended families pitted against each other.
Part Two of the interview focuses on legal protections for women’s rights — or lack thereof — and recent cases that have set a precedent for changing the treatment of women:
EL: I guess in looking at the Supreme People’s Court interpretation and how that has a negative impact on women, one of the things though that has happened recently is that China has had its first gender discrimination lawsuit in employment. That seems like a positive development in terms of women’s rights. So how do you gel the fact that in a country where the court can reject cases, so they allowed obviously this case to be heard and even though it settled, they did allow it and its been published in the newspaper. How do you gel that kind of a development with the leftover women and the 2011 Marriage Law Interpretation?
LHF: Well, Chinese society is certainly not static and there are some legal success. That gender discrimination lawsuit was very important and it set an important precedent. But the fact is that there are so many other systemic ways in which women’s rights and gains are being reversed in the past two decades. One successful lawsuit here or there doesn’t fundamentally change the situation for the vast majority of women. Most notably there is still no specific law on domestic violence. Feminist lawyers and activist had been lobbying for over a decade to pass a law. And they’ve drafted the language, it’s all ready, but it simply hasn’t been passed.