Progress and Setbacks for Women’s Rights Activists

At least ten women’s rights activists were detained on Friday and Saturday in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hangzhou as they planned to launch a campaign on public transportation against to mark International ’s Day on March 8. Five of the remain in custody, though lawyers have been unable to communicate with them. Edward Wong at the New York Times reports:

“We’ve always thought the country supports equal rights for women,” said Wang Qiushi, a lawyer representing Ms. Wei. “Speaking as a lawyer, this act is beyond our imagination and has shocked us.”

Mr. Wang said that he and other lawyers had tried to obtain details from the police at Haidian Police Station in western Beijing, where Ms. Wei and two others were being held, but that the police had refused to say anything.

A woman answering the telephone at the police station denied that any of the activists were being held there.

[…] “The attack this time is a big deal for us because the people who have been taken away formed the growing core of our movement these last few years,” said a young woman in Beijing who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also out of fear of official retribution. “They are the core strength of the women’s activist movement.” [Source]

On Feministing, Nancy Tang profiles the detained activists and writes:

Some commentators speculate that the “Two Sessions” underway (the Chinese legislature’s annual meeting) might explain why the feminists were taken into police custody, and expect that they will be released once the legislative sessions are adjourned. If we accept such analysis, which has validity in the Chinese one-party system that prioritizes stability above all else, the absurdity is beyond comprehension. On the one hand, Chinese state media celebrates women legislators and new anti- legislation, which are both important; on the other, the state is so afraid of young, vocal feminists that they must be detained right before International Women’s Day, so as to assure the smooth running of national legislative sessions. [Source]

On Twitter, Eric Fish commented on his earlier encounter with one of the detained activists, Li Tingting:

Several of the detained activists have also campaigned for legal protections against domestic violence, a widespread problem which was thrust into the media spotlight with two recent high-profile cases: Kim Lee, the American former wife of celebrity English teacher Li Yang, who took to social media to expose his violence against her, and Li Yan, who killed her abusive husband after her attempts to get police and community protection failed. A draft law against domestic violence, the first of its kind, is expected to pass the National People’s Congress this year and will have its first reading in August. Hu Qingyun gives background on the law for Global Times:

A draft of the anti-domestic violence law was published by the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council to solicit public opinion in November 2014, which identified domestic violence as physical and psychological abuse of spouses, parents, children and other relatives.

The biggest controversy about the bill is under what conditions authorities should step into the private affairs of a couple or family, Fu said.

“It is difficult to reach a consensus on where to draw a line since the Chinese society is still relatively conservative,” she said.

According to the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), nearly 25 percent of Chinese women have suffered domestic violence in their marriage. [Source]

Simon Denyer reports for the Washington Post on the proposed law:

In March, in apparent response to the furor over Li Yan’s case, authorities issued new guidelines to judges and police saying self-defense can apply in cases where defendants are trying to prevent domestic violence. More generally, the stories of and Li Yan have helped activists record what could be a landmark victory.

“China is not an easy country in which to be an activist on any issue, including gender issues,” said Julie Brossard, who runs the U.N. Women office in China. “For them to get to this point is actually a huge achievement.”

[…] The proposed new law gives victims of violence access to redress and protection, including restraining orders, and it requires local governments to set up more shelters.

But it fails to outlaw marital rape, and it puts too much onus on the police to respond, and not enough emphasis on health and social services, critics say. [Source]

Read more about the draft law, via CDT and the Supreme People’s Court Monitor, including a translation of the draft which is now open for comment.

Kim Lee noted to the Washington Post that several of the activists who were detained over the weekend were the same ones who spoke out against domestic violence when she took her case public. She cautions against lauding the progress of the domestic violence bill when the government is simultaneously cracking down on the activist networks that helped push the bill forward:

“I feel guilty that an article appeared about China’s making progress on a women’s issue when the very women who dressed as bloody brides, and helped draw attention to my case, were taken into custody,” Lee wrote in an e-mail.

It showed, she said, that last week’s announcement that a first reading of an anti-domestic-violence law would take place in August was “more about the appearance of progress than actual progress.”

One of the arrested activists, Li Tingting, had “stood in the cold and snow for hours outside my divorce hearings,” Lee recalled, remembering how she had collapsed into her friend’s arms in tears on the day of her final divorce decree.

“People call me brave,” Lee wrote. “These women and their bravery humble me.” [Source]

Read more about sexual harassment, domestic violence, and women’s rights in China, via CDT.