U.N. Committee Calls Out Chinese State’s Discrimination Against Women

This week, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) released its findings on eight countries, including China. The findings assess each country’s progress in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and they serve as an opportunity to highlight the areas where each country has fallen short. In CEDAW’s document on China, 18 pages were dedicated to the committee’s “areas of concern,” which spanned a wide array of issues related to women’s rights in China

The Committee was concerned about the excessive restrictions on the registration of non-governmental organisations. It was also concerned about reports of intimidation and harassment against women human rights defenders, including sexual and gender-based violence by the police and other officials, and that these rights defenders might face reprisal for their participation in the Committee’s review. It urged China to repeal the sponsorship requirement and all other disproportionate restrictions on NGO registration. The Committee also asked the State party to ensure that women human rights defenders are not subject to intimidation, harassment and reprisals for their work, including engagement with the Committee. It further called on China to investigate and prosecute those who had harassed and abused women rights defenders, including police officers and other State agents. [Source]

CEDAW also issued recommendations to address specific violations of Tibetan and Uyghur women’s rights:

Immediately halt non-voluntary “labour transfer” and “vocational training” programmes in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, and carry out meaningful consultations with the affected women in order to explore alternative training options, including those that make full use of their unique skills and potential;

Prohibit coercive employment measures, including forced labour of Uyghur women, immediately discontinue any such measures, release all women subject to forced labour, and prosecute and punish perpetrators, including State officials, of gender-based violence, such as sexual violence and harassment, against women in employment, notably in vocational training and education centres for Uyghur women.

[…] Take immediate steps to end, prevent and criminalize the use of coercive measures, such as forced abortions, forced sterilizations, other forms of gender-based sexual violence and other cruel, inhuman or degrading family planning practices that are allegedly inflicted on women in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and in predominantly Uyghur-populated areas,  ensure that any cases of such practices are effectively investigated without delay and that those responsible are prosecuted and adequately punished and that victims receive adequate compensation.

[…] Ensure the right of all women, including those belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, such as Uyghur women, freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent;  that all cases of forced interethnic marriages of Uyghur women are effectively investigated and that those responsible, including public officials, are prosecuted and adequately punished; and raise awareness the general public and provide mandatory training to law enforcement officers and other public officials about the criminal nature of forced marriages; [Source]

The report described how politics is another area where women in China face discrimination, as highlighted by the appointment last October of China’s first all-male Politburo in 25 years. Addressing this issue in the ASPI Strategist this week, Minglu Chen, a senior lecturer in Chinese politics at the University of Sydney, wrote: “Introducing an effective gender quota system, addressing barriers such as recruitment criteria and educational disparities, diversifying the CCP and providing more opportunities for women in leadership positions are crucial steps towards increasing female representation in Chinese politics.” The issue, she argues, is due to the government’s treatment of gender equality through an economic lens in which “[w]omen are effectively seen as a reserve labour force that contributes to the greater cause of nation-building and economic development.”

The state’s gender-infused nation-building goal and authoritarian foundation justifies political and personal violence, as Natalia Antonova argued this week in Foreign Policy. She described how authoritarianism breeds intimate partner violence, a systemic issue that she suggested actually benefits the Chinese state:

[F]or an abuser who lives under an authoritarian system, the freedom to destroy another human being—as long as she is female and lives under the same roof—can appear almost intoxicating, a chance for revenge against all perceived and real wrongs. He cannot express his rage at a controlling system that emasculates him, but he is allowed to have an outlet inside his marital home.

[…] As long as the violence happens within the home, or the confines of a relationship, it is no threat to the family harmony model the Chinese government is pursuing. If anything, in this perverse understanding of harmony, violence enhances peace, by making sure the woman remains wholly subservient.

It’s not just family ideology that keeps the system on the side of the abuser. In this sense, violence against a woman is a convenient outlet presented to an angry man by an authoritarian state apparatus: “Sure, we will tell you what to do. But we will also provide you with the opportunity and the excuse to tell someone else what to do—with your fists if necessary.” [Source]

Growing nationalism has provided a tool for the state to control women who challenge its interests. The Economist recently examined “the toxic loop between China’s angry nationalists and its paranoid authorities.” Their collaboration, specifically through nationalist digital vigilantism, often targets Chinese women. This week, China Media Project’s Ryan Ho Kilpatrick interviewed Qian Huang, a lecturer in digital culture at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who described the construction of national identities and social exclusion, and how Chinese female intellectuals get caught in the middle:

RHK: Why are these attacks so often gendered? What is it about nationalism and misogyny that so seemlessly dovetails?

QH: Women are often regarded as the property and vessels of the nation because their reproductive function is needed to “continue the national bloodline/lineage” in our patriarchal society. Therefore, women’s sexual morals have always been heavily policed, especially by “patriotic men.” Nowadays, because of globalization and international mobility, the sexual moral purity of “our women” is seen as at risk since many of them choose to romantically engage with foreign men. Also, our society has always held higher moral standards for women than other social identities such as mother, daughter, and wife. Therefore, women need to fulfill many more standards to be regarded as qualified “patriotic women.” They are not only evaluated against the already fluid and porous norms of a patriotic citizen but also against the moral standards for “a good Chinese woman.”

[…] RHK: Do you see any way out of this cycle whereby, as you put it, “gendered identity gets shaped through a nationalist discourse which, in turn, (re)produces a nationalist identity”? Due to their intersectional nature, is it imperative that misogyny and nationalism be addressed in tandem?

QH: I’m an optimistic pessimist. I think that it is very hard for us to change the current power structure and dominant ideologies, but I still want to believe that we can bring some changes.

I completely agree with you that it is imperative to address misogyny and nationalism together because nationalism is always patriarchal. To do that, we should promote individual narratives instead of grand narratives; we should complicate the discourses on social media platforms with various types of storytelling, bringing nuances back to public discussions. However, the fundamental solution should still come from the structure level, for which I don’t have a solution and I’m rather pessimistic about it. I hope I can get closer to that answer in my future research. [Source]


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