Chinese Women’s Rights and Interests: Do the New Revisions Bring New Changes? Part 1
Edited by WeiDi Xu & Beata Desselle
Public Opinion of the Revision
The “Law of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests (2022 Revision),” hereinafter referred to as the new revision, which was first revised and adopted at the 37th Session of the Standing Committee of the Thirteenth National People’s Congress of the PRC on October 30, 2022, came into effect this January. The new revision stipulates that the country shall take necessary measures to gradually improve the protection of women’s rights and interests, eliminate all forms of gender discrimination, and prohibit restrictions on women’s enjoyment and exercise of their rights and interests. The new revision has 86 articles, 48 of which constitute big changes to existing articles while 24 of them are new. But what are the public opinions of the new revision? Do people think the new revision will actually bring about new changes?
“It is the first time I’ve participated in politics on my own.” “这是我第一次自主地参与政治。”
As a girl who loves surfing the internet, Li spends most of her leisure time on social media, especially Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. In browsing trending topics, she found that Chinese lawmakers were deliberating a draft law revision to better protect women and eliminate discrimination. At the time, the draft was being put forward for public consultation.
“I saw that the draft is about me, a female, so I must speak up for myself and for the rights of all women.” Li read the draft carefully, and she expressed her views and proposals online—specifically, on the National People’s Congress website. Chinese authorities have used this channel to ask the public for comments on legislation for over a decade. “It is the first time I’ve participated in politics on my own,” Li said.
She is not alone. During the period when the draft was subject to public comment, more than 80,000 people submitted over 400,000 proposals on the first review, followed by over 80,000 people submitting over 300,000 proposals on the second review. These are record numbers of Chinese people sharing their voices, demonstrating their eagerness to bring about change.
The Law of the PRC on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests (Second Deliberation Draft of the Revised Draft) solicits comments, 妇女权益保障法（修订草案二次审议稿）征求意见，
“It’s no concern of mine.” “与我无关。”
Public opinion will always matter, and it is important that proponents of the law win Chinese public support. However, the silent majority of Chinese are unwilling to express their opinion. In terms of data, the 80,000 people who spoke out on women’s rights represent a very small portion of China’s large population.
“I agree that women should have equal rights. But I am not interested in discussing a proposal on this law. It’s no concern of mine. Actually, I find myself not clicking on headlines or popular topics about women’s rights, despite the fact that gender issues are one of the hottest topics on the Internet.” Yu is more interested in news regarding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. In this sense, he conforms to a male stereotype. He is a microcosm of the silent majority who have no interest in accessing information channels and amplifying platforms for women’s voices. Even some female students at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) have no idea about the new revision, although their interests are tied to the new law.
On Weibo, someone said, “You might not care about politics; however, politics still influence you.” It is not possible for women to live a better life without participating in politics. Strong voices for women’s rights must move the public. This is the only way for women’s rights to improve so that their needs, concerns, and interests are met.
“The new revision is not easy to implement in practice.” “新法不容易落实。”
“I feel a little disappointed about the law, which has settled on an imperfect compromise. It is not clear enough. And the law is not easy to implement in practice.” Chen is a law student who advocates for women’s rights. According to Chen, the revised law specifies measures to further promote gender equality in different parts of society, but it does not provide women with strong protection against the infringement of their privacy rights. “One such right is most important: a woman’s right to life. In China, fetal sex determination is still popular, and girls are frequently aborted by their parents when detected in utero by ultrasound or by a blood test. According to article 21 of the law, ‘non-medically necessary fetal sex identification and sex-selective artificial termination of pregnancy shall be prohibited.’ There are policies and laws to deal with sex selection before the new revision, but the key point is how to effectively prevent abortion based on that.”
March 12, 2021, the contact numbers of illegal companies advertising egg donation, surrogacy, and sex selection on the streets of a downtown city in China have been scraped off by kind-hearted citizens. At present, egg donation, surrogacy, and sex selection are illegal in China, and people can call the mayor’s hotline on 12345 to complain and report. China’s law prohibits the sale of personality rights, including egg donation and surrogacy which also cause harm to women’s bodies and exploit women’s fertility.
Sex selection continues to exist even after the relaxation of China’s one-child policy. Parents can have three children now, but they still prefer boys. Even though policies and laws have prohibited non-medically necessary fetal sex identification and sex-selective artificial termination of pregnancy, families who desire boys went to illegal agencies to identify gender and receive an abortion. According to the seventh national census in 2020, the gender of a family’s third child is the most skewed, with the sex ratio of third-born children in China being 132.93 by 2020. This figure means that there are 132.93 boys per every 100 girls at birth. Demographers consider the normal ratio of newborns to be 105. Among the 31 provinces and Municipalities for which data are available in China, the five highest sex ratios were 177.42 (Hubei province), 165.86 (Anhui province), 164.49 (Fujian province), 158.22 (Jiangxi province), and 152.78 (Shanghai). Even in Shanghai, one of the most developed cities in China, parents prefer boys and choose to abort girls, resulting in a ratio of 152.78 boys born for every 100 girls. Population Research estimates that from 1980 to 2099, the actual number of female births decreased by about 63 million compared to the normal birth sex ratio.
According to the sex ratio data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the sex ratio between 0 and 29 years old exceeded 110 in 2020. 根据中国国家统计局公布的性别比数据，2020年0岁至29岁的性别比都在110以上.
“I helped a woman who was beaten.” “我帮了一个被打的女人。”
Gender-based violence is violence directed against individuals because of their gender. Gender-based violence exists across class, race, and religion. Unfortunately, many women who encounter gender-based violence at home and within the community suffer in silence.
To empower these victims, society needs to strengthen anti-violence measures to protect women and make them feel supported. The issue is that many victims of domestic violence are too embarrassed to ask for help, and the public regards violence happening in the home as taboo to discuss openly. Conservatives consider domestic violence as family affairs and marital disputes, while progressives think domestic violence is a legal issue that demands action from courts and police.
Liu, a student of HNC, shared her story to stop domestic violence, “I helped a woman who was beaten. It happened at around 22:00 p.m. on December 13, 2021. My sister and I were walking on the way back home from the gym. We found a man beating a woman near a Metro station in a bustling area of the city. We stopped the man, comforted the woman, then called the police. The woman told us the man was her husband and they were getting divorced. We thought it was domestic violence when we gave our statements to the policemen. But it seems the policemen took it as disorderly conduct or a family quarrel. It is wrong to place any blame on the woman who was the victim of her husband’s violence. I felt disappointed with the policemen. I posted this domestic violence on WeChat Moments (China’s equivalent of Instagram, author’s note). My friends commented and shared domestic violence cases they witnessed. I realized how common domestic violence really is.” Liu refused to accept these scenarios as “common-place” violence and advocated for measures to be taken on gender violence to the National People’s Congress.
中心学生Liu分享了她制止家庭暴力的故事，“我帮了一个被打的女人。 2021 年 12 月 13 日晚上 ，十点左右，我和妹妹从健身房回家。路上我们发现一个男的在殴打一个女人，就在市里面最繁华地带的地铁站出口。我们拦住那个男的，把女人拉到一边安慰她，然后报警。那个女人说，男的是她的老公，正在闹离婚。和警察做笔录的时候，我们觉得这是家庭暴力。但警察的口气听上去这只是治安事件、家庭纠纷。我觉得各打五十大板是错的，因为就女人被打了。我当时有点失望，当晚就发了朋友圈说这个事。很多朋友给我留言说他们亲眼看到的家庭暴力。原来家庭暴力这么常见。”Liu拒绝接受“常见”的暴力，向全国人民代表大会提出了有关性别暴力的意见。
According to a special report on judicial big data for divorce disputes released by the Supreme People’s Court of the PRC, from 2016 to 2017, the annual first-instance trial of divorce disputes nationwide was basically the same, with more than 1.4 million cases in 2017. Amongst these cases, 73.4% of the plaintiffs were women and 14.86 % of the couples applied to the court for dissolution of marriage due to domestic violence. Of the cases involving domestic violence, 91.43% of the domestic violence were committed by men against women.
“Best would be free sanitary products, if possible.” “如果可能，最好是卫生巾免费。”
“As a female student, I pay attention to women’s interests, but I have not found a ‘Don’t Worry Box’ or ‘Mutual Aid Box’ at the HNC.” Lu added, “Toilet paper rolls are free, so why aren’t sanitary products? I am not sure whether it follows the HNC’s rules or not, but I am sure there will be some obstacles, such as financial constraints, or maybe simply because a ‘Mutual Aid Box’ is not in demand now. Frankly, a ‘Mutual Aid Box’ is the second best option. The best option would be free sanitary products, if possible. I think all women should be able to access sanitary products for free.” Mutual Aid Boxes are created due to the basic nature of menstruation: menstruation can not be controlled (unlike holding urine) and the time in which a woman starts menstruating is uncertain. The logic behind the “Mutual Aid Box” is that women understand and help each other based on this shared predicament and embarrassment. Although these sanitary napkins in the“Mutual Aid Boxes” donated by individuals or small groups are helpful, we need more public policies and laws providing free access to these products.
However, Lu admitted that providing free sanitary products may be too costly to be afforded by the Chinese government. “We cannot build a mansion in the air. Maybe it is not practical to make sure every woman has free sanitary products. But how about providing free sanitary pads to women in poverty? We all know the priority in China is fighting poverty. Menstrual poverty is also poverty.” Menstrual poverty, also known as period poverty, refers to women’s inability to receive adequate-both quantity and quality- of hygiene products during their period because they cannot afford them financially or because they are constrained by backward attitudes. Currently, China has a public health poverty alleviation program for women – free cervical and breast cancer screenings for rural women, benefiting 168 million women. However, there is no national program related to sanitary napkins. Since there is a slim chance of having free sanitary products for all, Lu went to the National People’s Congress website and wrote down advice about eradicating menstrual poverty. To make matters worse, Lu becomes even more disappointed in remembering that, in China, condoms are free, but sanitary pads are not.
Nanjing University Community Hospital is 1 km from the HNC. It is the nearest place to supply free condoms. People can register on the WeChat public account and wait for the free condom to mail home. 离中心1公里的南京大学社区医院，是最近的免费避孕套领取点。人们还可以在微信公众号登记，等待免费避孕套邮寄到家。
Sanitary products are essential to maintain healthy hygienic conditions for women, and period shaming and period poverty are common all over the world. A period poverty bill to make sanitary products free was introduced in Scotland in 2017. However, the opponents were against the bill citing concerns about the cost. From 2018 to 2019, Scotland provided free sanitary products in schools, colleges, universities, libraries, and recreational centers. In 2020, Scotland passed the period poverty bill to make sanitary products free, the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products for all. The Scottish experience is a good one to follow. It tells us that free universal access to period products can be achieved.
The picture shows a screenshot of the Chinese TV series Rising Lady. It talks about the power of women, but ironically, the line “sanitary pads” in the play has been replaced with “makeup remover pads”. 这张截图是讲述女性力量的中国电视剧《她们的名字》，然而讽刺的是，剧中台词的“卫生巾”都被替换成“卸妆棉”。
Note: The names of the people appearing in the report are pseudonyms.