China Moves to Overhaul Protections for Women’s Rights, Sort Of
By Vivian Wang
January 2, 2022
The proposed revisions are the latest in a series of conflicting messages by the Chinese government about the country’s growing feminist movement. On paper, the changes, which China’s legislature reviewed for the first time last month, would seem to be a triumph for activists who have long worked to push gender equality into the Chinese mainstream. The Women’s Rights and Interests Protection Law has been substantially revised only once, in 2005, since it was enacted nearly three decades ago.
At the same time, the authorities, ever leery of grass-roots organizing, have detained outspoken feminist activists and sought to control the country’s fledgling #MeToo movement. Sexual harassment lawsuits — already rare — have been dismissed. Women have been fired or fined for lodging accusations. When Peng Shuai, a star tennis player, recently said on social media that a top Chinese leader had pressured her into sex, she was censored within minutes, and many worry that she is under surveillance.
Women have also been increasingly pushed out of the workplace and into traditional gender roles since China’s leader, Xi Jinping, assumed power. Some fear that the campaign to encourage childbirth could turn coercive.
The contradictions were clear in a recent article in the Global Times, a Communist Party-owned tabloid, about Chinese feminist advocacy. While the article hailed the proposed legal revisions as a “landmark move,” it also denounced “spooky ‘feminism’” and derided the “so-called MeToo movement” as yet another Western cudgel against China.