China is getting a law to protect women from domestic violence. An important step forward, although many have been critical about the draft law, writes author Zhang Lijia at her weblog, and it is far from enough to change the attitude of men.
I understand how important a strengthened law is in fighting against this endemic problem. Research conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation showed that one in four women has experienced domestic violence. Feng ( Yuan, founder of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network, a Beijing-based non-governmental organisation) estimates the number to be one in three.
The problem will not vanish overnight just because of a new law. There are, in fact, no shortage of laws in China. It is implementation that poses the greatest challenge. Once this law is enacted, it will undoubtedly be easier to file a lawsuit on the grounds of domestic violence. With no legal aid on offer, however, many poor victims may not be able to access the law to gain this protection.
The new bill demands that each county set up a shelter for domestic violence victims. In the past, hundreds of government-run shelters have been established, but few have served the correct purpose, partly because they required strict criteria, such as employer’s certification. Even with a relaxed criteria, they still need a lot of resources to keep going. I am not sure local governments will be willing to devote the resources needed to support this.
Yet the biggest challenge of all, to my mind, is for the people in this populous country to truly understand that domestic violence is fundamentally wrong. For centuries, beating one’s wife, whom many men regarded as their own property, has been tolerated. And the roots of the problem – a disparity of power and a male chauvinism ingrained in Chinese culture – will continue to exist.
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