Feminists and their lawyers and NGO´s have a hard time as they face continued repression under Xi Jinping´s tenure. Author Zhang Lijia explains in Al Jazeera why China´s dream needs feminists and the current crackdown is not night.
The arrest of the Feminist Five is widely seen as a broad and intensifying crackdown by Xi’s administration against civil liberties, activism and NGOs.
Other NGOs, notably Transition Institute, a well-known independent think-tank, have also been shut down. Many human rights lawyers have been arrested, including Wang Yu, a female lawyer who represented one of the Feminist Five.
In the case of the Feminist Five, perhaps the authorities, who are obsessed with “wei weng” – maintaining stability – might have been alarmed by the fact that young activists are bringing their agenda into the public sphere.
The impact of the arrest was devastating. Most of the NGOs the feminists were associated with were forced to close.
The Chinese Communist Party can indeed make a number of claims about its promotion of women’s rights. After taking power in 1949, the party granted women equal rights, liberating them from the shackles of thousands of years of patriarchal society. Mao famously declared that “women can hold up half of the sky”.
Deng Xiaoping’s reforms brought plenty of opportunities for women, but there were also setbacks as the market and cold-hearted capitalism took over.
Female graduates are now facing difficulties finding employment, where previously, before the introduction of reforms, jobs were allocated by the government regardless of gender. Additionally, the income gap between men and women has actually widened.
Without the state’s intervention or support as before, women’s representation in all forms of social activities has decreased.
In the past 20 years, women’s NGOs and activists have done tremendous work in meeting such new challenges, as well as advocating for gender equality.
Does the government really want to improve the lot of women? No doubt yes, but the party wishes to be the only actor in the effort, setting the agenda they feel comfortable with and acting at their own pace. This is a mistake.
Given the limited governmental resources and a growing complex urban landscape, it is quite impossible for the authorities to take over the task of advancing women’s rights.
Women’s NGOs should be strengthened instead of restricted. And without giving them space, Chinese women’s dream of holding up half of the sky will, sadly, remain just a dream.
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