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A woman cringes under the hand of her infuriated husband, each blow leaving darker marks than the one preceding it. She holds the cries back despite the antagonizing pain, only letting a couple tears escape her tightly shut eyes. Just when she has had enough, the man’s anger dissipates and he leaves his wife bruised and battered on the ground. She draws a deep breath, then silently returns to her household duties. This is only an example of the situations women in China must face in the twenty-first century because of the gender inequality still reigning there.
Thousands in the female population of China experience lesser rights on a daily basis, despite efforts that have already been made to help them. China would see a dramatic rise in women’s rights by teaching its people about the importance of protecting and respecting them, as well as seeing them as equal to men. The treatment of women in China suffers from the government’s failure to reach everyone in its society because of conflict with traditional expectations of Chinese women, the focus on political solutions that are not guaranteed to be effective, and economic barriers standing in the way.
Despite China’s deeply embedded opinion of women, more recent times have awakened awareness that have caused the government to become involved. This shows that there are people who want to make a difference and take action to do so. The All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) in particular, established in 1949, is the country’s most well-known and active group “safeguarding women’s rights and interests” (Xiaoling).
All of these organizations are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which is the official name of China’s government. As a result, it can intervene when women’s rights are violated, but there is a more shocking side to this control that does not present itself as beneficial. The CCP takes over, especially in cases where interventions “conflict with Party or government policy”(Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights). In other words, the government manipulates certain situations to avoid conflict with other laws, no matter what happens. An example of this is the abuse of lesbians being hidden from the public (RFK Memorial Center). The government knows this would be especially controversial, and consequently it chooses to restrain details from the population. China has been criticized by the United States for such occurrences and, in its own defense, finds fault with America’s “history of racial discrimination” (Facts on File). This is true, but China has not overcome discrimination of women, in its case, as a whole and would do well to follow in America’s footsteps. It is essential for the government to step out of its comfort zone and be willing to deal with conflict if it genuinely cares for the welfare of its people, as a government should.
Chinese tradition and society’s views of women are among the most difficult challenges associated with women’s rights. Before the twentieth century, women did not have any rights whatsoever and were viewed as objects with the sole purpose of serving men (Nosotro). Other women could be forced to be slaves, concubines, and prostitutes, and marriages were arranged. A gruesome example of this deprivation of independence is foot binding, a painful process started because people at the time “preferred that the [woman’s] foot be around 3 inches [long]” (Nosotro). The focus on pleasing society with its opinion of beauty greatly impacted Chinese women and took away their right to their personal appearance. These customs were in use for hundreds of years and took root in Chinese culture, thus making them harder to change. It is not until the early twentieth century that Mao and the Communist Party were able to outlaw many of these traditions with the purpose of “[giving] females an increasing sense of self-confidence”(Nosotro). These adjustments help guide women’s rights into a more positive direction, yet it is impossible to erase China’s culture and the ideas it has created. Also, China is such a vast country that its more isolated and rural areas are not heavily influenced by law; as a result, they may cling to the old ways of life. The government should be taking steps to ensure that everyone in China understands the law, yet its failure to do this worsens conditions for certain women and makes it seem indifferent. This attitude must be corrected in order for women’s rights to improve.
The common occurrence of violated laws concerning women is a horrific warning to the government to stop acting as a powerful legislative body and start taking humane action. “Spousal abuse”, or the abuse of wives by husbands, is common in China and still acceptable in society (RFK Memorial Center). Statistics about this are not exposed to the public, and the ACWF is trying to find a way to stop this abuse, but it is still of great concern that this type of behavior is condoned by the Chinese people (RFK Memorial Center). Again, this reverts back to the traditional view of women and their worth to men. The government does administer very strict and harsh punishments for violations of laws protecting women. The death penalty is used even for “more ordinary and economic crimes”(Rapp 138); fines, as well as time served in jail, are some of the milder consequences (Xiaoling). One must then realize that government officials tend to turn their backs on women illegally bought as wives and are only rescued if they or their families complain (RFK Memorial Center). This suggests that the government does not want to become involved in what it would view as personal matters and also shows that it is not particularly worried about what goes on in China’s society.
The Chinese government is continually increasing the number of laws established to protect women that have the potential to leave an impression on society, if they have not already. While this should attract the attention of the public and make women’s rights more official, it remains a focus on political solutions and takes away from actual enforcement and benefit of these laws. China is struggling to satisfy women protesting their treatment only through law, but its creation of “legal protections” (Hom 33) is still minimally effective. The Law of the People’s Republic of China Concerning the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women is one law that takes care of the “right of succession to married daughters and widows” (Xiaoling). It does not allow prejudice against women inheriting property and protects other rights of that category (Xiaoling). The long-term effect of this law should be a change of traditional perspective where inheritance is obtained through men, but it and other pieces of legislation show that the government considers the plight of its women as a legal issue and does not take the cultural drawbacks into full consideration. It has already been explained how culture is a fundamental reason behind the reason Chinese women are not treated as well as they should be, and it appears that China is unable to see past that. This is displayed through the public’s reaction to the laws.
The Family Planning Policy is notorious in China for its restrictions on family, but it is also a contributor to the poor treatment of women that relates back to the economy. A very large population and not enough land to support it caused the government to enforce the One-Child Policy. Boys are still valued more than girls in China because they maintain the family name, are supposedly better workers, and receive higher wages (Tytler). The fact that families in China are restricted to one child means that the majority will do everything possible to have a son rather than a daughter, and this is often done through illegal methods. Abortion is frequently put into action because “killing the child before birth is promoted” (Nosotro). Sometimes women are even forced to abort against their will, and this directly violates a woman’s right to her family and the way she wants to organize it. The government is aware of this problem and has been known to pose fines, take property, and cut salaries of those caught carrying out illegal abortions (RFK Memorial Center). This is still a major issue residing with the favor of boys, mostly because of their contribution to the economy. If people’s ideas about this could be influenced by a convincing government, women’s rights in this area will be greatly affected for the better.
The economy is one of the most problematic barriers of women’s rights and proves that not all women in China are benefiting from the government’s current efforts. This makes it even more important for the government to reach out to its people, no matter who they are or under what conditions they live in. Surveys are carried out to obtain statistics about employed women, and seventy to eighty percent of fired workers are women; they make up sixty percent of the unemployed population, and some places refuse to hire them (RFK Memorial Center). The government has this information available, yet it still has not made a significant difference in the lives of these women. A justification would be that women would slow down the economy and men are better candidates, but this only shows that China worries more about monetary gain than the people who help achieve it. In the end, this is a major obstacle for women because of the importance of China’s economy, and if society continues to believe that women are only a setback to success, then there will be no hope for them to gain total equality to men.
Throughout the centuries, women in China have been held back by an inferior view of them that slowly shows signs of improving. Women’s rights movements in the past century have made a difference to women everywhere, but not as much as they could in China. It remains one of the world’s most notorious challenges to overcome, but a unified effort has the power to make a change. A significant rise in equality would be seen if the government reached out to the people by overcoming traditional customs, paying less attention to political solutions, and taking care of economic issues associated with women.
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