The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the corruption of the Chinese government and their human rights abuses. This had led many to wonder what other rights are being abused in China, including women’s rights.
I want to make it very clear that this is not a critique of the people of China, of people of Chinese descent, or of Chinese culture. All fault lies with the Chinese government. Some of the worst abuses of women’s rights in China are the one-child policy, job discrimination, and sexual harassment.
The one-child policy to help control the population ended in 2015, but it’s still worth talking about because it’s still affecting women today. The policy began in 1979, and the 35 years that urban families in China could only have one child will impact society for generations to come.
The policy created a preference for male children to uphold the family name, but it also resulted in millions of single men. Chinese journalist Mei Fong writes, "When you create a system where you would shrink the size of a family and people would have to choose, then people would choose sons. Now China has 30 million more men than women, 30 million bachelors who cannot find brides. ... They call them guang guan, 'broken branches,' that's the name in Chinese. They are the biological dead ends of their family."
The one-child policy led to the murder of millions of baby girls.
The policy also led to millions of forced abortions and forced sterilizations. It led to the murder of millions of baby girls, with midwives or abortion doctors as their “executioners.” Nanfu Wang, co-director and producer of the documentary One Child Nation says, "Every woman has almost gone through a forced abortion or forced sterilization, Sometimes the babies...they were born alive, and because of the policy and her job, she had to kill them after they were born alive, and she is really traumatized because of that."
Wang’s uncle was forced to abandon his newborn daughter in hopes she would be adopted but discovered her body “covered with bugs” the next day. Societal pressures forced him to give up his daughter. He says, "My mom threatened to kill herself and said, 'If you keep this baby girl, I will either kill myself or I will strangle her to death first before killing myself,’ I thought I could save her life by giving her away but she ended up dead."
The one-child policy is one of the most despicable women’s rights violations in modern history, and it only ended five years ago. Forced abortions and sterilizations are horrific enough, but millions of babies were denied the most basic right, the right to life, under this policy.
Job Discrimination and Sexual Harassment
Chinese society has progressed similarly to the West over the past few decades, but that hasn’t stopped the Chinese government from trying to stop this progress. Many Chinese women, including 32-year-old Bella Wang, have to sign contracts to abstain from having children for two years in order to keep her job.
Many Chinese women have to sign contracts to abstain from having children for two years in order to keep their job.
This is illegal but a common practice. The Chinese government does little to nothing to punish companies that enforce these contracts. Wang Zheng, a professor of women’s studies and history at the University of Michigan, sees this as the Chinese government forcing women out of jobs and into traditional gender roles. She says, “When the state policymakers needed women’s hands, they sent them to do labor. Now they want to push women into marriage and have a bunch of babies.” This proves that the Chinese government sees women as second-class citizens and will do whatever it takes to control them.
A recent study also showed that one in five civil service jobs in China are advertised as “for men only,” and sexual harassment against women has increased in this industry. An anonymous Chinese woman says, “The most frightening part is that all these behaviors all seem very natural to them [the male civil servants], as if it is what it is supposed be, just like eating and breathing. Nobody thinks there is anything wrong. Under the power structure, it is nearly impossible to stand up and criticize (unless you don’t want the job anymore).”
A recent study also showed that one in five civil service jobs in China are advertised as “for men only.”
Similar to the contracts some women are forced to sign, the Chinese government has done little to nothing to help women who have been sexually harassed in their workplace.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the corruption of the Chinese government. They’re corrupt in many ways, including horrible women’s rights abuses. As women in the West, it’s important we acknowledge these problems to eventually help these women and stop the Chinese government from enforcing and allowing these horrible human rights abuses.