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Human Rights Regarding Chinese Women Essay, Research Paper

Even since the dramatic post-1949 changes in China regarding the role of women, China has remained paternalistic in it’s attitudes and social reality. Like many other states, China inescapably has been deeply involved in human rights politics at the international level in recent decades. During this period of time, the Chinese government has been increasingly active in participating in the international human rights regime. China has so far joined seventeen human rights conventions, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, and has expressed its respect for international human rights law. In 1997 China signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and in 1998 China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The land reform, which was intended to create a more balanced economic force in marriage, was the beginning of governmental efforts to pacify women, with no real social effect. Communist China needed to address the “woman question”. Since women wanted more equality, and equality is doled out from the hands of those in power, capitalism was examined. The economic issues of repressed Chinese women were focused on the Land Act and the Marriage Act of 1950. The Land reform succeeded in eliminating the extended family’s material basis and hence, its potential for posing as a political threat to the regime. Small-plots were redistributed to each family member regardless of age or sex; and land reform provisions stipulated that property would be equally divided in the case of divorce. Nonetheless, their husbands effectively controlled land allotted to women. Patriarchal familial relationships in the Confucian tradition seemed to remain intact. The Marriage Law of 1950 legalized marriage, denounced patriarchal authority in the household and granted both sexes equal rights to file for divorce.

The second and most prominent element of the strategy was integrating women into economic development. The PRC ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1980 and enacted the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests in 1992. However, open discrimination against women in China has continued to grow during the period of reform of the last 15 years.

According to PRC government surveys, women’s salaries have been found to average 77% of men’s, and most women employed in industry work in low-skill and low-paying jobs. An estimated 70 to 80% of workers laid off as a result of downsizing in factories have been women, and, although women make up 38% of the work force, they are 60% of the unemployed. At job fairs, employers openly advertise positions for men only, and university campus recruiters often state that they will not hire women. Employers justify such discrimination by saying that they cannot afford the benefits they are required to provide for pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants.

The proportion of women to men declines at each educational tier, with women comprising some 25% of undergraduates in universities. Institutions of higher education that have a large proportion of female applicants, such as foreign language institutes, have been known to require higher entrance exam grades from women. Although China has a law mandating compulsory primary education, increasing numbers of rural girls are not being sent to school. Rural parents often do not want to “waste” money on school fees for girls who will “belong” to another family when they marry. According to official statistics, about 70% of illiterates in China are female.

Women’s employment was viewed as a prerequisite for emancipation from bourgeois structures as embodied in the patriarchal family. Furthermore, at the core of the CCP’s strategy for political consolidation was economic reconstruction and rural development. The full participation of women was not only an ideological imperative but a pragmatic one. Third, the All-China Women’s Federation (W.F.) was established by the CCP to mobilize women for economic development and social reform. Women did succeed in gaining materialistically. However, culture dictates whether these governmental attempts can be successful and China has proven that they were only panaceas for the real issue. Materialistic approaches could not shadow the issue of the view in Chinese society of the role of women.

In the struggle for equality, China did not go to the women to find what they believed to be the most effective answer to the issue. The paternalistic powers gave women what they thought they needed for an equalizer, not understanding the need for self-affirmation and independence. The issue the women rallied under was that men were answering the “woman question”. Women’s organizations were not allowed their voice, which became an ironic and frustrating endorsement to the pathetic state of women in China.

The One-Family, One-Child policy launched in 1979 has turned reproduction into an area of direct state intervention. The new regime under Deng made the neo-Malthusian observation that the economic gains from reform were barely sufficient to accommodate a population of one billion, given the natural population growth rate of 1.26 percent, much less provide a base for advanced industrial development. The One-Family, One-Child campaigns have therefore targeted women to limit their childbearing as a “patriotic duty”. The one-child policy, in conjunction with the traditional preference for male children, has led to a resurgence of practices like female infanticide, concealment of female births and abandonment of female infants. Female children whose births are not registered do not have any legal existence and therefore may have difficulty going to school or receiving medical care or other state services. The overwhelming majority of children in orphanages are female and/or mentally or physically handicapped.

This policy has also contributed to the practice of prenatal sex identification resulting in the abortion of female fetuses. Although the government has outlawed the use of ultrasound machines for this purpose, physicians continue the practice, especially in rural areas. Thus, while the average worldwide ratio of male to female newborns is 105/100, Chinese government statistics show that the ratio in the PRC is 114/100 and may be higher in some areas.

The Chinese Constitution mandates the duty of couples to practice family planning. Since 1979, the central government has attempted to implement a family planning policy in China and Tibet that the government states is “intended to control population quantity and improve its quality.” Central to this initiative is the “one child per couple” policy. Central authorities have verbally condemned the use of physical force in implementing the one-child policy; however, its implementation is left to local laws and regulations.

To enforce compliance, local authorities employ incentives such as medical, educational and housing benefits, and punishments including fines, confiscation of property, salary cuts or even dismissal. Officials also may refuse to issue residence cards to “out of plan” children, thereby denying them education and other state benefits. Methods employed to ensure compliance have also included the forced use of contraceptives, primarily the I.U.D., and forced abortion for pregnant women who already have one child. In Zheijang Province, for example, the family planning ordinance states that “fertile couples must use reliable birth control according to the provisions. In case of pregnancies in default of the plan, measures must be taken to terminate them.” As an official “minority”, Tibetans are legally allowed to have more than one child.

However, there have been reports of forced abortions and sterilization?s of Tibetan women who have had only one child. There are also reports of widespread sterilization of certain categories of women, including those suffering from mental illness, retardation and communicable or hereditary diseases. Under previous local regulations superseded by the 1994 Maternal and Infant Health Care Law, such sterilization was mandatory in certain provinces. Under the new law, certain categories of people still may be prevented from bearing children.

The family planning policy is implemented by local units of the W.F.,barefoot doctors and health workers who are mainly women. Each family is visited individually by members of the local family planning committee. After the first child, women are awarded a one-child certificate that entitles them to a number of privileges. Standard regulations concerning the type of birth control method employed require IUDs after one child, sterilization after the second one and abortion for unapproved pregnancies. The policy rests on a coercive system of sanctions and rewards.

Economic sanctions include: payment of an “excess child levy” as compensation to the state for the cost of another child to the country; reduction in the family’s grain ration (or higher prices) for producing a “surplus” child; limitations on additional land for private plots and the right to collective grain in times of flood and drought; and ineligibility for promotion for four years, demotion, or reduction in wages (Anders,52). Moreover, the offending couple has to bear all expenses for medical care and education of excess children, and “extra” children have the lowest priority in admission to kindergarten, school and medical institutions.

In contrast, one-child families are entitled to many privileges including monthly or annual cash subsidies for health or welfare until the child reaches fourteen years of age; and additional private plots from the commune. Single children are entitled to free education, health services, and priority in admission to nurseries, schools and hospitals. Parents receive an additional subsidy to their old age pension (Croll,89). The basis for the issue is ironical again. Population growth is generally the result of a well functioning society. Improved medicine and nutrition has sustained a higher life expectancy.

The Government continued to implement comprehensive and often intrusive family planning policies. The State Family Planning Commission (SFPC) formulates and implements policies with assistance from the Family Planning Association, which has 83 million members in 1.02 million branches nationwide. Officials have predicted that the population will reach almost 1.6 billion in the year 2044 if current birth rates continue. Most Chinese demographers estimate fertility at 2.1 births per woman (although the official figure is 1.8)–indicating that the “one-child policy” is not applied uniformly to Chinese couples. According to official figures from a 1995 survey, 25.7 percent of women of childbearing age have 3 or more children, 32.5 percent have 2, 36.1 percent have 1 child, and 5.7 percent are childless. Couples in urban areas are most affected by family planning guidelines, seldom receiving permission to have more than one child, although urban couples who themselves were only children may have two children. In general, economic development–as well as factors such as small houses and high education expenses–in major urban centers has reached a level where couples often voluntarily limit their families to one child.

Outside the cities, exceptions to the “one-child policy” are becoming the norm. The average number of children per family in rural areas, where 70 percent of citizens still live, is slightly over two. Although rules can vary somewhat by province, in rural areas, couples generally are allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl, an exception that takes into account both the demands of farm labor and the traditional preference for boys. Families whose first child is handicapped are also allowed to have another child. Ethnic minorities, such as Muslim Uyghurs and Tibetans, are subject to less stringent population controls. Minorities in some rural areas are permitted to have as many as four children. In remote areas, such as rural Tibet, there are no effective limits at all.

Population control policy relies on education, propaganda, and economic incentives, as well as on more coercive measures, including psychological pressure and economic penalties. According to local regulations in at least one province, women who do not qualify for a Family Planning Certificate that allows them to have a child must use an intrauterine loop or implant. The regulations further require that women who use an intrauterine device undergo quarterly exams to ensure that it remains properly in place. If a couple has two children, those regulations require that either the man or woman undergo sterilization. Rewards for couples who adhere to family planning policies include monthly stipends and preferential medical and educational benefits. Disciplinary measures against those who violate policies can include fines (sometimes called a “fee for unplanned birth” or a “social compensation fee”), withholding of social services, demotion, and other administrative punishments that sometimes result in loss of employment. Fines for giving birth without authorization vary, but they can be a formidable disincentive.

According to the SFPC 1996 Family Planning Manual, over 24 million fines were assessed between 1985 and 1993 for children born outside family planning rules. In Shanghai the fine for violating birth quotas is three times the combined annual salary of the parents. In Zhejiang province, violators are assessed a fine of 20 percent of the parents’ salary paid over 5 years. According to new Guizhou provincial family planning regulations published in July, families who exceed birth quotas are to be fined two to five times the per capita annual income of residents of their local area. The regulations also stipulate that government employees in Guizhou who have too many children face the loss of their jobs. In many provinces, penalties for excess births in an area also can be levied against local officials and the mother’s work unit, thus creating multiple sources of pressure. In Guizhou, for example, regulations state that officials in an area in which birth targets are not met cannot be promoted in that year. Unpaid fines sometimes have resulted in confiscation or destruction of homes and personal property by local authorities.

Government policy prohibits the use of force to compel persons to submit to abortion or sterilization. However, intense pressure to meet family planning targets set by the Government has resulted in documented instances where family planning officials have used coercion, including forced abortion and sterilization, to meet government goals. During an unauthorized pregnancy, a woman often is paid multiple visits by family planning workers and pressured to terminate the pregnancy. In June a former Fujian province local family planning official stated that local authorities in a Fujian town systematically used coercive measures such as forced abortion and sterilization, detention, and the destruction of property to enforce birth quotas. After the Fujian allegations were made public, the SFPC sent a team led by a senior official to investigate the charges. In a meeting with foreign diplomats, the senior official did not deny that abuses may have occurred, but insisted that coercion was not the norm, or government policy, nor sanctioned by central authorities in Beijing.

For the first time, the Government provided information on cases of local officials who had been punished for carrying out coercive family planning measures. SFPC Vice Minister Li Honggui said in June that local officials have been punished for using coercion and that the Government “made it a principle to ban coercion at any level.” In October a senior family planning official again acknowledged that problems persist and reaffirmed the central Government’s determination to address such problems. The official said that the SFPC had issued circulars nationwide prohibiting family planning officials from coercing women to undergo abortions or sterilization against their will. Under the State Compensation Law, citizens also can sue officials who exceed their authority in implementing family planning policy, and there are instances in which individuals have exercised this right.

In late 1998, China and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched a 4-year pilot project in 32 counties to address population growth solely through the use of voluntary measures on an experimental basis, emphasizing education and economic development. In preparation for the launch of the program, the Government held training conferences during the year, which were attended by family planning officials from each of the 32 counties and 22 provinces participating in the program. UNFPA officials and foreign diplomats went as observers to the meetings, at which SFPC leaders underscored to local and provincial authorities that only voluntary measures would be permitted in project counties. The SFPC and the UNFPA worked together to prepare Chinese-language training materials for the program. It is still too early for an assessment of this pilot project.

Regulations forbid the termination of pregnancies based on the sex of the fetus, but because of the traditional preference for male children, particularly in rural areas, some families have used ultrasound to identify female fetuses and terminate pregnancies. Use of ultrasound for this purpose is specifically prohibited by the Maternal and Child Health Care Law, which came into effect in 1995 and calls for punishment of medical practitioners who violate the provision. According to the SFPC, a handful of doctors have been charged under this law. In 1997 the press reported that the national ratio of male to female births was 114 to 100; the World Health Organization estimated the ratio to be 117 to 100. The statistical norm is 106 male births to 100 female. These skewed statistics reflect the underreporting of female births so that the parents can keep trying to conceive a boy, and the abuse of sonograms and the termination of pregnancies based on the sex of the fetus. Female infanticide, abandonment, or neglect of baby girls are also factors.

During the year, state run media paid increasing attention to unbalanced birth ratios, and the societal problems, such as trafficking in women, which it is causing. In the cities the traditional preference for sons is changing. There reportedly have been instances in which pregnant prisoners in reeducation-through-labor camps were forced to submit to abortions. The Maternal and Child Health Care Law requires premarital and prenatal examinations to determine whether couples have acute infectious diseases or certain mental illnesses (not including mental retardation), or are at risk for passing on debilitating genetic diseases. The Ministry of Health implements the law, which mandates abortion or sterilization in some cases, based on medical advice. The law also provides obtaining a second opinion and states that patients or their guardians must give written consent to such procedures. At least five provincial governments have implemented local regulations seeking to prevent persons with severe mental disabilities from having children. In August the Government issued an “explanation” to provincial governments clarifying that no sterilization of persons with genetic conditions could be performed without their signed consent.

Internal peace in China has also contributed to the individuals living longer. Since Communism rests on the doling out of commodities and benefits based on the number in a household, the structure of the government itself encouraged population growth. The rural resurgence produced the natural effect of having more children to help with the work and produce more. Lack of space in urban area’s induced pressure on couples not to have more children. A satisfying compromise was never reached between the two mitigating factors of urban and rural family needs. Thus, an ineffective initiative was implemented. Due to the ineffectiveness of the law, compliance became a problem, especially in the rural areas. Women were looked to for the solution to the problem.

Forced sterilization and abortions were becoming commonplace in the regions where pressure was put on the officials to take action. Threats of violence and the loss of assets of a family were guerilla tactics used on the offenders of non-compliance. The self-esteem of Chinese women and girls was all but crushed with being looked at as worthless, since boys were highly valued in single family homes. Girls were to be for the use of others. In attempts to save money, girls were kept away from school and provided cheap domestic labor instead. It is obvious to see the cultural battle that women in China have before them. The demands of rural agricultural labor undermine the one-child law and create conflict on many levels in both rural and urban China.

While it is easy to belabor the oppression of women in China, one must look to the monumental strides that a Communist nation was able to take in the last 50 years. An unparalleled determination rested in the Communists goal for answering the “woman question”. The strides that were taken economically have contributed to the betterment of many Chinese women. Communist China intentions were to provide women with economic equalization, which shook the foundation of Chinese society. The male-dominated household was being challenged to recognize the legitimate other half. Remembering that girls were considered “useless”, brings to light the true strides that have advanced Chinese society in the form of legal recognition. The intra-familial relations have not evolved along the lines of recognition of the individuality and authenticity of women.

For example, the barbaric practice of foot binding, which rendered a woman powerless to be an economic contributor. And even beyond that, the twist in idealizing something so demeaning to women demonstrated that China was not ready to release their cultural bonds on women. Arranged marriages offered nothing for women in as far as emotional release. The more estranged a husband and wife where, the more beneficial for the husbands mother. Wealthy husbands were allowed concubines while the poor men merely had affairs. This is not meant to imply that the state and the household are monolithic agents in an over determined system of patriarchy. Although male-domination persists, socialist ideology raised the consciousness of women to the existence of their subordinate social valuation. Women did not receive as many work points as men for comparable labor in the agricultural commune. Women were encouraged to contribute more to farm work so that men could pursue more important forms of production.

Women were recruited for political activities but then expected to fulfill their domestic responsibilities and serve the patriarchal interests of the state. In each case there were women who attempted to challenge the privileged status of men. But then there were also women enlisted by the party-state to reorient the terms of equality under socialism. In an ironic recognition of the inter-subjective synergy between the patriarchal state and household, Zhongguo Fun? (Women of China) wrote the following in response to the resistance of rural women cadres to housework: Family and state are interdependent and interrelated. For this reason, in China, homework and social labor are mutually geared together, and homework is just a part of social labor, which plays an important part in socialist construction. If a woman can integrate what little she can do into the great cause of socialist construction and if she has the ideal of working for the happiness of future generations, she would be a noble person, a woman of benefit to the masses, a woman of communist morality (Anders,46).

Women in China must still adhere to the traditional roles set about by their culture. The Communist Revolution provided the examination of the roles of women in China and implemented important steps toward the recognition of their legitimacy. Rightly so, Chinese feminists are not satisfied with their place in society and campaign for a new and better understanding of the value of women in society

BibliographyAnders, Phyllis. The Unfinished Liberation of Chinese Women. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. Croll, Elisabeth. Chinese Women Since Mao. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1983.

Afkhani, Mahnaz. Faith and Freedom: Women’s Human Rights In the Muslim World. New York: Columbia University PB, 1991.

Ali, Shaheen Sardar. Gender & Human Rights in Islam and International Laws – Equal Before God, Unequal Before Man? New York: Kluwer Academic Publishing, 2000.

Franklin, Ebba. “Gender in Crisis.” The Chicago Tribune 1 September 2000.

Amnesty International. ?China, no one is safe?. Ed. Edwin J. Feulner, Jr. New York, NY. 1996.

Amnesty International. ?China, violations of human rights : prisoners of conscience and the death penalty in the People’s Republic of China?. Ed William Meyers. London, U.K 1994.

China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1999. Labor February 25, 2000. U.S. Department of State. 18 March, 2000

Jingsheng Wei. ?What to do About China? no date of publication or sponsor. 18 March, 2000

Muzhi Zhu. ?China’s Human Rights Record? 25 June, 1997.

Chinese Embassy. 17 March 2000. Heyzer, Noeleen, Working Women in South-East Asia: Development, Subordination, and Emancipation (Milton Keynes, England: Open U.P.,1986).

Ali, Shaheen Sardar. Gender & Human Rights in Islam and International Laws – Equal Before God, Unequal Before Man? New York: Kluwer Academic Publishing, 2000.

Franklin, Ebba. “Gender in Crisis.” The Chicago Tribune 1 September2000.

http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/eng/.htmlUniversal Declaration of Human Rights

United Nation Commissioner for Human Rights

http://www.grannyg.bc.ca/tibet/national.htmlNational Report on Tipet Women

http://www.hrweb.org/intro.htmlAn introduction to the Human Rights Movement

http://library.cq.com/reseacher/issues/1999/19990430/19990430.htmWomen and Human Rights

Mary H.Copper



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