Protection of Women's Rights Progressing

Jiang Wandi

While the market economy being built in China has unleashed productivity to a great extent, it has also posed uncertainty for most Chinese people in their lives and careers. And women are the most challenged by the changing society. Five years ago, the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests was passed by the National People's Congress (NPC),thus providing a legal basis for women's awareness of their rights, operation of organizations devoted to protection of women's rights and interests, and social efforts in this regard.

Now the universal concern is over whether or not enactment of the law has exerted a positive influence on Chinese society and how it has advanced social progress and Chinese women's liberation. From last May to June, three teams were sent by NPC's Internal and Judicial Affairs Committee to look into the situation of protection of women's rights and interests in Shanxi, Sichuan and Guangdong provincial people's congresses of other localities were asked to carry out self checks. In Beijing and some large cities, seminars involving law experts and women activists were held to review the law's implementation and pointing out some existing problems.

Chen Muhua, vice-chairwoman of the NPC Standing Committee and chairwoman of All-China Women's Federation, said, "What took place in the past five years demonstrated that enactment and implementation of the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests did bring about good changes to our society. The traditional belief that men were superior to women is being eradicated, and women's legal rights guaranteed by law are taking root in most people's mind. It is due to the law's implementation that Chinese women are enabled to enjoy more choices in development. Never before in history have ordinary Chinese women better felt their rights to participate in social life, decide their own affairs and stand to protect the rights and interests of their own."

According to the nation-wide inspection, the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests have become known by people either in government of at grass-roots level thanks to persistent publicity campaigns fashioned by government departments and women's organizations throughout the five years. Awareness of the women's rights and their legal basis by government at every level guarantees that policy making pays attention to gender equality. The knowledge of the law of ordinary people and, in particular, those in backward rural areas help the society keep alert against any action harming and discriminating against women.

So far, the people's congress in every province and autonomous region has worked out its specific regulations on implementing the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests according to their actual situation. For instance, Shaanxi Province, lying in northwest region with comparatively backward economic development, requires women candidates elected as deputies to country- and town-level people's congresses account for no less than 25 percent, thus guaranteeing rural women participation in management of state affairs.

In some under-developed areas, rural women used to be deprived of their interests in income distribution due to changes of their marriage condition such as marrying a urban resident, getting divorce, or moving to other places after marriage. Therefore, the implementing measures of Shaanxi Province regulate that the contracted farmland, the grain ration farmland, private plot, and the land for housing of rural women (married, divorced, and having husband from other villages) should be solved by local authorities of their new place of residence. They have the right to keep the previous ones provided that, after getting married, the authorities of their new place of residence fail to provide this land for them. Because of this regulation, rural women in the province will never have to get worried about losing their land after getting married or divorced.

Between 1992 when the law was enacted to 1995,governments at various levels set up women and children working committees and committees for protection of women's rights and interests. Headed by the governor or a vice-governor in a province, the two committees consist of members from judicial public security, labor departments and local women's federations. Members of the committees meet regularly, exchanging information on protection of women's rights and interests and doing investigations as problems specially in charge of the women's issue, the government organ urged the parties concerned to solve the problems related to women's rights and interests in time and do coordination when necessary among different government organs.

Prof. Yang Dawen of the People's University of China, who is one of the framers of the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests, approves the founding of the government organs. Upon returning from an inspection tour of NPC's Internal and judicial Affairs Committee in Sichuan Province, Prof. Yang pointed out, "The issue of protection of women's rights and interests appears to be more complicated during the current transition period of China from a planned to a market economy. For example, in the past an enterprise had no right to recruit employees, but depended on the government's personnel department for labor supply. Hence, it took on everyone sent by the government no matter male or female. Now, most enterprises have autonomy in employment, and for them, women are the last to be hired and first to be laid off. This is a problem of law, and it is an economic problem as well. Given the current situation that China has not had a well-established market system yet, government interference in protection of women's rights and interests remains to be necessary."

Soon after the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests was promulgated, courts at all levels organized training courses for judges studying the law. A class of this kind was held by the Supreme People's Court specially for senior judges. In the following several years, the Supreme People's Court issued a number of judicial explanations on the law according to precedents, which have played a vital role in trying the cases concerned by all the courts.

As a part of the publicity of the law launched by the government, many courts allow the public to attend the court sessions, hearing typical cases related to women's rights and interests. The Higher People's Court of Qinghai Province opened such a court session right in an open yard of a village in Huzhu County. The person who violated the law and would be punished was a deputy to the county's people's congress. Being angry with his daughter-in-law unable to give birth to a baby because of a physical problem, the "people's representative "had forced his son to divorce, while ordering some people to smash the private property of his daughter-in-law. The court session, attended by over 1,000 members of the public, provided a vivid education for the local villagers who saw the "people's representative" was punished.

According to the Law on the Protection of Women's Rights and Interests, Chinese women have six prime and basic rights, among which is the right to participate in political activities. China has recorded a low rate in this regard, so the government attaches importance to increasing the rate by publicizing and enforcing the law.

In the past five years, about two-thirds of the provinces have worked out regulations on a fixed rate of women deputies in people's congresses and people's political consultative conferences. More and more women who ran for government posts were elected. Take the election of township governments throughout the country for example. The previous term recorded a rate of women representatives standing at 19.7 percent on average. But now it is around 22 percent. Beijing boasts the highest rate (31.6 percent),while Shanghai, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Liaoning and Jilin provinces, next to Beijing, reached at least 24 percent.

Xu Weihua, head of the Rights Protection Department of the All-China Women's Federation, pointed out, "Emphasizing increasing the rate of Chinese women participating in government work, while implementing the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests is extremely important. That women's rights and interests were infringed or ignored in the past was to a great extent due to lack of the women's voice in policy-making. Facts in the recent several years show that in the cities or areas which have a higher rate of women in government, matters involving protection of women's rights and interests have been better handled, problems related to women's rights and interests are solved in a shorter period and, consequently, they record less serious cases of infringing women's rights and interests."

Discriminating against women in employment has become universal in some places and, hence, the nationwide inspection by NPC's Internal and Judicial Affairs Committee set it a target and, in the same time, looked into how local governments responded to the problem.

The inspection found that government at each level is the major force contributing to opening new ways for laid-off women workers. The situation in Shanxi Province seems more encouraging. In recent years, the provincial government has promoted development of the service industry by every means possible and requires that the industry must provide a fixed amount of jobs for women. By so doing, the province maintains a good record that woman employees account for 39 percent of the province's total. The province's labor bureau functions as a watchdog for protecting women's right to work. It scrutinizes enterprises' employment regulations and exams, and withholds approval to an enterprise's employment plan so long as anything discriminatory to women is found.

The past five years has also seen unbalanced development of different regions in protection of women's rights and interests. Chen Muhua pointed out, "Because of less knowledge of women's rights and interests of the leaders in some local governments and units, these places were found failing to strictly enforce the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests and punish the illegal activities according to the law. In some places the crimes, such as cruelly harming women, drowning or abandoning of female infants, bigamy or keeping a concubine, and family violence, failed to be punished severely. In addition, the massive layoff of women workers in some bankrupt state enterprises and lack of development opportunities of rural women in some poor areas are also the problems requiring urgent solution. All these problems should be solved through substantially enforcing the Law on Protection of Women's Rights and Interests."

Despite problems, the terms of women's rights and interests are by no means strange to ordinary people in the nation, which are partly attributed to the efforts of non-governmental organizations. In recent years, legal aid and consultation bodies have mushroomed throughout the country and particularly in large cities, which provide legal consultation for women in need or engage in lawsuits as the committed lawyers for women client. Acting as the guardian of ordinary women at the grass-roots level, these organizations are enlightening the Chinese women on their rights and interests, with their hard work, trivial, complicated and time entailing.

(Beijing Review)

In This Series



Web Link