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On International Women’s Day, China Muffles Women’s Voices

Government Boasts of Equality Ring Hollow

On International Women’s Day two years ago, the Chinese government demonstrated contempt for women’s rights by arbitrarily detaining for over a month a group of avowed feminists who had tried to raise awareness about sexual harassment on public transportation. The case prompted international condemnation of the government’s actions, and although the women were eventually released on bail, they had to shutter their organization, Weizhiming, citing “official pressure.”

A woman wearing a protective mask makes her way on a heavily polluted day in Beijing, December 26, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

This year, Sina weibo, a popular social media platform that answers to China’s censors, is observing International Women’s Day by imposing another form of repression: Starting on February 20, it has suspended for 30 days the account of Women’s Voices (ch: nüsheng), a microblog run by China’s most outspoken feminists. According to the group, Sina said their postings had “violated China’s relevant laws and regulations,” but gave no explanation as to which postings offended the censors, or which laws such content purportedly violated.

It is certainly a more subtle—and less drastic—tactic than taking these women into custody, but the intention is unmistakably similar: to silence independent women’s voices and replace them with tame ones trumpeting the government’s achievements.

Chinese authorities deserve credit for strides in improving maternal mortality, raising girls’ literacy rates, and, most recently, introducing the country’s first law against domestic violence. Yet those same authorities continue to restrict women’s reproductive freedoms including dictating how many children they can have and when. Authorities fail to legislate a precise definition of discrimination that would allow women to file a lawsuit, and they label single women older than 27 as “leftovers” and wage publicity campaigns to get them to marry.

The Chinese government has a long way to go before it can live up to its boast of being a nation that “implements equal rights as a basic state policy.”  A genuine commitment to gender equality should begin by the government immediately freeing Women’s Voices from censorship, from this International Women’s Day onwards. 

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