Bowen Yang ’16 Women in Leadership
In early February, a UN report stated the promising progress the world has made in the past twenty years since the United Nations Summit Meeting in Cairo: women have gained greater control over their health and destiny, they have more access to education, and they are less likely to die during childbirth. However, a closer look at the report reveals astounding details that contradict this progress. How far are we still from our ideal?
While overall progress may have been made, disparities did not become smaller around the world. Women in the poorest countries and even poor women in some richer countries are still suffering from the harsh problems that have supposedly ameliorated worldwide: maternal death, child marriage, wage gap, sexual assault, public image, and health conditions. A separate study conducted last year found that Asian women rarely reported being the victims of physical or sexual violence, but in reality “nearly half of the 10,000 men interviewed reported using physical and sexual violence against a female partner, while a fourth of them said they had raped a woman or a girl, with the vast majority saying they faced no prosecution.” Progress has truly been unequal and fragmented.
The celebrated 21st century trend of globalization has actually deepened the exploitation of the “liberated women” by modernization because Chinese economic politics and historical traditions have not been broken. Developing countries like China indeed still carry its historical burden with it. But there is also another side of the coin.
In the case of one couple, Mr. Li, the celebrity founder of Crazy English, admitted to physically abusing his American wife, Kim Lee. While Chinese women rarely publicize family violence and consider it a private matter, Ms. Lee posted images of her injuries online. This immediately caught the media’s attention and gained appraise from advocates for women and many ordinary Chinese citizens. After her divorce, Ms. Lee applied and received a protection order for three months, but the details of this order were unclear. Currently there is no national law on domestic violence in China, and the court later rejected Ms. Lee’s applications for further protection when her husband came back and threatened her again.
There are many problems within the political system of China, but this incident has infused new energy into women’s rights groups in China and has encouraged the general public in their efforts towards pushing for a law against domestic violence in China. In 2012, the National People’s Congress heard proposals for constructing a legislative program on domestic violence, even though activists state that it is very low on the government agenda.
Many in China still trivialize such matters and can hardly be united on domestic violence legislation. But there are also no formal lobbyists in China like there are in the U.S. Chinese feminists tried to approach influential groups like state leaders, heads of legislative departments, and researchers and expert advisers. Only the last group, researchers and expert advisors, responded to the claims of the feminists. But without the support of the first two groups, little political progress can be made.
The struggle of women is a local struggle, but it is also a world struggle. While globalization provides the opportunities for the powerful to continue to manipulate others, it also creates possibilities for all those on the justice side to unite and fight. One hundred years ago, the youth in China were inspired by the Russian Revolution for the ideal of communism. Now, under communism, the women in China are inspired by the free spirit of America to speak out with their own voices. In the future, we hope we will overcome these issues like domestic violence.